Study Spills the Secret to Weight Loss--Surprised?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As it turns out, you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight. You just have to pay attention to the amount you eat. (Sound familiar?)

A major study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine reinforces the SparkPeople philosophy. For two years, 811 overweight people were placed on four diets--low carb, high carb, low protein and high protein--and all lost weight. What they ate didn't matter. Portion control and tracking calories helped them, just as that has helped millions of SparkPeople members.

By the end of those two years, study participants lost an average of nine pounds and two inches off their waists.

According to the study:
"At 6 months, participants assigned to each diet had lost an average of 6 kg (13.2 pounds), which represented 7% of their initial weight; they began to regain weight after 12 months."

The study was conducted in Baton Rouge, La., at Pennington Biomedical Research Center and in Boston at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and it ended in December 2007. Most participants ate between 1,400 and 2,000 calories a day, depending on the diet they followed and their activity level. Each diet was designed to create a deficit of 750 calories per day. The diets were high in fiber and low in calories and saturated fat. Participants also were required to exercise 90 minutes a week.

This major study supports what we (and you, as SparkPeople members) already knew: "Diets" that restrict certain foods don't work! The key to losing weight and keeping it off is moderation, coupled with portion control and tracking calories.

This month, SparkPeople surveyed 5,499 members and found similar results. We compared members who have met their weight loss goals (or have lost 100 pounds or more) with members who said they've hit a plateau.

The secret to success, they said, was tracking food.

Those who had reached their goal weight or those who had lost lots of weight were much more likely to track their food. Of those who met their goals, 46% track their food every day, another 17.9% track most days, and about 5% track several times per week. Our members who have lost 100 pounds or more tracked even more frequently. About 55.5% tracked food daily, 22.6% tracked most days, and about 5% tracked food several times per week. In contrast, of those who reported "being stuck" and not meeting their goals, only 17% tracked their food daily, 25% tracked most days, and 12% kept track several times a week.

Action Sparked: If you've ever doubted that using SparkPeople's personalized Nutrition Tracker would help you lose weight, think again! At SparkPeople, we've always encouraged daily food tracking (and fitness tracking) for people who want to lose weight, and this new study supports what we've been encouraging for years.

No food combining, no low-carbing, no giving up your favorite foods, no special foods or food restrictions--just eat what you want and still lose weight. SparkPeople can help you do exactly that. We allow you to set the rules; we just provide the tools to help support you.

This study isn't news to the millions of people who have lost weight by practicing moderation and tracking portions on Each month, more than two million people utilize SparkPeople's free tools, Community, and resources to get healthier. And every day, our members track more than one million foods on their free Nutrition Trackers, making's food tracker the most popular in the world! It works away from home, too: SparkPeople's Nutrition Trackers is available on web-enabled cell phones.

Do you know someone who would be interested in SparkPeople's free food diary and tools? Then Spread the Spark! Email this article by clicking the "Share" button below or post it on your Facebook page.

Need more proof?

Read these Success Stories, written by members who used portion control and the Nutrition Tracker to lose weight and keep it off!
I Thought I'd Always Be Fat
I Never Expected to Inspire Others
After Losing Half Her Weight, Lessie Shares Her Story

What do you think about these findings? Will you share them with others?

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After 15 years of being 60 or more pounds overweight, I found the solution for me. It's a drastic one.

It's called moderation.

No more all you can eat buffets. No huge meals that make me feel bloated. No eating entire family sized bags of chips.

I had tried a number of diets, and used SparkPeople for a couple of years. I lost about 20 lbs, which was good, but not great. I fell off the wagon, ate too much, and exercised too little. At 278 pounds I joined a morning boot camp, and tortured myself for 6 months. I lost 32 lbs. A year later I was heavier than ever. I tried Atkins, WW, low cal diets, and several other fads.

Finally I'd had enough. I stopped eating all 'diet' foods. I ate what I wanted, but small portions. I exercise moderately, mostly walking and swimming. I read labels, but unlike many, I didn't track my eating. I just ate better, and in moderation.

Two years later, I'm at 222, and 89 pounds down from my highest weight when I started. Now I've finally hit a plateau. I think it's time to start tracking my nutrition and exercise again. I believe moderation in eating and exercise can get you a long way, but probably not all the way. After sitting on the same plateau for five months, since restarting with SparkPeople after a 6 year hiatus, I'm down 6 pounds. Only 23 to go. Report
Like a lot of people, I do a lot better when I track what I'm eating. It's too easy to add on the extra little bit to each portion, which adds up. I try to be exact when I'm portioning something out because in the end, I'm not fooling my body by lying about how much I really ate! Report
Yeah, I agree, portion control is the key.
I'm not into any restrictive diet except watching how much goes in and how much goes out calorie wise. Obviously, eating a 100 calorie cupcake is not the same as eating 100 kcal of veg or fruit, but one only needs common sense to realise that.
Keeping track is good in the first half of your lifestyle change journey but later yyou have to be able to judge right for yourself. You can't spend your life logging what you eat. You have to be able to make healthy and good choices without the help of pen/paper or the net. And that's the most difficult thing to do. Report
I've always known that its important to eat a range of vegetables fruits grains and various proteins but I've always overdone the treats or the gourmet style cooking. How shocked was I to learn the calorific value of virgin olive oil which I'd heard was good fat and watched as teli chefs poured it all over everything! The tracking of food on SP has allowed me to see what I've been doing wrong and it gives me a tool to use to ensure that I have a proper perspective. It allows me to program in the odd treats without fear of overeating or returning to bad habits. Tracking has allowed me to feel secure about my weight loss. Previous attempts have seen me be excessive in my weight loss attempts followed by a backlash and the regaining of most of that weight in the short term and all of it plus more in the long term. That approach saw me completely lose faith in myself. Now I know it can be done and that at the end of the weight loss procedure, I can keep it off through tracking and maintaining.

I appreciate the exercise trackers as motivators but its what goes in the mouth for me that really needs continual examination. Report
I like the fitness tracker. Report
I was definitely an advocate against tracking what I ate because I thought I ate "just enough" to lose weight...once I started I realized that I wasn't eating ENOUGH which put my body in starvation mode and I realized why I feel sucky all the time. I am definitely devoted to the nutrition tracker to keep me honest everyday. Report
I agree 100%. I lost all the weight when I was tracking every day. The second I stopped not tracking, but watching what I ate I stopped losing weight. Report
It makes so much sense that if you accurately track, therefore actually SEE what you are putting into your body you can better manage your intake, and shed pounds. Report
Tracking works for me - I'm getting better at it - still takes time. Surprises me sometimes - guess that is the many calories etc. Report
"I read in one of the biggest loser books that in order to find out how many calories to eat per day to lose you need to multiply your current weight by 7. That will give you the amount of calories to eat each day in order to lose."

Uh... that is NOT a healthy strategy when "Weight x 7" = eating less than 1000 calories per day. That's generally called "starvation mode", and is cause for all sorts of trouble. SparkPeople's calculated personal daily calorie estimates for weight loss are a MUCH better idea. Report
I believe tracking is important because you become aware of the amount of food and calories you're putting into you body. One thing that I've noticed for me is that I must eat a diet high in protein in order to lose. If I eat more carbs/starches than I do protein my weight loss stalls. Everyone is different. The good part is even though I may have to eat high protein is that I still need to eat a certain calorie range for my height and age. I read in one of the biggest loser books that in order to find out how many calories to eat per day to lose you need to multiply your current weight by 7. That will give you the amount of calories to eat each day in order to lose. Report
yes portion control is a big thing to losing weight. Its hard to do though when u have those carvings!!ahh ha. Report
Thanks to all who posted to this topic. It has been very helpful. Report
I totally agree! I've lost 30lbs. I have noticed that the last few months I haven't been 'losing' weight, just not gaining any weight (more just staying the same). I always had heard the last 20lbs are the hardest to lose, so I wasn't getting too frustrated. But then I read this article and realized the main reason I haven't been losing weight is because I really haven't been tracking food and fitness like I use to. I have learned many things and I guess I have just been making healthy choices, but not 'actively' trying to lose weight. The trackers were a big motivator for the first 6 months I was using Sparkpeople. Now I want to get back out there and start tracking every day to get those last 20lbs off! Report
I have lost more than 110 pounds (not on spark) and kept it off with ups and downs for many years and I totally agree it is the AMOUNT of food eaten that is the deciding factor in weight loss.

Specialized diets if healthy and exercise also contribute to health and weight management but for the vast majority of people (there are medical exceptions) it really is calories in/calories out.

That said, IMO, and in my experience, the calorie levels advocated by many diet sites, TV programs (such as BL), books, etc., is too low for optimum health and weight management over time.

But anyhow lol it really is about calories in/calories out for basic weight loss. Report
I recently took my tracker reports to my doctor....a few months worth. I had gained a great deal of weight in a short amount of time this year. doctor said he was very impressed by these tools and used them along with some laboratory tests to diagnose my new problem: Metabolic Syndrome, or Insulin Resistance. Now I have to cut my carbohydrates, but were it not for my carefully logged foods--even the days I had gone over, he would not have been able to see the diagnosis before he even got my labs back. Very good Spark! Now you're a diagnostician! Report
I am on vacation for the next two weeks, and while I am allowing myself some food leeway, I am still tracking. It's going to be interesting because I ate very well the first week (stayed within calorie ranges, even if I was over on fat a few days) but got little exercise. I gained 1/2 a pound. This week I am eating somewhat over my calorie level, but am exercising. So, I'll see what the scale says at the end of the week...

I do think tracking is very important. I have been talking about Spark People to everyone who asks me what I'm doing to lose weight. Report
Tracking what I ate was an extremely valuable experience and I did it for years. I learned what a reasonable portion size is for me (which is going to be considerably less than my 6'2" husband's portion) and I also learned which foods act as trigger foods, and which foods make me feel tired (of coarse refined carbs make me feel tired I'm hypoglycemic!). I learned to not only look at how much I ate, but how I felt when I ate different things. Eventually this led me to create new eating habits, so that I don't have to think through my food every week (I would plan my menu for the week and then go shopping) because I already know what I need to eat to feel good and keep my weight down. Now I know that I can eat FF Plain Yogurt, fruit and Fiber One, or one serving of whole grain hot cereal with fruit cooked into it and milk for breakfast, a salad of greens, veggies and a protein food for lunch with 1 or 2 tsp of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of vinegar for lunch, and half a plate of veggies, a good sized serving of protein (chicken breast, pork chop, turkey burger) and a "brown" starch (brown rice, whole wheat bun, potatoes with skin, whole wheat pasta, etc.) for dinner and two healthy snacks and I will feel good and keep my weight down.

I also learned that when I am stuck at a conference, or some other function where my food choices are not so great that I will not feel great, but I will survive. If I have to eat a sandwich for lunch I will feel hungry all afternoon, because the simple sugar's in the bread will trigger my hypoglycemia. Knowing that I am not hungry because I need more calories, but because my blood sugar is all our of whack helps me talk my self down and wait until dinner, when I can load up on protein and veggies to feel better.

The funny thing is that stopping the weekly and daily food tracking has actually gotten me out of the stuck place where I had been bouncing around the same 5 pounds for a while now. In a way it removed the pressure to eat what was on my tracker. Now I start with a smaller portion and then come back for a little more if I'm still hungry. It has also made me realize that I can have a new relationship with food, one that isn't about emotional eating or about restrictive eating. I am learning to "eat like a thin person." I am learning to eat to feed my body, rather than to satisfy my eating plan, and to exercise because it's a healthy habit that is a part of my life rather than because it "earns" me more calories to eat. There's no way I could have done this before I learned all the things that tracking taught me, and maybe I will come crawling back to tracking to loose weight again. But, right now I am doing well, learning how to "eat like a thin person." Report
I am addicted to tracking both my nutrition and fitness as it really keeps me in line with my eating. If I am hungry, I check out my tracking and based on my calorie consumption I either eat something filling (splurge) or just have something small to curb my hunger. Thanks SP! Report
Tracking is so easy on SP-thanks so much! Plus, if I think about eating something, I realize I have to record it. It makes me stop and think about if I really want to eat that thing. The daily reinforcement of tracking keeps my food intake right in front of my face. I was a hard convert to tracking, but I think it's the best way of being realistic about what I'm eating and how much. Report
I am new to spark and I know that I need to cut out the portions that is why I am here cause none of those other diets work. Report
In a controlled study you can find alot of things. The fact is some peoples diet is so poor that portion control is not the answer. Defined diets, be it low carb, high protein, etc are still teaching some nutrition facts. I know because I think I've tried them all! When I was younger loosing was my main objective and, like Garfield, believed d-i-e-t was die with a T. But it's easier to loose when your young and now I have a couple of chronic health conditions that require I focus on my eating habbits. Now I look at d-i-e-t as a healthy life style that addresses my personal nutrition needs. Report
I believe it! I love SparkPeople because it doesn't push fake foods and allows me the ability to keep accurate track of calories, ALL FOR FREE! The Nutrition Tracker not only keeps me accountable, but makes me think twice about what I'm eating and why. My husband and I track EVERY day, unless we do not have access to a computer. Report
Calories in, calories out! I've been trying to tell a relative of mine this for years (from the perspective of my having lost more than 100 pounds over a period of 10 years and keeping it off, more or less).

No one that I know who has problems with weight really wants to hear this but as this cited study (there are many others) notes, it is the AMOUNT of food eaten (e.g., calories in) that is the relevant factor in weight and TRACKING it is the way to know HOW MUCH WE ARE EATING.

The calories out part can be impacted by things like lifestyle activity, intentional exercise, medications, metabolism, etc., but basically it is just basic physics.

Weight loss is not rocket science. Report
Tracking what I eat has helped significantly for me-even over the past few weeks that I have been working on I never realized how much empty calories I had been eating over time--and now understand what happened to the way my pants USED to fit. I am now more aware of servings, I have been eating off of smaller plates-and then filling them up to seem like I am eating more, and have not wanted to eat something just because I didn't want to see it in my food diary. I think this time around I am actually going to be successful! Report
I know that tracking my food intake and exercise has helped me lose weigh. I have been trying to lose weigh since i was in my early 30's. I am now 51 and started on SP in January and have lose over 20 pounds. My goal has been losing one pound a week, and i have met that goal most week. Keeping track of my calories intake helps me out a lot, instead of eating that 400 calories muffin in the morning i have a bowl of cereal and a piece of fruit. I have had lots of people ask how i lost weigh lately and i tell them about SP how they make it easy to keep track of you calories intake . Report
The only thing I'm surprised about is HOW WELL TRACKING WORKS!! It's the only strategy that consistently brings me results, and SparkPeople makes it easy, accurate, and fun. Thank you, SparkPeople!!!! Report
I have been sharing SparkPeople with everyone I know since I stumbled upon it a little over a month ago. My sister in law and best friend are now on and I sent an invite to my sister. I talk about it all the time. This is the best free site out there.

But I'm still working on loosing the weight myself. Does anyone recomend what to do if you think you can't loose weight no matter what you do? no matter what I do I can't seem to take off more than a pound a month. I'm a little discouraged.
For the entire month of March I worked out four times a week and ate no more then 1200 calories. I only lost one pound. Report
Tracking my nutrition and fitness is where it's at. No second guessing; just facts. Excellent reference for planning future nutrition and fitness goals. Report
I agree that its not what you eat but how much of it. I refuse to give up taste for weightloss. I do prepare my meals healthy and I agree with the prior comment, restaurant food is the worst though tasty. Preparing your own meals gives way more options and opportunities for fun. Prevent boredom by mixing it up like trying a different fruit and/or vegetables Report
I believe you can eat what ever considering you cook it yourself. Restaurant food is the worse. Even if you ate half you are still eating almost if not half of what your intake is daily. Exercise and common sense eating is the key. I never believe in any diet that deprives you of certain nutrients. Good eating habits and exercise goes hand and hand. For years I would do half, eat right but would not work out or vice versa and the results were never what I wanted. Now doing both I see drastic results! Report
I don't understand why spark keeps putting out these absurdly irresponsible articles. I understand they are trying to steer people away from fads and gimmicks, but they are almost just as bad on the opposite end of the spectrum. I would hope that they promote more than just losing weight on their site, but overall good health. Losing weight by cutting calories is not the end all be all road to optimal health. Also not everyone on here is even looking to lose weight. Some people might want to gain muscle mass, or have enough energy for endurance sports, or a host of other goals. Only promoting calorie counting, and bashing specific structured diets is not doing anyone any favors. There are plenty of skinny people that have heart attacks and get cancer, and plenty of other mild to serious conditions because of the types of foods they eat, not just how much food they eat. Not to mention that over a period of 2 years the average overweight test subject only lost 13 lbs. Big deal. As a personal trainer if any of my overweight clients got such slow results I would be out of a job. By structuring a more specific diet that focuses on the types of foods, macro nutrient ratios, a balance of micro nutrients, as well as calorie intake and portion control someone can get much quicker results and reach a much higher level of optimal health than someone that just counts calories and tracks their food intake. I'm so sick of people twisting studies (especially studies that don't really show any significant findings) and putting their biased spin on it to make claims that don't really hold water. There are just as many studies that show that the type of food you eat is extremely important, and that things aren't always so black and white as just eat less and you'll lose weight. Food isn't the direct cause of gaining or losing weight, hormones are. Food is an indirect cause since it influences your hormone production. If the TYPES of food you are eating don't support optimal hormone levels, then guess what, there is a chance you won't lose weight even if you are in a calorie deficit.

So yes, track your intake, and if you are eating too many calories then eat less, but also put some thought and care into the types of foods you eat. Report
I definitely do better when tracking my food. I encourage family members to do the same so they can really SEE what they are eating. I'm not perfect by any means, but I am learning everyday! Unfortunately, I do not believe these findings will stop some of the diet shortcut commercials out there. Report
I find that if I had went over my daily nutrition goals I am still satisfied with myself as long I as exercised. Although, I do need help with portion control... exercise is what I have a problem with. Luckily, this website helps me with both. Report
Portion control and exercise is the key. But it is a hard thing to do at times Report
Well imagine that. Portion control and exercise. WTG Spark for already "getting" it and passing it along to us! Report
This is the second time I'm going for BIG LOSS!! This confirms what I learned when I was successful before. I exercised more and made wise choices. If I was craving something, I'd have a little of whatever it was, then get back on track. I didn't feel deproved and I lost 70 pounds. I kept it off for 2 years before I got pregnant again, had 2 more children, and gradually lost all those good habits. This time I have to commit to the lifestyle for LIFE! That's the KEY! ;D This LOSING part is too HARD to not KEEP the benefits. Besides, the up and down roller coaster isn't healthy, either. Report
This time when I got serious about getting this extra poundage off, I said I don't need a diet, I need a life eating plan! Didn't realize the was an eat lab until I got into volmetrics. Eat more good food, feel full, get moving lose all the pounds! I love it. I did not come on over night and habits are hard to break, but Spark people has been keeping me on track. I may not always keep up with tracking my food intake here, but I have pages of tracking here at home. I feel like this is one more step to get those dang "diet pills, diet commercials, infomercials" a kick in the butt and SAY YAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHOOO i new it was in the amount, I do not have to give up anything but the extra portions, easy to do with a smaller pate, glass and silver ware. I just use the grandkids stuff when they are not hear...perfect portion control in those little three portion plates! Report
I have been saying this for a long time now so it's great to hear it validated. No matter what food lan I eat if I eat over the amount of calories I should eat to maintain I will gain. If I want to eat junk then I just have to plan on not getting to eat alot of quantity that day since junk tends to have more calories. Watching my calories tends to make me choose better stuff to eat especially since I like to have quantity on my plate(healthier stuff like veggies have less calories)! Report
The article may be true for some people. It's not true for me... If I eat junk, I gain weight and or feel like crap. I can't do intensive dance skating routines on sugar and bad fats and I cannot just eat a handful of buttered popcorn and call it a meal. I need fresh, live raw purifying foods or my work out suffers from lack of intensity. Some people like me, need to restrict certain foods or we go on a binge. Totally lose control and eat every single cookie in a package etc.

Once my body has had a chance to clean up the mess I made with high sugars, bad fats and alcohol, usually takes 12 weeks, then and only then can I dabble in all foods... but its a dabble and not a day in and day out. Report
My last visit to the doctor only made me more determined than ever. I may be a newbie (joined 2/27)but this website has totally enlightened me and excited me to no end. It's so easy to keep track of your calories, meal planning and shopping. I just jumped for joy. Calorie intake, moderation, the right healthy foods and always having the time to jump onto this site and tally. It's already making a world of difference in how I feel about getting it accomplished this time. Using this site really gives you insight to what you eat. It's more than educational, it's smart! Report
This information didn't surprise me but it also doesn't mention that most people feel better when they "good" food. You could eat a giant bag of doritos for your calories-but you probably feel sluggish. Report
Im new found this blog interesting..

I have found that planning what i will eat for the day using my traker has deffinately helped me Report
This is no surprise whatsoever, and it's no "secret." It's always been about calories in vs calories out. Report
I completely agree with the portion control thing. In the 70's at McDonald's an adult meal was the size of a kids meal today, even recipe books have changed their portion sizes, what once was a meal that would serve 8 or 12 now serves 4. Our perception of what a single portion is has increased and along with that came our waistlines and the numbers on the scale.

I know portion size alone won't work, of course we need food and activity logs, yes we need to exercise more-that is something else that has changed we have more modern conveniences these days that have also increased our weight. Also what I noticed has helped me is 'turning' my logs in to someone. I get embarrassed if I ate very poorly or way to much spaghetti for supper or no veggies, or that bag of m&m's.
That is the problem, I feel like to many people just have this goal of 50 lbs. but they don't break it down by month, people need to set mini goals as well. Report
Portion control is what made the difference for me. No starving, just eat right, watch my portions and get some regular exercise.

moderation, not deprivation. So, no I'm not surprized by the findings.
I'm not at all suprised. My grandma is very wise. She has always said; "Eat what you want but eat less of it." It's not about low fat, low carb, and high protien. It's all about the number of calories you are consuming. You just have to do the math. Report
I know tracking helps me. If I get busy & don't do it my weight creeps back up. Report
Oops sorry for the duplicates. My computer goofed|! Report
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