In a 2012 comparative study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers compared weight-loss results between obese people enrolled in an in-person weight-loss program and those registered in telephone/web-based weight-loss interventions. Each group was enrolled in a program that differed only in its format – in-person or telephone/web-based. Both groups provided support on diet and exercise and had accountability components (i.e., food journals/trackers). At the end of the multi-year study, the doctors found that the people registered in online programs lost a statistically similar amount of weight as those enrolled in an in-person group.
Other research suggests that the answer isn’t so clear – in a review of recent research, Columbia University physicians analyzed studies involving 4,100 participants, finding that while using a web-based program to virtually track weight-loss is more effective than reading and using weight-loss pamphlets to inform eating habits, dieters who worked with a live support group lost more weight over time than those enrolled solely in computer-based programs.
So, can you lose weight with an online weight-loss program or not? While it remains up for debate whether online programs are more effective in enabling weight loss than programs with a live component, the research suggests that the bottom line answer is yes – using an online program will help you shed undesired pounds. How, then, do you decide which to use? There are implications to using an online program that must be considered when determining which type – online or in-person – is best for you.
Thinking in a metacognitive fashion about what works for you as an individual is crucial in determining whether an online weight-loss program is for you. Are you the sort of person who needs a friend to check in with them to stay on top of your projects or meeting your goals? Perhaps a weight-loss program that offers an in-person element and a group of people to support you is necessary. Conversely, are you the type of person who absorbs and loves data, putting everything involving numbers into an Excel spreadsheet? If you find that entering your daily food intake, exercise and weight-loss progress into an online database is enough for you, then the online route might be the one to follow.
What if you’re just not sure? Try a hybrid program (a program that offers both online and in-person services). If you find that having a live support group helps you, stick with it. If not, switch to strictly online. One benefit to online programs to consider is cost – there are a few sites that offer journaling services and weight-loss free of cost, while the majority of programs that meet in person have monthly fees. Online coaching programs usually have a fee associated with them, but allow you more flexibility with scheduling sessions and conferences. Ultimately, the decision lies with you and what works best with your dieting style – but, whether the weight-loss system is online or not, you can and will lose weight if you adhere to the program’s guidelines and keep yourself accountable.
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