SAN DIEGO — Can’t walk into your kitchen without grabbing a snack? A new weight loss method conceived by scientists at the University of California-San Diego helps dieters manage their internal hunger cues and improve their ability to resist food.
Study participants deemed “highly responsive” to food lost more weight and maintained that weight loss over the long-term more successfully than others following more traditional approaches to dieting.
“There are individuals who are very food cue responsive. That is, they cannot resist food and/or cannot stop thinking about food. Behavioral weight loss skills are not sufficient for these individuals, so we designed an alternative approach to address this clinical need,” says first study author Kerri N. Boutelle, PhD, UC San Diego professor in the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science and in the School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, in a university release.
Food sensitivity can derail weight loss efforts
Estimates show that roughly 74 percent of the U.S. adult population are either overweight or obese. There are, of course, endless weight loss plans out there to choose from and try, but most rely on behavioral eating changes and calorie counting. Not everyone responds to these approaches, and most end up regaining the lost weight.
Losing weight is especially difficult for people who are extra sensitive to food and hunger cues. Previous studies have linked food sensitivity to a variety of factors, including genetics, one’s environment growing up, and additional individual considerations.
The research team compared weight loss outcomes among people using their intervention, called “Regulation of Cues,” in comparison to a behavioral weight loss program group, a control group, and a fourth group combining Regulation of Cues with the behavioral program.
While weight loss was more or less comparable after two years among both the Regulation of Cues group and the behavioral weight loss group, those in the ROC group were able to better stabilize their weight and maintain their new figures. Meanwhile, participants in the other groups typically regained the lost weight eventually.
“Our findings suggest that the appetitive mechanisms targeted by Regulation of Cues may be especially critical for weight loss among individuals who have trouble resisting food and could be used in a personalized medicine approach,” Dr. Boutelle adds.
Curbing the desire for fatty and salty foods
A total of 271 adults between ages 18 and 65 took part in this project. Over a full year, the participants attended 26 group treatment sessions. They also had to exercise for at least 150 minutes per week.
Those placed in the Regulation of Cues group did not receive any instructions on what to eat or receive a formal diet plan. Instead, they learned how to recognize hunger cues, better resist cravings, and inhibit urges to eat palatable foods when not actually hungry. On the other hand, those in the behavioral weight loss group focused on more traditional dieting and calorie restriction.
Palatable foods, or foods typically containing lots of sugar, fat, salt, or flavorings, tend to stimulate the brain’s reward system and can be particularly hard to resist.
“Individuals who need help losing weight can seek out the Regulation of Cues program if behavioral weight loss did not work for them, if they feel they have trouble resisting eating, or if they never feel full,” Dr. Boutelle concludes.
The study is published in JAMA Network Open.