Temptation may be Stronger in Social Settings

Trying to shed a few pounds or just maintain your weight? Then you may need to cut down on eating out.

According to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions, the temptation to overeat for people trying to lose weight or maintain a lower body weight is stronger when eating in a social setting.

For the study, researchers used smartphones and a custom-developed application to capture data as 150 dieters, 90 percent women, moved through everyday life for 12 months. The participants were trying to limit calories to a specific number per day.

The technique deployed to survey the dieters — ecological momentary assessment (EMA) — has been used to study topics including addiction, pain, work stress and asthma. EMA assesses emotions and behaviors in real-time and in natural settings.

The dieters reported their surroundings, what they were feeling and whether they were tempted to break, or broke, their eating plan. Temptations were defined as eating a food or amount of a food inconsistent with a weight loss eating plan; for example, having a large serving of a calorie-dense food such as French fries or cheesecake or several pieces of candy at the office.

Participants who ate with others or in a restaurant had a 60 percent chance of diet relapse, researchers said.

Even though participants had fewer temptations in their own or someone else’s home than in a restaurant, they still had a 60 percent chance of a diet lapse. But odds of a diet lapse were lower in other locations, including work (about 40 percent) or in a car (about 30 percent). However, participants lapse in diet almost half the time when alone.

“Research into understanding and preventing weight regain is vital for improving the public health,” said Lora E. Burke, Ph.D., M.P.H., study lead author and professor of nursing in the Department of Health and Community Systems at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. “Helping an individual anticipate challenges and problem-solve high-risk situations can empower them to stay on track with their weight loss/weight maintenance plan.”

Researchers can use the data to develop support that can be delivered electronically to dieters in real-time when they need it, Burke said.

Participants’ average body-mass index was 34.0 — for instance, a 5-foot-4 woman weighing about 200 pounds, or a 5-foot-9 man weighing 230. More than one-third of U.S. adults have a BMI of 30 or more, the level considered obese.

During the study, women weighing less than 200 pounds had a daily diet target of 1,200 calories, and men at that weight 1,500 calories. Among those weighing more than 200 pounds, the goal was 1,500 calories for women and 1,800 for men. Dieters aimed to limit fat to about 25 percent of total calories.

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