What happens when a new weight loss study is announced is that the media jump on it and you get headlines like:
How to lose weight while chowing down at work
Team sports help teens stay fit
The secret to weight loss? Pen and Paper
Weight-loss keys: Food journals, eating in, not skipping meals
Artificial sweeteners no silver bullet for losing weight
And the whole thing, whether or not it's valuable information, is hyped up and made into something much more than it really is. I've also noticed that much of the research merely provides evidence for what I've known and been teaching for many years now, so I'm not often surprised by the findings.
But let me tell you why this study information sometimes needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
There are four main areas that we need to be concerned with for weight loss:
Non-pharmaceutical weight loss products Pharmaceutical weight loss products Behaviour i.e. eating patterns & activity Fat clubs e.g. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig...
Non-pharmaceutical Weight loss products
This is the likes of Acai, Hoodia, teas, slimming drinks, patches, and all of the incredibly expensive products provided for people who think the solution to eating too much and not exercising enough is a tablet or a magic drink. This is the territory of the Health-Food shop/web site. Now I have to say I have absolutely no experience with any of these products, so if you've had good results using them, and you've kept the weight off, then let me know below. My gut feeling is that they are a waste of money and sales owe more to the skill of the advertisers than to any efficacy they possess.
Pharmaceutical weight loss products
There are not a lot of pharmaceutical weight loss products around but two are about to receive FDA approval: Belviq and Qnexa. They are both, in my opinion, attempts by the manufacturers to make $ billions rather than any serious attempt at providing a safe weight loss product. The stock of both the manufacturing companies went up through the roof as soon as they passed the first stage of FDA approval. Qnexa was originally rejected by the FDA two years ago, but I understand that the manufacturer spent a lot of money to convince the FDA panel that they should reconsider.
Both drugs contain components from an earlier weight loss drug that was withdrawn for safety reasons, and so they should be causing serious concern about the side-effects. But it seems the FDA is happy for the long-term safety trials to take place after approval. The benefit of using the drugs (in terms of weight lost) is so small when compared with known safe methods that they are just not worth the risk. Nevertheless as soon as they pass the final FDA hurdle (which they undoubtedly will) they will be prescribed in their billions by overworked doctors who will be grateful that they can spend two minutes printing a prescription, rather than providing counselling, education, and advice; alongside real help, support and encouragement.
Behaviour is the area of interest of most of the studies. Psychological studies (and that's what they are) require volunteers. Volunteers need to be informed about the subject area of the study. So you know you are signing up for a weight loss study. In order to do that you have probably given up trying to lose weight without help, and you are probably quite motivated because they are going to ask you to do stuff and you are going to have to comply - because that's what you agree with when you sign up. You are also in it with quite a few other people. You get the attention of the researchers. You get to feel that you are doing something worthwhile and helping others.
All of these things are motivational.
They are also not normal and not found in the real world of people struggling desperately to lose weight.
So, in part, studies are always studying themselves.
They create some circumstances and then test them out.
When you are given a diet plan and told to stick to it for 16 weeks as part of a study - most people will succeed. But give 100 people that same diet plan and never plan to contact them again and you'll find almost no one stuck to the diet for the full 16 weeks, because that's human nature. We behave differently when we know no one is watching and no one is checking up on us.
It doesn't matter what is being studied, we behave differently when we know we are being watched. The most interesting studies are when the participants are lied to. For instance one study pretended to be about testing the flavour of different cookies and that's what the participants thought they were doing, but they were actually being tested on how much they ate based on a drink they'd been given earlier to fill them up. Participants on a diet ate more cookies than those who were eating normally.
The real question that needs to be asked is 'does this work in the real world'.
What seems to work in the real world is eating a little less, exercising a little more, and re-learning to listen to your body.
Fat clubs are the socially acceptable places where you go when you want company in your attempts to lose weight. They provide a social environment. Everyone has the same problem. They give you solutions. If you follow their guidelines you lose weight. But I get a lot of clients who've tried these places and they still come to me for help. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Slimming World and the like do help you lose weight, but they use a dieting model, and dieting just doesn't work long-term. You don't sign up to these places for life. You sign up and stay until you either get fed-up with the classes, or reach your goal weight. Then you revert to your old-style eating patterns and before very long you are overweight again - only this time it's much harder to shift the weight.