Texting Your Way to Weight Loss

Research shows that monitoring what you eat and how much you exercise helps shed pounds. But all that monitoring can be a chore – it’s hard to keep writing in a book or in an app online. It causes a lot of people to stop doing it. Sound familiar?

Now a new study has shown that texting may be a viable alternative. In a study performed at Duke University, researcher Dori Steinberg and her associates found that after six months, 26 obese women who used daily texting lost nearly 3 pounds, while another 24 who followed traditional methods gained 2 1⁄2 pounds. The average age of participants was 38 years.

Text messaging is an effective method to simplify tracking of diet and exercise behaviors

What’s interesting is the daily text messages did not focus on daily food intake, calorie and fat content, or portion size. Instead, the text messages focused on tracking tailored behavioral goals (i.e., no sugary drinks, 10,000 steps per day, no fried food) along with brief feedback and tips.

Every morning, participants got a text from an automated system that said, “please text yesterday’s # of steps you walked, # of sugary drinks, and if you ate fast food.” Based on how they responded to the text, the automated system sent another text with personalized feedback and a tip.

“Text messaging has become ubiquitous and may be an effective method to simplify tracking of diet and exercise behaviors,” said lead author Dori Steinberg, a post-doctoral obesity researcher in the Duke Obesity prevention program.

Text messaging offers several advantages compared to other self-monitoring methods, she said:

  • texting2Unlike Web-based diet and exercise diaries, data in a text message can be entered quickly on nearly all mobile phone platforms. This provides more portability, nearly real-time tracking and more accessibility for receiving tailored feedback.
  • Previous studies show that people usually don’t stick to traditional monitoring, because it takes too long, it’s too much effort and it’s a pain.
  • Text messaging is typically about 15-20 words per message, so there is less detail and thought processing required to document diet and exercise behaviors.

Most participants reported that that texting was easy, and helped them meet their goals. The key challenge in weight loss is helping people keep weight off for the long-term. So the next step is to see if texting can help people maintain their weight loss.

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