Every year millions of Americans make their New Years' resolutions, some are kept, but many more that are lost to reality by, say, February 1. The key to successful New Years' resolutions is, of course, to keep them within the realm of possibility.
According to a study published in the University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45 percent of Americans make resolutions, with a dismal 8 percent success rate! (1)
The number 1 resolution is without surprise, to lose weight.
As nutrition professionals, we counsel our clients to set realistic goals particularly when it comes to weight loss. The key strategy I try to instill is that small changes, over time, yield BIG results.
Let’s take by way of example, to resolve to be 10 pounds lighter by this time next year. What would that take? Well if you work the numbers (1 pound = 3500 calories), then a 10 pound weight loss would amount to a 35,000 calorie deficit per year = ~ 100 calories per day. That would seem pretty reasonable to achieve in a year’s time - right? It’s as easy as switching out a (12 oz) sugar sweetened beverage (~140 calories) with a non-caloric beverage or one sweetened with a low calorie sweetener such as aspartame, 5 times per week. I always say to my weight loss clients "don’t drink your calories, eat them; food is a lot more satisfying."
So why do so many fail to achieve such a seemingly simple weight loss goal? Could it be the plethora of misinformation that is propagated by the Internet and the main stream media? Just recently, The Dr. OZ Show aired a feature entitled, “Should you give up artificial sweeteners?” He stated that the use of low calorie sweeteners “absolutely can cause weight gain.” While this may be Dr. Oz’s opinion, it is NOT supported by scientific evidence. And of course, being a medical doctor, his “opinion” is most likely taken by his viewers as medical consensus. In fact, Dr. Oz’s “opinion” could not be further from the truth.
What does the science say?
Two studies were recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Both were intervention studies where noncaloric beverages were substituted for caloric beverages. In the first study by de Ruyter et al., researchers randomized 641 normal-weight Dutch schoolchildren (age range, 4 years 10 months to 11 years 11 months) who regularly drank sugary drinks to receive one can (8 ounces) per day of either a sugar-sweetened, noncarbonated beverage (104 kcal/day) or a similar-tasting, noncaloric, artificially sweetened beverage for 18 months. At the end of the study, children in the sugar-free group gained significantly less weight and body fat than those in the sugar group (mean weight gain, 6.35 kg vs. 7.37 kg).(2)
In the second study, researchers in Boston randomized 224 overweight and obese adolescents who regularly consumed sugar-sweetened drinks to receive home delivery of bottled water and diet beverages every 2 weeks for 1 year, along with monthly motivational telephone calls with parents and three check-in visits. The intervention group also received written messages by mail with instructions to drink the delivered beverages and not drink sugar-sweetened drinks. The control group received supermarket gift cards. At 1 year, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in the intervention group declined to nearly zero and was significantly less than in the control group. Gains in body-mass index (BMI) were significantly smaller in the intervention group at 1 year but not at 2 years after the intervention had been discontinued. Interestingly, the intervention resulted in significantly smaller gains in BMI and body weight at both 1 and 2 years among Hispanic adolescents.(3)
The results of these two studies demonstrate that reducing intake of sugar-sweetened beverages can reduce weight gain in normal-weight and obese or overweight children and adolescents. Furthermore, in the adolescent intervention trial, providing education and healthier alternative beverages for 1 year had continued dietary effects at 2 years in some adolescents.
So what is a nutrition professional to do? Stick to the science! It is our responsibility to inform the public and help them decipher what information is factual and based on science, or fiction based on emotion or mere speculation.
Nelda Mercer, MS, RD, FADA, is a registered dietitian and provides expert counsel to the Aspartame Resource Center.
- University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology, New Year’s Resolution Statistics, December 13, 2012. Available at: http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/ Accessed December 30, 2012.
- de Ruyter, J. C. et al., A Trail of Sugar-free or Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Body Weight in Children, NEJM, September 21, 2012.
- Ebbeling, C.B., et al. A Randomized Trial of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Adolescent Body Weight, NEJM, September 21, 2012.