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Is Your Diet Too Complex?

It’s kind of hard to make permanent lifestyle changes if the changes you’re trying to make are too complex, right?

Well what if the plan you’re trying so diligently to follow is “too complex” – meaning there are too many food rules?

A study out just this month in the journal Appetite, compared two diet programs (one with more “rules” and one with less) to see if one plan produced better results and long term success.

The two programs used were Weight Watchers and something called Brigitte.  The study was performed in Germany, where Brigitte is popular.  Most are familiar with Weight Watchers, which assigns point values to foods and then instructs members to eat within a certain number of points each day.

You can “earn” more points with exercise and save up points if there’s a special occasion where you’re likely to eat more than normal.

Brigitte is a “recipe-based weight management program” that provides recipes and shopping lists for every meal, meaning participants simply following along with the given meal plans.

In this instance, Weight Watchers was the more complex program with the various point calculations and such, whereas Brigitte is a straightforward “here is your plan, shop, cook, and eat these foods.”

For those in the US, simply think of Brigitte as following along with given meal plans from a weight loss expert.

The goal of the study wasn’t to measure weight loss, but rather to see if weight loss programs fail because of their complexity.

Their conclusions? 

The researchers found that “perceived rule complexity” was the strongest factor associated with increased risk of quitting.  The people in the programs perceived the respective programs to be too complicated.

That means one thing to me: Ever hear the acronym K.I.S.S.?

Keep It Super Simple (yes, it’s cleaned up a bit for our blog).

Does that mean IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT that the “diet didn’t work?”  Hmmmmm. 

Chime in – what do you think?

(Source: Appetite, 54 (2010) 37-43. When weight management lasts. Lower perceived rule complexity increases adherence.)


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14 Responses to Is Your Diet Too Complex?

  1. Amy February 23, 2010 at 7:06 am #

    I can imagine that once you're out or bored of Brigitte recipes, you're off the wagon. With Weight Watchers, you get the tools for lifetime  weight loss success. Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and, well, you know the rest…  

    • Chris and Kara Mohr February 23, 2010 at 9:25 am #

      Great points, Amy — it’s interesting — one thing we hear all the time is “I don’t care to know WHY this is good for me … I just want to have the exact blueprint handed to me.” Others want every last bit of data to support our ideas/suggestions. I guess it depends on the person and what suits them the best.

  2. DENISE BOHN February 23, 2010 at 7:50 am #

    Complexity is one thing and the actual word "diet" is something else.  I think for most of my years I have been "on a diet" – inherited the phrase from my mom.  Just wanting to lose that 10 pounds.   I've had to train myself not to use that "on a diet" phrase which in itself is an obstacle to me.  Thanks to all of your valuable nutrition information and recipes that you share with us at boot camp I now say "I'm trying to eat healthier".  When I say that out loud it makes me stop and think about which menu item to choose when eating out. and I do make healthier choices.  I don't feel that sense of restriction that I did when I was "on a diet".  Make sense????? 

    • Chris and Kara Mohr February 23, 2010 at 9:01 am #

      Great points, Denise — we try to stress that “diet” are the foods you eat each day, not the foods you don’t eat, as most define it! You’re eating to fuel your body.

  3. Rhonda Rhodes February 23, 2010 at 8:39 am #

    Chris, as a lifetime WW member.  I don't think it is too difficult.  I heard someone say
    if you get your head in the game your arce (cleaned up also) will follow.  You have to be
    ready for any change or it just won't happen.

    • Chris and Kara Mohr February 23, 2010 at 9:03 am #

      And your success speaks volumes! This surely was an interesting study — when compared to straightforward meal plans, of course it’s more “difficult” — we’ve worked with people who don’t want to think at all and others who want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing.

  4. Angelo J. Kostas, RD LDN February 23, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    You ask, "Does this mean it is not your fault".  Well…I believe the majority of the responsibility should be on the individual attempting to manage his or her weight.  For example, if an individual does not understand the dynamics of his or her meal plan…that person should ask for clarification on the diet plan (e.g., ask the RD questions, etc). 
    However, it too is the responsibility of the clinician / professional to have an understanding of the client’s knowledge base, and devise the weight control plan based on the client's comprehension level.

    • Chris and Kara Mohr February 23, 2010 at 9:04 am #

      Great points, Angelo! This relationship is very important — as is the relationship between the client and the food itself! Thanks for the comment.

  5. jesse February 23, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    YES, I would agree with what this study suggest. However, motivation is huge. If someone is super motivated they'll stick to any diet regardless of how complex or simple it is.
    I don't think you can get any simplier than fasting for weight loss and wellness. I know its not very poular and still controversial it is gaining in popularity.
    Short periods of caloric deprevation will continue to gain in popularity as folks try to simplify "what to eat and when". How much simplier can you get than to just stop eating?

  6. Kristi Jedlicki Levenhagen February 23, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    I have used Weight Watchers and followed a meal plan by a RD, and I definitely have had more success with Weight Watchers.  It has taught me a lot about portion control and emphasized that I do have choices to make when it comes to eating, and I found it to be very simple to use.  With the meal plan, while it was straight forward, it was difficult to follow, as I don't always want to eat what is on the menu on a given day or for a certain meal and am not always preparing my own meals.  If I were going out to eat or didn't like what was on the menu, it wasn't always easy to make a substitute. 
    The bottom line is that everyone is different, and while one approach works for one person, it may not work for another.  You need to find what works for you, and that can change as your goals change.  Thanks for all of the great information!

    • Chris and Kara Mohr February 23, 2010 at 10:07 am #

      Absolutely — the approach that works the best is the one you follow. 🙂

  7. Stacy February 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    My motivation comes and goes, I've never followed Weight Watchers or any other diet plan, however I have lost 60lbs from my highest weight.  A lot of that has been up and down 5 lbs for sure but for me flexibility and knowledge is key.  I've read info from the Weight Watchers plans from my friends, I'm a subscriber of your newsletter and a few others, I've read South Beach diet, Dr. Phil's diet book, whatever it was as well as countless others and just learned about nutrition.  Every time I've tried to follow a specific meal plan I've failed, I guess I don't like rules.
    I agree that the more complex a diet is the more likely one is to fail, but I can't imagine that following a specific meal plan would be simpler than learning about nutrition and how to make healthier choices which as far as I know is the premise of Weight Watchers. 

    • Chris and Kara Mohr February 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

      Congratulations on your success — everything you’re doing is clearly working, so keep it up and thanks for the support!

  8. Mandy February 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    Hmmm… "Is it not your fault"? I don't think one could blame a diet for their lack of success- no matter which diet you decide to follow, it is ultimately up to you to fully understand the diet and then follow the guidelines. BEFORE you commit to a certain program you should really think "Is this feasible for my lifestyle?" and more importantly, when life is at it's craziest, "I'm I still going to be able to follow the program?" 

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