Online dieting

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 1st, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If your New Year’s weight-loss willpower is disappearing faster than your waistline, online dieting might seem like the perfect solution.

Dozens of programs have sprung up, offering a variety of diet approaches. For a fee, users receive a structured plan, personalized advice and maybe even access to support services such as chat rooms.

For some people, the convenience and privacy of online dieting are strong selling points. But experts caution that Internet-based programs don’t offer a magic bullet to beat the bulge. University of Pennsylvania researchers comparing two groups of women dieters found that those using a popular online service averaged only a quarter of the weight loss achieved by another group using a diet handbook.

The researchers said they expected online dieters to lose twice as much weight as the other group because they had unlimited access to online meetings, bulletin boards and advice. But two factors might have hindered their success.

One was lack of participation. Online dieters who logged on to the program’s Web site less frequently had the poorest results. The other problem was lack of record-keeping. The online program didn’t require participants to keep strict records of the calories they consumed, but the diet handbook did.

The researchers concluded that online diets should include record keeping, feedback and accountability… things associated with in-person weight control programs.

So before you sign up for a cyber slim-down, shop around. If a program doesn’t expect much of you, maybe you can’t expect much of it, either.