Weight Loss for Postmenopausal Women

Weight loss more easily achieved with food journal and regular home prepared meals

(RxWiki News) As a person ages and the metabolism slows down, it can be more difficult to lose weight. Women past menopause can use strategies to shed the extra pounds though.

A recent study found that three key behaviors will improve a woman's chances of successfully losing weight: keeping a food diary, not skipping meals and not going out to lunch.

"To help with weight loss, keep a food journal."

The study, led by Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD, the director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Prevention Center, looked at the effects of a broad group of behaviors on weight management for older obese and overweight women.

The study involved 123 overweight and obese women, age 50 to 75, who were past menopause. Their body weight and their behaviors were assessed as they went through a one-year weight loss program split into two groups for comparison.

Half of the women participated in a group that focused only on women's diets. The other group focused on diet changes plus exercise.

The researchers focused on self-monitoring behaviors and on specific eating behaviors, such as what women ate, their food-related weight-control strategies and their meal patterns. The women filled out questionnaires on these activities.

The women also filled out a separate questionnaire that asked how frequently they ate 120 different foods; this was used as a before/after comparison for the length of the study.

Throughout the program, the women lost an average of 10.7 percent of their starting body weight, but how much they lost varied according to which behaviors they stuck to.

Those who completed food journals, for example, lost slightly more weight - about 3.7 percent more, which translated to about six more lost pounds.

Those who skipped meals, however, didn't do themselves any favors: their weight loss success was 4.3 percent lower than those who didn't skip meals. Those who didn't skip meals were able to lose eight more pounds than those who did.

Those who ate out for lunch at least once a week also didn't lose as much weight. Their weight loss was 2.5 percent lower, which translated to five pounds they would have lost if they stopped eating out at lunch.

"For individuals who are trying to lose weight, the No. 1 piece of advice based on these study results would be to keep a food journal to help meet daily calorie goals," Dr. McTiernan said. "It is difficult to make changes to your diet when you are not paying close attention to what you are eating."

For the study, the participants were given several guidelines regarding their food journals: they should be honest, accurate, complete and consistent.

This means recording everything they ate - no matter how small - and measuring out portions. They were also told to read labels and include information on how a meal was prepared as well as any condiments or toppings eaten with a meal.

The women were also advised to keep their food diary with them at all time, or to use a diet tracking app on a smart phone, so that they could always enter what they had eaten.

Dr. McTiernan said researchers are not entirely sure why skipping meals can slow down weight loss, but other studies have had similar conclusions.

"The mechanism is not completely clear, but we think that skipping meals or fasting might cause you to respond more favorably to high-calorie foods and therefore take in more calories overall," she said. "We also think skipping meals might cluster together with other behaviors. For instance, the lack of time and effort spent on planning and preparing meals may lead a person to skip meals and/or eat out more."

Eating out is one of the big culprits in preventing people from being able to lose weight, partly because of how much food is offered in one restaurant serving and partly because of the extra calories, such as added sugar, that people don't realize they're consuming.

"Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes," the authors wrote.

The study was published July 13 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The research was funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Research Resources. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 20, 2012