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Mindless Eating Challenge: Retention, Weight Outcomes, and Barriers for Changes in a Public Web-Based Healthy Eating and Weight Loss Program

As the global obesity problem increases it is necessary to find easy yet effective approaches to healthy eating and weight loss. Most common weight loss programs require major lifestyle changes or unsustainable diets.  As a result many of these diets fail over time. Previous research has demonstrated that small and easy changes to our eating habits can result in sustained healthy habits and maintained weight loss. This research focused on a program that would help individuals implement small eating behavior changes which would allow them to achieve their eating and weight loss goals.

Researchers launched an online program, the National Mindless Eating Challenge (NMEC), to help individuals achieve weight and eating behavior goals through the recommendation of small daily changes.  The study included 2053 volunteers who registered for the program between July 2007 and June 2009. Of those individuals, 25% completed at least one follow up survey. Those who did not participate in a follow up were not included in the final data analysis. The mean age of participants was 39.8 years, 89% were women, 90% where white and average BMI was 28.14. Due to the online availability of the program, participants came from a wide range of countries. Participants self-reported their initial eating goal, demographics, height and weight upon registration to the website.

 Participants were asked to indicate their main goal: losing weight (83%), eating healthier (10%), maintaining their weight (5%) or helping their family eat better (2%). Each participant was randomly assigned three different daily change suggestions that were relevant to their specific goal. At each monthly follow up participants self-reported their height and weight and days per month that they had adhered to their goals.  

Over the course of the program, 42% of participants lost weight, 29% gained weight and 27% maintained their weight. Those who lost weight on the program had higher adherence rates to their daily changes (mean 14.9 days) compared with those who maintained their weight (mean 12.4 days) or those who gained weight over the course of the program (mean 12 days). Overall there was a positive correlation between mean adherence to the suggestions and weight loss percentage.

This study demonstrates the effectiveness of implementing small but attainable goals to our everyday eating habits in order to achieve long term behavioral changes and weight loss. It is clear that there is a need for a widespread program that will help individuals plan and execute these daily suggestions. To be affective this program needs participants to adhere to the program for a sustained period of time. Researchers suggest that attrition could be prevented by tailoring the program to meet individual psychological and circumstantial needs.