Does self-monitoring for weight loss work for everyone?

By Anne Riker Garlington
Kelsey Arroyo
Kelsey Arroyo

In the United States, weight loss programs are a multi-billion dollar industry. A University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions study gives new insight on the effectiveness of self-monitoring calorie intake and weight for helping participants lose weight and keep it off.

Kelsey Arroyo, a Ph.D. student in the UF PHHP department of clinical and health psychology, and Kathryn Ross, Ph.D., M.P.H, an associate professor and associate chair for research in the department, completed a study that characterizes individual variability in associations between self-monitoring and weight change during and after a behavioral weight management program.

In their study, which appears in the journal Obesity Science and Practice, the team reports 68% of participants enrolled in a behavioral weight loss program benefitted from self-monitoring, which supports current clinical recommendations.

In addition, the study reports although almost a third of participants did not benefit from self-monitoring, there were no differences in effectiveness by age, gender, race/ethnicity, education or income. Results further suggest that demographic factors may not be useful for predicting the effectiveness of self-monitoring for weight loss. Future research should focus on identifying other individual-level factors that may predict who could benefit from self-monitoring, the authors write.

Arroyo, who received her Master of Science in Health Promotion from the University of Connecticut, discusses how she became involved in the study and how she hopes it may improve the ability for people to maintain weight loss.

What is the potential impact of the study?

We know that self-monitoring is a cornerstone of behavioral weight management interventions. The results from this study are important because they do shed light on the idea that certain tools within behavioral weight management programs may or may not be as effective for certain individuals. Although we did not find significant differences in the effectiveness of self-monitoring by demographic characteristics, it also has merit in showing that self-monitoring can be similarly effective for people across demographic characteristics.

How did you get involved in this study?

I am really interested in understanding the development of tailored weight management interventions and behavioral lifestyle interventions. I also want to help people with obesity or who are at risk for Type 2 diabetes lose weight. Ultimately, I believe is it important to understand why some people don’t do as well or are not as successful with weight loss after a lifestyle intervention.

One of the reasons I chose to come to UF was the opportunity to work in an environment which emphasizes the medical and health psychology track and the relationship between mental and physical health. Also, I felt that my research interests aligned with my mentor Dr. Ross, who shares similar interests in the effectiveness of weight loss management.

I’m fortunate to be able to work with Dr. Ross because she allows her students to not only assist with her projects and things that she is working on in terms of writing abstracts for conferences, manuscripts, assisting with clinical trials and having those research tasks, but she really prioritizes her students. She focuses on turning her students into independent researchers with their own thoughts and ideas.

What are your goals for the future?

I would like to do both research and clinical work, which is one of the main reasons I chose a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology, and because it provides you with the training to potentially do both in your career. I’m interested in conducting pre-surgical psychological evaluations for bariatric surgery patients and/or organ transplant patients. It is essential to perform assessments to determine their candidacy from a multidisciplinary perspective; to make sure that they’re going to be able to sustain those lifestyle changes they’ll need for long-term success. In addition, I want to be involved in the psychological follow-up after bariatric surgery and understand from a health service psychology perspective to determine the next steps for putting guidelines in place.