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Rambam Performs Novel Weight Loss Study via Social Media

Publication Date: 4/27/2023 11:00 AM

Dr. Irit Hochberg, acting director of the Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism Institute at Rambam Health Care Campus (Rambam), in Haifa, Israel, recently led a novel weight-lost study using data collected on social media.

Dr. Irit Hochberg.
 Photography: Rambam HCC.Dr. Irit Hochberg. Photography: Rambam HCC.

We all want to look our best, and mostly, we are willing to put in the effort. Weight Watchers, Ketogenic, Paleo, Atkins, the grapefruit diet, the egg diet, and calorie-counting are just some of the many well-known weight loss plans worldwide. Short-term success is visible, but we are often disappointed by the long-term results and realize that dieting is not enough.

Dr. Hochberg wanted to know if changing dietary habits was enough to maintain a healthy weight. According to a recently published study she performed with Dr. Elad Yom-Tov, Associate Research Fellow at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, chances are it is not. Their study entitled; “A Large-Scale Observational Analysis of Social Media Data Reveals Major Public Misperception of the Attainability of Drastic Weight Loss by Dieting” was recently published in Obesity Facts.

In a novel approach, Hochberg and Yom-Tov collected data from around 56,000 people who participated in six dieting forums on Reddit, a popular social media platform. Each of the forums focused on one particular diet. Participants were required to provide some personal data, providing a window into their lifestyles. The two researchers collected and analyzed the data regarding participants’ perceptions, beliefs, success, and actual results.

Hochberg explains, “Long-term diets often end with disappointing results, and most dieters only lose a few kilograms. Over the years, clinical studies have examined the effects of various diets; it is difficult to lose weight and even harder to sustain weight loss. Surprisingly, most people still believe it is possible to start a diet and reach the desired goal.” She further explains, “In the medical and scientific community, this is a known fact supported by decades of research. However, among the general public, this misconception still exists.”

According to the two scientists’ research results, study participants claimed to have lost between 12–16 kg. Seventy-five percent of the dieters who continued reporting on Reddit lost at least five percent of their body weight. Dieters following the Keto program reported the highest weight loss.

“Clinical studies examining the implications of diets on weight loss in a controlled environment show that diets lead, an average, to 4–7 kg weight loss. Some dieters will regain the weight they lost. On average, those who stick to their new eating plan will ultimately lose about 3 kg.” Hochberg continues, “Our research participants had hoped to lose more than that – between 24-¬37 kg.”

Social pressures, messages like ‘thin is good – fat is bad,’ subliminal advertising, and others are all harmful. There are significant gaps between people’s beliefs versus actual results. According to Hochberg, expectations based on exaggerated ideas that we can bring about radical change by dieting are erroneous. She explains, ”pursuing a goal that is on the verge of impossible creates a cycle of disappointment generating self-hatred, a sense of failure, and disappointment. Some will turn to more extreme methods to achieve their goal, resulting in sharp weight fluctuations and eating disorders – all are harmful to our health.” This is the bottom line of their study, the largest of its kind to date.

The goal should be adjusted to achievable results when making dietary changes aimed at weight loss. “It is impossible to change your build and become slim and shapely, but shedding a few kilograms can have enormous health benefits. We are all different; there is no single formula, and this principle is a rule of thumb when it comes to dieting,” Hochberg concludes.

Based on an article that first appeared in the Jerusalem Post