Friday, October 21, 2005

Phone Diet Counseling As Effective As Live Meetings, Study Shows

Yeah, Regis, I'd like to phone a friend for weight loss please!

This Lawrence Journal-World story dials up a new way to lose weight that a recent study found to be highly successful.

Led by Joe Donnelly, director of the University of Kansas Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management, the researchers observed two groups of participants who were on a diet consisting of meal replacement shakes, low-fat/low-calorie meals, and fruits and vegetables. To support the participants in their weight loss, one group received traditional in-person counseling sessions with each other while the other group received counseling via the telephone. The diet lasted 12 week followed immediately by an additional 14 weeks of maintenance.

The group that received counseling from talking with a group of people live lost an average of 28 pounds in 12 weeks and 28 pounds by the end of the 26 weeks while the group that got telephone counseling saw similar results with an average of 23 pounds lost in the first 12 weeks and 28 pounds over the 26-week period.

A maximum of 20 study participants in the telephone group held a teleconference call twice a week for 45-minute sessions with a counselor from the Boston-based Health Management Resources (HMR), which birthed the idea of utilizing a telephone weight loss support group for individuals who are either too busy to attend meetings or too shy to open up in front of people.

Keith Van Gasken, senior trainer for HMR, describes the program as "the wave of the future" in weight loss, including expanding the potential for more options to include Internet-based chats and private message boards.

The same telephone group stuck with each other over the 26 weeks as they built trust and friendships through shared experiences and advice, Van Gasken noted. He added that people really seem to enjoy being anonymous, but yet seeing real weight loss success as well.

One of the study's coordinators was a post-doctoral researcher from Kansas University named Elizabeth Stewart who said she was "surprised" with how well the telephone support group got along without the "face to face" contact of traditional weight loss support systems.

Donnelly and his team of researchers would like to expand their study to a larger sample to see if the same results hold up.

There is a companion discussion question posted on Lawrence Journal-World next to this article that simply asks, "What advice would you give to people who are dieting?" The answers are predictable: "use moderation," "eat a balanced diet," "watch your calories," "exercise," "don't cut out certain food groups," etc.

The on-the-street advice about dieting aside, what do you make of this new study? I have to tell you that I've never been a fan of weight loss programs like Weight Watchers that require you to attend meetings with other people who are overweight or obese. It's not that I'm shy (HA!) or afraid to open up in front of a group of people. But I don't want my business to be all out there in the open when I have a personal issue to deal with like losing weight. Maybe I'm alone on this, but the group thingy just doesn't do it for me.

But with the telephone, there is a certain sense of freedom for people to be themselves and not think about the people listening in and engaging them in conversation. You are more apt to open up and be real. That's when real breakthroughs can happn and help people realize, "Hey, I CAN lose weight because I've got support!"

In my full-time job I receive both telephone calls and e-mails from customers. It is amazing to me the difference in the way people "talk" in an e-mail versus what they would say on the phone or in person. A lot of people don't like confrontation when they are standing in front of you, but by golly they can write 1,000 words on a computer screen telling you how awful you are for whatever you did.

That's why this phone diet as it is being called by the press and the soon-coming chat and message board diets will catch on quickly. People need support when they are losing weight, but they also want to be able to fit it into their life conveniently. Unlike meetings that you have to attend in person, the telephone or Internet options provide people with the flexibility to get the weight loss advice they need without the hassle or embarassment that comes from traditional counseling groups.

Of course, this can be adapted to any weight loss program, including livin' la vida low-carb. An ambitious entrepreneur who supports the low-carb lifestyle should look into starting a low-carb weight loss support group a la the one Health Management Resources created to give low-carbers the support they need to make it to their goal and beyond.

I write an entire chapter in my "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" book about the importance of having a good support team behind you when losing weight because it is that crucial to your success. If you lack a strong support system while attempting weight loss, then I strongly urge you to find a group like this to be a part of to help you to be successful.

Who knows, maybe Regis Philbin will come back with a new reality game show called, "Who Wants To Be A Weight Loser?" It'll bring a whole new meaning to the "phone-a-friend" lifeline. :)


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