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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So Spark People (us) have been doing very well all along! Yay for us! Report
So Spark People (us) have been doing very well all along! Yay for us! Report
So Spark People (us) have been doing very well all along! Yay for us! Report
I like the nutrition tracker I just started tracking my sodium Report
Personally, I feel what this study underlines is not how well each diet works, rather what a bad job the media, our diet gurus and ourselves do at not addressing MAITAINCE. I lost 43 pounds last year and I'm doing my second year relosing the same, due to not "getting" that it all would return if I returned to "normal". The standard of normal in this country is made to keep everyone over weight. I promise you in two years it will be much more than 9 lbs.! Report
I'm also checking my fiber each day - that seems to be a huge key to success for me. Report
It's good to be aware of eating what you like and learning to watch the portion size. I can get easily carried away and rememberit will be 20 minutes after eating until I feel full. Overeating givesno reward but to feel bloated. I like to take my time and enjoy the taste of freshness and thoughtful preparation. Report
Not to throw ice water on this, but NINE pounds after TWO YEARS! Not very encouraging if you ask me. I would love to lose the 1 to 2 pounds a month that is supposed to be "reasonable." We need a better "secret." (I do record my calories) Report
The menu plan with all the information is going to be the best tool I have ever found to help in changing my life for the better, if I do or if I don't loose weight. Report
This does not come as a great surprise to me. Before I joined Sparks People I exercised at least 30-60 minutes 5-6 days/week, but did not track food eaten. In more than a year I had lost and regained the same 5 Lbs numerous times. Since joining Sparks People in June of last year, and tracking my food religiously on a daily basis, I have met and exceeded my goal weight. I continue to exercise 45-60 minutes 6 days a week and have also started doing strength training. I credit the food tracking with my success. Am trying to convert my sister and have invited her to join Sparks People She is resistant and insists all she needs to do is to work out. I'm hopeful that one day she'll "get" the whole idea behind food tracking, but until then I'll support her however I can. Report
I am not surprised by this info. Counting calories is what finally helped me shed the unwanted weight. I will share this info with my family. Lots of them are always trying "this or that" diet, with only temporary results! Report
It worked and is still working for me as a maintenance program. I like that I am not on a diet. I love that because of portion control and tracking food and exercise, I can see what I need to do to make it work for good as a lifestyle. I lost 35 lbs. and I feel great and don't worry that I might mess up. If I do something that isn't right, I catch it right away and change it. Tracking keeps you disciplined. I love my new lifestyle. Thanks to God and SparkPeople I can live a healthy lifestyle. Report
I believe that tracking food will be the secret to my success. I have a long way to go and am so glad i found sparks to help me!! Report
I've been tracking for 4 years now. Not always on this site. It certainly helps to see just how many calories I really take in. Not to mention what portion ratio of calories consumed. I still don't always get it right. At least I am more aware than before. Report
Okay. Now I have a problem with people not consuming foods in restricted plans . Of course portion control is the key, along with exercise, and rest. The problem with diets that restrict certain food groups is that they are no more balanced than a plan where your food is already measured and practically prepared for you. With these plans there is a lack of balance, and so many times when people end a diet (and diets always end) the weight comes back on. I say do it the sparks way and learn to live the lifestyle. I am afraid that people will become increasingly unhealthy if they continue with these "fad" diets. We want to be healthy and establish good habits. Report
I definitely agree that tracking is profoundly important in weight loss. It is sooo easy to add an extra 100-300 calories just by underestimating amounts or calorie values for some items. Or forget you ate something earlier... so yes, I do think tracking is vital to weight loss.

I do disagree though, that other things like food combining, avoiding processed carbs, etc are now something to be ignored. Perhaps in a completely healthy person that is true... however for someone like me who has insulin resistance and intestinal candida... food combining and avoiding sugars are very important. I have tried just eating the right amount of calories (yes, and tracked it!), without taking these things into effect. And I lost absolutely no weight whatsoever. It can be very frustrating to read articles like this that say it doesn't matter what you eat, just how much-- and have that fail miserably when you try it! There are just too many other factors to take into consideration to put a blanket "all you have to do is x,y,z" statement on any approach. Report
I read the article from the New England Journal of Medicine and although a long and laborious read, very interesting indeed! This is exactly why I love Weight Watchers (and work for them) and why I love Sparkpeople! Neither is "extreme" in their thinking and recognize that a realistic approach to weight loss and fitness is a "well rounded" diet and exercise regimen that is tailored to your personal likes and dislikes and your schedule and lifestyle. Thanks for confirming once again that the power to lose and keep it off is within each and every one of us! Report
I haven't lost very much weight even though I have been a member of SparkPeople for a long time, but that was because I didn't use the trackers. In the last 3 weeks, I have been using them regularly, and I have lost 8 of the 13 pounds I gained since I updated my weight. I never realized how many calories I was eating in a day! No wonder I was gaining so much weight. The food tracker helps me with portion control, and yet I still eat anything I want. I am trying to incorporate more fruits and veggies into my diet slowly. Without that food tracker, I would never be able to do this. The fitness tracker also reminds me to exercise at least 10 minutes a day. I set up my own fitness schedule to better suit the way I live, and it is working! Thanks, SparkPeople! Report
I know that tracking my food and fitness daily has been what has helped me to lose over 90 pounds! I have tried "dieting" in the past and it just doesn't work. Everything about Spark has been a HUGE help! So no, I'm not surprised by their finding. =) Report
I truly believe that tracking my food every day for the last 9 months has helped me reach a 50# weight loss. Well, I missed one day when we were on vacation and couldn't get to a computer last summer...but, hey, the process works for me! On to the next 50# goal! Report
I think the secret to portion control, as with Sparkle72023, is to not serve dinner family style. Get your plate, use a small plate to begin with (such as a salad plate) and then only put the correct portion on your plate. Don't serve dinner in large platters in the middle of the table. That way you won't be tempted to refill your plate and your small plate will look full. Report
I track my food for the most part.. i have lost 30 lbs in 5 months and have not lost any for over a month.. so i hit the wall and it is hard to stick with it but i know that.. this will pass.. i want to reach my goal my the end of the year.. i hope that i make it.. i will not give up this time.. i want to spend the rest of my life as a health person.. Report
The study may not be perfect, but it does highlight three very important facts: that it's important to track what you eat, watch your calorie intake, and exercise on a regular basis. The nutrition and fitness trackers found on SP are the perfect way to fulfill those requirements. I have been on SP since November, use the nutrition and fitness trackers daily, and have lost over 20 pounds! I have been keeping a food journal since July 2007, and have lost over 225 pounds! I could not have stayed the course without being accountable to myself using these tools. Yes, I've hit a few plateaus, but after adjusting my caloric intake and my exercise program, I buzzed right off those plateaus and continue to lose weight! Report
Frankly, I feel relieved by reading the article. I have found myself getting too wrapped up in trying to eat less carbs or more protein, or less fat, or within the calorie range... My head was spinning, my weigh loss plateaued, and I have been fighting a lot of frustration. I had made the decision to throw it all out the window and try one more time following just the calories/portions. This article came at the right time. I enjoy tracking my food because I have no self control with eating. This has been a good tool to keep me accountable to myself. Report
I have to "weigh" in here too. I agree with what everyone is saying. It is common sense. If you track what you eat, you are going to tend to eat healthier because you have to admit to what you are putting in your body, so it is a cycle. When you start to see results, you either keep it up because of the positive reinforcement or begin to slack because you know that you made some bad choices last week and they didn't hurt you. I think that is my downfall, then I make a few more bad choices and pretty soon I'm wondering why I'm no longer losing weight...sticking to our guns and making good choices again and again and again is the key...To CHRISSYK59...the nutrition tracker should put in your calorie ranges. If not, the nutritionist I visited gave me the mage 1400 calorie a day number. I'm similar in weight to you, a little taller, but I think that is a pretty standard number. She had broken down carbs, protein, etc. but the nutrition tracker does the same thing and it's easier if you can enter your foods. Then you can see where you are doing well and where you may need to cut back... Report
I agree with sparkle72023. I think in this day and age alot of us already know that it's all about portion control, or basically selfcontrol and self discipline. Of course deep down inside everyone does probably wish there was some sort of magic pill that could make unwanted weight go away, or any other problem that we just don't want to deal with. But the truth, I guess that one truth about weight loss (and for that matter any endeavor that means alot to us) is that it takes effort, real EFFORT. No one can do it for me. I have to stop myself from picking hotdogs and chips for lunch and choose a salad and healthy lunchmeat sandwhich instead. I have to be the one that orders veggie pizza on Friday night instead of meatlovers. I have to put the chocolate peanut M&M's back at the store instead of buying them. But what SPARKLE said was right. The magic secret then, since we all KNOW what we need to do, is how do I actually learn that kind of selfcontrol and self dicsipline??? If SPARKPEOPLE.COM could tell any of these woman here that, then they would definately have our full attention! Report
I think tracking is a huge part of my success. I've lost 73 lb now since Oct/07 & during the first half of my weight loss I tracked religiously. For me seeing in numbers what is was ingesting was enought for me to stay away from my usual choices. I don't track as much any more, but I am consciously aware of the numeric value of what I eat & that helps to keep me on track. Once nutritional facts and tracking have been learned, it's very hard to unlearn. And even harder to ignore! Report
I think the "secret" is a great one & a true one . . . the problem is, when I'm at the dinner table it is soooo hard to resist taking (and eating) bigger portions that what SparkPeople recommends. Can someone tell us the "secret" to successfully dealing with the TEMPTATION to eat larger portions than we should?

Now that indeed would be quite a "secret" . . . .. ! Report
I have been on Sparks for about 1 month and I love it! It really has opend my eyes to how many calories I was eating everyday. I am finally seeing a little weight loss and I now know why! Report
Total common sense!! Although I do believe the quality of the calories you choose is important too ; ) Report
You can't really call this a "secret" - it's just common sense. Report
I have so many problems with advocating this NEJM abstract, it's hard to know where to begin. I'll try and be brief. Essentially, the biggest issue here is that the only thing that was tracked (at least according to the abstract...I'm no longer a subscriber, so haven't been able to read the whole article) was body weight. How much lean body mass did these subjects lose between groups? How much body fat? If your only concern is a number on a scale, then that's what you want but just don't go nuts. However, if you're goal is to maintain good lean body mass and whittle away body fat, I wouldn't necessarily follow this lead of "just count your calories and you'll be ok". I would be quite happy to eat about 1500 kcals worth of brownies and call it a day...but I seriously doubt that would help me reach the physique I wish to have... Report
Well it's about time that a study like this is done to prove that all those "diets" are just "diets". Good for SP for offering everything that they do to help us, and good for us for knowing the "secret" before the study was even published! Report
The nutrition tracker on Sparks is the best tool they have. It really gives yo a good look at what the food you eat has. There are many things that I eat very sparingly because of it. Love this tool. The fitness tracker is just as important and makes me get up and do something. Tahnks again for providing these two amazing tools. Report
I have been falling short on tracking what I eat and drink. The detailed work in figuring out the nutritional make-up of the foods/drink that I consume is probably where I am stumbling.

Since I joined SparkPeople at Chrismas time I have lost 12 pounds. I wonder.....if I was to keep track of my nutrition as my friends here have been doing - would I be doing even better in the healthy eating/weight loss department? Report
Chalk up another two points - one for SP, and one for moderation! Report
I think tracking your food does help. I found that putting it on paper makes it real and I didn't want to have to write down that pc. of candy that I wanted so I would pass it up. It's just being consistant with writing things down that's hard. Report
Tracking my food was absolutely the key to my weight loss. Spark's tracker makes it so easy, especially now that they've added foods that other Sparkers input into the tracker. I don't always track. On days that I go out to a restaurant, it's usually a guess anyway. But I track probably 5 days a week. It really helps.
And I agree. "Diets" don't work if you're just looking for a quick fix. Report
I joined spark in the beginning of August and have lost about 63 lbs. I track my food every day and I also weigh and measure my food. I don't think I have given anything except the junk up, but I have found that as time goes by I am makeing healthier choices. Everything in moderation thats the key. Report
i look to sp for the info i need to decide for myself what i should and should not eat, and god bless em for that because i've learned so much. and lost alot too. 40 so far. Report
I agree with those that say this study is flawed - a 9 lb weight loss over 2 years is, frankly, terrible...yes, it's a loss, but other studies (and most people on this site will agree) that yes, absolutely - journaling your food and exercise is exactly the way to lose weight...but this study does not restrict calorie intake, which is key. These people could have lost 9 per month had they had a realistic number to reach every day instead of just journaling. Report
wow great article... an average of 9 pounds a month is great. I fluctuate between 4-7 pounds most months but I'll always have a few months in the beginning where I manage to lose 15-20 pounds. The concept should be nothing new to us. We've been told forever if we eat right and move daily we can lose weight. But I'm w/ GrayGranny... my motivation typically DIES (I refuse to let that happen this year!!!!). Right now, I'm beyond motivated. My Lenten goal was to give up 1hour of sleep and dedicate at least 30 minutes of that hour to going to the gym EVERY MORNING. I'm on a roll. I started Tuesday and I haven't missed a beat. But what happens between now and the end of the 40 days will depend greatly on my motivation factor. Report
It does take time to take food intake but I do try to track most of the time even if I have to track a day late to keep me on track. Report
I can't imagine that many overweight participants reached their goal weights by losing nine pounds - and even that took them two years. I wouldn't describe this as "the secret to weight loss" unless you're overweight and have very modest goals. (Since the article describes all the participants as overweight, I wouldn't assume that a smaller person could also lose nine pounds on the same regimen.) Report
I saw the study on the Today Show...........surprise!!!!!!!! eat less...exercise more=weight loss............just tell me where you find the willpower at times....I am getting there......very slowly Report
It 's possible this could work. I know someone who who by simply cutting back sodas, beer and salt lost 25-30 lbs in less than a year. His occupation requires lots of outdoor activity so I guess that helped with the weight loss too. He wasn't dieting, just reducing his intake of a few bad items. Report
I have worked hard most of the time to stay within my calorie range as well as carbs, fats,sodium,etc. but blew it all by getting so tired on my girls day out that I came home and just grabbed 6 coconut macaroons instead of a healthy dinner for a total of almost 2500 calories last night. Had just logged it in when I read your article and you just can't imagine how much it helped me be determined to stick in there!! Sort of gave me a new lease on my determination when I had been so down on myself. Thanks Report
They lost 9 pounds in 2 years, so guess I'm not doing so bad after all. Report
They lost 9 pounds in 2 years, so guess I'm not doing so bad after all. Report
It's a great theory, but certainly doesn't work for everyone. I started tracking my foods and lost 30 pounds from October '07-May '08. From May '08 until last week, the scale never moved, even though I continued to track my foods religiously and stay within the Spark recommended calories. And yes, I was exercising, too. It's just not that simple for some people. I wish it were. I'm stubborn, though, lol. Cut calories significantly (my personal "boot camp") and I've finally seen some progress. According to SparkPeople I should be losing 2.5 pounds a week with this caloric range, and I seem to be, but I should have been losing 1.5 pounds a week with the caloric range I had before, but I didn't gain or lose a pound. Every body is different, and simple mathematics and "sensible eating" don't always provide "the answer".

- Josie Report
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