IN exciting news coming to hand, Duke university scientists discovered that overweight individuals were able to lose weight when they tracked their daily food consumption with the use of MyFitnessPal smartphone app. All of this was achieved without going on any particular diet.

According to said Gary Bennett, a Duke psychology professor and co-author of the paper,

“Free and low-cost weight loss apps have changed the ways that Americans manage their weight …however, we knew little about whether these tools worked very well on their own. We’ve shown that commercial smartphone apps can be a helpful way to get started with weight loss.”

The research findings suggest that it is possible to lose weight effectively through low cost tools, rather than expensive in-person interventions. This should be a comforting thought for persons who want to lose weight but do not have the money to pay for expensive services like gym memberships.

Michele Lanpher Patel, a co researcher on the project explained the reasons for the study:

“We wanted to study a lower-intensity treatment for weight loss whereby people could join from the comfort of their home … but we were not sure how much weight people would lose with this type of remote treatment. Merging behavioral science principles with technology turned out to be successful.”

Patel further explained that everyone does not have the time for high-intensity weight-loss treatments and that alternative strategies should be created for these people.

Details about the dietless weight loss study
The study, a randomized control trial, consisted of 105 study participants aged 21 and 65 years. A smartphone app was used to track dietary intake. Participants were divided into three groups:

The first group tracked what they ate every day for three months. A second group tracked their weight for a month, then began logging food intake as well. That group also received emails with tailored feedback, weekly lessons on nutrition and behavior change, and action plans describing how to implement the weekly lesson.

The third group recorded both their weight and food intake for all three months, using the same app as the first two groups. They also received weekly lessons, action plans and feedback. For instance, weekly nutrition lessons included tips on topics such as reducing sugary foods and portion control.

Three months after the study began, participants in all three groups had lost clinically significant amounts of weight. Those who only tracked what they ate lost about 5 pounds on average. People in the second group lost about 6 pounds on average.

The final group lost about 6 pounds on average. This group had recorded their weight and food intake for 12 weeks, and received weekly lessons, action plans and feedback. However, participants in that group kept the weight off longer. At six months, people in the third group had lost nearly 7 pounds on average.

American Psychological Association
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Compliance is key in the weight loss journey
The researchers found that successful participants in all three groups actually kept a food log. Those who were most diligent in tracking each day lost the most weight. By contrast, past research has shown that people often start with a goal of recording their food intake, but fail to continue over time.

Researchers suspect two factors helped participants follow through on their weight-loss goals. The first was helping participants to set specific goals, including tailored calorie targets, while the second was the automatic in-app reminders to log meals each day.

According to researcher Bennett,

“We have very strong evidence that consistent tracking, particularly of diet, but also one’s weight, is an essential element of successful weight loss… consumers should look for apps that make it easy for them to track on a consistent basis.”

While the study used a free, commercially available app called MyFitnessPal, researchers said that similar results could possibly be achieved by using another diet tracker.

The research was supported by grants from the American Psychological Association and the Duke Interdisciplinary Behavioral Research Center, and by the Aleane Webb Dissertation Research Award from the Graduate School at Duke University.


Materials provided by Duke University.
Michele L Patel, Christina M Hopkins, Taylor L Brooks, Gary G Bennett. Comparing Self-Monitoring Strategies for Weight Loss in a Smartphone App: Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 2019; 7 (2): e12209 DOI: 10.2196/12209

Last modified: 30th October 2020