UCT’s Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine is doing an exciting following up study to their previous research in weight loss maintenance.
Losing weight is never easy, but with a goal in sight it’s easier to motivate yourself to eat healthily and exercise. However once you’ve reached your goal weight, every day thereafter it gets a little bit harder to stay on track, and weight-loss maintenance becomes the biggest obstacle. In fact, almost all research studies agree, only about 20% of people who are successful at weight loss, can maintain this weight loss for longer than 5 years and stay successful in the long term. Thus weight loss maintenance has a very low success rate. For aspiring weight loss candidates this is a grim prospect, especially bearing in mind the effort it takes to lose the weight in the first place. So how does one overcome this?
In our previous research study we wanted to know why some women are so successful at weight loss while the majority of women relapse. We compared successful weight-loss maintainers with lean women with no weight loss history and weight-loss relapsers. We found that the successful maintainers exercised more, restrained themselves from eating certain foods, ate differently, and had greater cognitive function compared to lean women with no weight loss history and women who experienced weight loss relapse. Thus the answer comes down to better self-discipline, self-control and ultimately higher executive function making certain individuals more successful at weight loss maintenance.
Research has shown that individuals who struggle from substance abuse may lack abstinence from the drug due to lower executive function. This could mean that improving executive function could improve self-control, leading to successful abstinence.
From the findings of our previous study (Mind the Gap 1) we established that individuals successful in weight loss maintenance performed better at cognitive screen tasks, even while being distracted by pictures of tasty food, compared to unsuccessful dieters and lean individuals with no weight loss history.
This higher executive function ability can be linked to a more disciplined behaviour.
This behaviour may help individuals, who have to maintain weight loss, to avoid falling back into their old habits, such as overeating, excessive snacking and not adhering to their exercise regime.
Previous research in methamphetamine addicts has shown that regularly completing a working memory task on a computer significantly improved their working memory. This directly improved executive function and at the same time gave “tik” addicts better control over their drug abuse. Similar research has found positive results in people suffering from alcoholism. Although humans cannot abstain from eating in totality, we could argue that unwanted eating behaviours that lead to overconsumption of food, is equivalent to being addicted to food, especially the taste of food.
The aim of our next study, Mind the Gap 2 (which follows on from Mind the Gap 1), is to determine if working memory training will specifically change a person’s eating behaviour through self-control (or discipline) over their self-set rules in order to maintain their weight loss and prevent them returning to old habits which resulted in them becoming obese in the first place.
The working memory training will be completed 4 times a week by means of a cell-phone app, each training session lasting around 15min. The training will carry on for 6 weeks. Before and after the training, participants will undergo 3 visits to the laboratory to complete a series of assessments. These assessments include behavioural questionnaires, body fat analysis, metabolic rate measures and executive function measures, including a brain scan of the brain’s response to a cognitive task while inside an MRI. If the study finds that an easy working memory training programme via a cell phone app can help successful dieters stick to their new healthy and controlled lifestyle behaviours, it will be recognized as a tool to prevent weight loss relapse, a phenomenon far more challenging than the weight loss itself.
We are actively recruiting research participants for our study and we are looking for:
If you meet the criteria above and would like to take part in the study, please contact:
Ms Trinity Rudner (Study Coordinator)
Phone: 083 861 0333