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To meet weight loss goals, start exercise and healthy eating programs at the same time

With bathing suit season just around the corner, many of us are thinking more and more about how to shed a few extra pounds before hitting the beach or pool this summer. New research from Stanford shows that to successfully slim down, a dual approach - addressing both improving eating habits and increasing physical activity - is most effective.

In a study involving 200 people, Abby King, PhD, and colleagues divided participants into four groups: one made changes to diet and exercise at the same time, another adopted healthier eating habits without altering their fitness routine, a third increased their physical activity level before changing their diet, and a comparison group didn't make any changes to their eating or exercising habits but were given instruction on stress-management techniques. Individuals' progress was tracked for a year.

My colleague discussed the researchers' findings in a release:

Despite the challenge of making multiple changes to their already-busy routines at once, those who began changing diet and exercise habits at the same time were most likely to meet national guidelines for exercise — 150 minutes per week — and nutrition — five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables daily, and keeping calories from saturated fats at 10 percent or less of their total intake.

Those who started with exercise first did a good job of meeting both the exercise and diet goals, though not quite as good as those who focused on diet and exercise simultaneously.

The participants who started with diet first did a good job meeting the dietary goals but didn’t meet their exercise goals. King, who also is a senior researcher at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, speculates this is because changing diet and introducing exercise both have unique challenges. “With dietary habits, you have no choice; you have to eat,” she said. “You don’t have to find extra time to eat because it’s already in your schedule. So the focus is more on substituting the right kinds of food to eat.”

Previously: What type of smartphone apps are effective for promoting healthy habits among older adults?, Computer-generated phone calls shown to help inactive adults get – and keep – moving, Eat a carrot and exercise – or your iBird dies and Research shows remote weight loss interventions equally effective as face-to-face coaching programs
Photo by Jodi Green

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