HELSINKI, Finland — Forget about dieting and counting calories. Simply keeping a regular eating schedule may help manage weight long-term better, according to a new study.
It may sound counterintuitive, but researchers from the University of Helsinki found that dieting and irregular eating habits actually increased a person’s likelihood of gaining weight.
“Often, people try to prevent and manage excess weight and obesity by dieting and skipping meals. In the long term, such approaches seem to actually accelerate getting fatter, rather than prevent it,” explains researcher Ulla Kärkkäinen, a nutritional therapist at the school, in a university release.
Kärkkäinen and her team conducted their study on weight management using data from the “FinnTwin 16” study, an extensive collection of data from over 4,900 young men and women. The study cohort answered surveys indicating weight change factors at the age of 24 and again at the age of 34.
The authors found the vast majority of people gained weight during the decade between the surveys. Only 7.5% of women and 3.8% of men lost weight during that period. Factors affecting weight gain varied in intensity in men and women, but for both genders, dieting and irregular eating habits were prominent factors.
“Generally speaking, weight management guidance often boils down to eating less and exercising more. In practice, people are encouraged to lose weight, whereas the results of our extensive population study indicate that losing weight is not an effective weight management method in the long run,” says Kärkkäinen.
The researchers say that women also showed to be more at risk for weight gain if they drank sweetened beverages frequently, had at least two children, or if they showed low satisfaction with their lives. Smoking proved to be the most significant alternate factor for men.
Conversely, women lowered their odds for weight struggles if they exercised regularly; while having a higher level of education or greater weight at the beginning of the study period were factors that protected men.
The study suggests that instead of focusing on the number of pounds we lose, we should maintain regular eating habits as long as possible.
“Our findings demonstrate that weight management would benefit from an increased focus on individual differences, as well as perceiving the factors that impact human wellbeing and the sense of meaning in life as a broader whole,” she says.
The full study was published in the April 2018 edition of the journal Eating Behaviors.