Almost a quarter of children and two-thirds of adults in Australia are overweight or obese, and rates continue to rise.
“So we wanted to understand more about the barriers people experience when trying to make dietary changes and lose weight,” Gilly said.
“Our research found that 66 per cent of respondents constantly struggled to resist cravings. Additionally, 82 per cent said it would be easier to lose weight without them.”
Australians who battle with higher levels of cravings tend to have a higher body mass index (BMI). Therefore, they often have the most weight to lose to reach their healthy goal.
Additionally, people said cravings can make it difficult to stick to a weight management plan. People with higher levels of cravings also struggle to lose as much weight as those without cravings. This group of Australians often face obesity, which presents additional health concerns.
If there is a pattern of cravings, there is often also a cycle of dieting. Some participants reported attempting weight loss interventions up to 25 times. Cravings were one of the factors impacting their ability to reach their health goals.
While some people crave sweet or salty foods, our study found most cravings were for high fat and fast foods.
“People who excel in this period lose 3.5 times more weight after 12 weeks than those who struggle to start.”
Several international studies have examined changes in food cravings following an energy-restricted diet intervention, including meal replacement products.
Meal replacement products are reported to be underutilised by health care professionals. This is due to concerns about their safety and effectiveness for long term weight loss.
However, we’ve found meal replacements may offer a safe and effective strategy to elicit faster initial weight loss. This is a temporary strategy used before transitioning to a healthy food-based dietary pattern.
Shaking things up
“Once we had a good idea about the challenges people who struggle with higher levels of cravings face, we then moved into a pilot study,” Gilly said.
“We wanted to test how meal replacements could help people better control their cravings.
“Specifically, we wanted to learn more from people who are within an obese weight category and wanted to lose weight but struggle to stick with it due to cravings.”
Our study focused on Australians with a high BMI and who were classified as having higher craving tendencies.
This group was trialled for three weeks on partial meal replacements. Depending on each person’s estimated energy requirements, they had two or three meal replacement shakes and one healthy balanced meal per day.
The group also had access to the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet program. This included food education, an exercise tracker, positive psychology tools and the support of CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet community.
After the three weeks, participants were encouraged to transition from the meal replacement-based diet to the CSIRO Total Wellbeing wholefoods diet.
Weighing up the results
Our study showed meal replacement shakes can play an important role in achieving weight loss in the first three weeks.
By week three, participants who completed the study lost an average of 4.1 kilograms (kg). More importantly, 80 per cent felt better at controlling cravings.
The average weight loss jumped to 5.9 kg at the six week mark. Two-thirds of participants had achieved a clinically-significant weight loss. Confidence in their ability to resist cravings increased by 19 per cent.
“Participants reported a big impact on their cravings and hunger. They were developing balanced eating habits and their initial weight loss results helped them stay on track,” Gilly said.
Implementing the science
Applying the findings from this new research, the Total Wellbeing Diet program has created the new Fast Start option. The Fast Start program is designed specifically for those with higher levels of cravings who struggle with a strong start.
The program will support members with a safe, convenient and simple option for the beginning of a diet and beyond.
“We know weight gain is often gradual, so weight loss and long-term lifestyle change takes time,” Gilly said.
“Our research shows that people who are supported to manage cravings with a calorie restricted start, feel better able to manage their cravings and see good short-term results.
“This supports them to implement long-term lifestyle change to reach their goals.”