For most people trying to lose weight, strict adherence to a meal plan is one – if not the only – way to ensure they are successful. A study, however, has shown that just sticking to a meal plan won’t cut it. Relying solely on food supplementation – including meal plans – does not result in greater weight loss. The findings of the study, published in the Journal of Nutrition & Intermediary Metabolism, were the result of a systematic review of earlier studies on food supplementation and its effects on dietary interventions.
For most people, losing weight is essential, especially since the number of people who are obese has tripled globally since 1975, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s not just obesity rates that are on the rise: In 2016, at least 1.9 billion adults over the age of 18 were considered overweight. Of that number, over 650 million people were classified as obese. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than a third of Americans are obese. Unfortunately, children are not exempt from the condition: WHO estimates have put over 340 million children from five to 19 years as either overweight or obese, while 17 percent of all children and adolescents are obese, according to the CDC.
To note, obesity and being overweight are conditions that refer to the body’s abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat. Based on a person’s body mass index (BMI), people who have a BMI of 25 and over are considered overweight, and those who reach 30 and over are obese. These two are significant risk factors for a number of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
For this study, researchers from the University of Wollongong in Australia took note of the changes that must be made in losing weight. In particular, overweight individuals require significant changes in their lifestyle as part of their weight management regimen. One of these changes is nutrition counseling and meal plans are an ideal method to measure a person’s compliance with their diet, as well as improve their outcome.
To understand the impact of meal plans on weight loss, the team scoured multiple search engines including Scopus, PubMed, and the Cochrane Library to find relevant studies. The results were limited to those published between January 2004 to March 2015. To aid their search, keywords such as “trial” OR “intervention,” “food” OR “diet,” “weight loss” and “compliance” OR “adherence” were used.
For a study to be included in the review, it must have either provided food to at least one study arm or reported weight change and compliance with their published results. These were then finalized and grouped into two: Those that had been supplemented with food (called “food versus no food”) and those that provided food to all participants (“food versus food”). In total, 17 articles from 16 studies were culled from the search. Of those in the “food versus food” category, all participants reported weight loss, while those in the “food versus no food” category exhibited greater weight loss than the control group. In three trials, differences in weight loss were reported in both groups.
Based on their results, the researchers stated, “In dietary intervention trials, food supplementation alone does not lead to greater weight loss but may act as an incentive to modulate diet and improve compliance.”
Getting a plan that works
For a person to get into shape, it’s not enough that he follows a meal plan or regularly exercise: Multiple studies have found that a combination of diet and fitness is the best way to improve a person’s health. This combination – recommended by both the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association – is one of the best ways to prevent disease, maintain a healthy weight, and improve cardiovascular fitness.
Other benefits of combining diet and exercise include the following:
The ability to regulate a healthy body weight
Better muscle tone and a thinner appearance
Improved resistance against cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers
Increased insulin sensitivity, which helps prevent metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes
One way this is done is by balancing calories that go into the body (through food) and go out of it (through exercise). In essence, this model indicates that for a person to lose weight he needs to burn more calories through exercise than that which came in with food. As a person continues to exercise more to burn more calories, his energy needs will also increase, allowing the body to take in more food without gaining weight. However, maintaining balance is essential: Most people overcompensate one or the other, leading in cases where they actually gain more weight than burn it.