Thinking that one is following a low-calorie diet might facilitate weight loss, a new preliminary Frontiers in Psychiatry study finds. The placebo effect of the imaginary low-calorie diet was found to be sufficient for study participants to lose weight while following the same diet did not result in any significant results for participants believing they followed a balanced diet.
The study recruited 14 overweight adults of both sexes and randomly divided all participants into two groups. Both groups were assigned to follow the same energy balanced diet and to complete the same low-intensity exercise routine for 8 weeks. The experimental group participants were told that they were put on a low-calorie diet while the control group knew that they were following a balanced diet.
When the experiment ended, the participants who believed that they followed a low-calorie diet demonstrated significant reductions in their body mass, fat mass percentage, and body mass index. These measures of weight remained practically the same in control group participants who followed the same diet and the same exercise routine as the experimental group participants.
As overweight and obesity are becoming more prevalent in developed countries, devising effective approaches to losing weight is an important task. The simplified approach to weight loss focuses on managing energy intake and energy expenditure. In this study, Valentin S. Panayotov sought to examine how the placebo effect may complicate the purely mathematical model of weight loss.
“Further studies on the placebo effect hypothesis in dieting are necessary in order for more definitive conclusions to be derived,” the researcher said, adding that the “study only sets the basis for further investigations.”
Although the study relied on a small sample, the finding contributes to understanding of the psychological aspects of the weight loss process. The fact that one’s beliefs about the diet may affect its’ outcome suggests that energy intake and energy expenditure are not the only factors determining the success of weight loss efforts. Panayotov emphasizes that psychological and behavioral aspects of weight loss should be considered in developing weight loss programs along with metabolic considerations.
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