How Effective is Self-Directed Weight Loss?

Many people mistakenly belief that losing a large amount of weight is easy – they often say “just eat less and move more.” While it is likely realistic, although challenging, to lose 10 or 20 pounds that way, how much success can we expect for people who want to lose more substantial weight without professional help? Recently, a systematic review and meta-analysis was published in the American Journal of Public Health, looking at the effectiveness of self-help approaches to weight management. The researchers defined “self-help” as self-directed weight interventions that do not require professional help to deliver, including medias such as print, internet, and mobile phone-delivered programs.

They found 23 randomized controlled trials that compared self-help interventions with each other, or with minimal controls in overweight and obese adults. All of the trials had 6 months or longer follow-up. In total, these studies included almost 10,000 people. The researchers found that the average difference in weight loss at 6 months between the self-management and control groups was only about 4.4 lbs, and the difference was no longer significant at 12 months. For an overweight or obese person, losing 4.4 pounds in 6 months, and regaining that weight over the next 6 months, is not the results anyone would hope for.

The review demonstrates the vast difficulty in trying to lose weight on your own—especially when you’re trying to lose a lot of weight. This is not to say that self-management does not have an important role in assisting obesity management – it certainly does. But as the evidence and other research points to, it usually needs to occur under professional guidance of obesity experts to lead to long-term success. A comprehensive weight loss surgery program is considered the most effective long-term treatment for people struggling with moderate to severe obesity.

“As an overweight person who was unsuccessful long-term with everything from Jenny Craig to multiple medical treatments for my weight, the results were always the same: short-term weight loss with long-term gain,” said Adam B. Smith, DO, weight loss surgeon in Texas.  “Until I had Lap-Band surgery and committed to a lifestyle change that was permanent, nothing worked.  Was surgery a “magic wand”? Of course not. But for the first time in my life I had a level playing field with the opportunity to make good long-term decisions.”

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