Eating regularly rather than dieting for long-term weight management

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Mediterranean Diet
Food is seen on a table at a restaurant at the port of El Masnou, near Barcelona May 16, 2008. Reuters/Albert Gea

Eating regularly is a common factor among young men and women who succeed in managing their weight in the long term, a recent study conducted at the University of Helsinki has found. The study shows that dieting and skipping meals appear to accelerate the process of gaining more weight.

According to Ulla Kärkkäinen, a licensed nutritional therapist at the University of Helsinki, people often try to prevent and manage excess weight by skipping meals and dieting. But in the long run, these approaches seem to actually speed up the process of gaining more fat instead of preventing it.

Kärkkäinen said that understanding the factors underlying weight management preceding gains or primary weight management is important to efficiently prevent weight gain. The findings of the study suggest that even more crucial to effective weight management is to refrain from dieting and to observe regular eating habits. Regular and sufficient meals help manage a person’s eating habits and weight management in the long term.

Generally, weight management guidance typically points to eating less and exercising more. But the findings of the extensive population study indicate that losing weight is not an effective weight management method in the long run.

Factors underlying effective weight management appear to change between the short and long-term and are partly gender-specific. Kärkkäinen's findings demonstrate that an improved focus on individual differences will benefit a person's weight.

The research is part of the extensive FinnTwin 16 study, which included the participation of over 4,900 young men and women. The subjects answered surveys mapping out factors affecting weight and weight change when the participants were 24 years old, then again after ten years.

A number of subjects gained weight during the decade in between. Only 7.5 percent of women and 3.8 percent of men lost weight over that period. The mean gain among women was 0.9 kg per year, while the corresponding gain was 1.0 kg among men between the ages of 24 and 34.

Giving birth to two or more kids, poor contentment with life, and regular consumption of sweetened beverages are other factors that increased the risk of gaining weight for women. Smoking is another factor that increases the risk of gaining weight for men. For women, physical activity is a factor protecting from weight gain. The study, led by Associate Professor Anna Keski-Rahkonen, has been published in the international Eating Behaviors journal.