Anyone who has ever struggled to get off the couch and hit the gym knows it’s much harder to pull a no-show when someone—a friend, a trainer—is waiting to meet you there. It’s called accountability and for some people who are looking to shed excess pounds or shape up, it can give them the edge they need to reach their goal.
Studies show that using tools to hold yourself accountable, such as keeping a food journal or working out with a buddy, help people successfully stick to a weight loss plan or exercise routine. And the Internet has only made it easier to stay on track. A 2010 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research looked at a web-based weight maintenance intervention program and found that the more frequently people logged onto weight loss sites, the more pounds they shed. In the study, users who went online and recorded their weight at least once a month for 24 months maintained the highest amount of weight loss—an average of nine pounds—compared to those who went online at least once a month for 14 months and kept off five pounds on average. Those who logged on less often maintained an average weight loss of a mere three pounds.
But not all experts agree that accountability is the best way to meet a weight-loss goal. “The problem with accountability is that in order to turn your goal into something that you can hold yourself accountable for, you almost always have to focus on an outcome rather than a process,” notes Art Markman, Ph.D., YouBeauty Psychology Advisor “Successful weight loss means both losing weight and also maintaining that weight. In order to do that successfully, you have to make significant and sustainable changes to your lifestyle. You have to eat differently in a way that you can continue even after you reach your target weight. And you have to add regular exercise into the routine.”
Adds Markman, “you're better off focusing on creating healthy habits that are sustainable. The focus should always be on process rather than outcome.”
Although Edward Abramson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of "It's Not Just Baby Fat: 10 Steps to Help Your Child" to a Healthy Weight, agrees that accountability isn’t a foolproof weight loss tool, he says it can help you stay motivated by providing social support to get you through the rough patches, such as when that pint of ice cream is calling your name. “Motivation is really the key, given that weight loss is effortful and that you don’t always see immediate benefits,” says Dr. Abramson. “Often social support is a great motivator—someone who will be supportive and encouraging—and can be very useful in maintaining healthy eating habits and exercise.”
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