Countless weight-loss programs, diet pills, and fitness gadgets and gizmos all have two things in common; they leave us in debt and a few pounds heavier. The 24/7 accessibility to food via mobile apps, take-out restaurants, and drive-thrus make losing weight seem like climbing Mt. Everest — impossible. Now, a new weight-loss therapy claims to give us more gains than losses by setting goals based on our personal life values.

The therapy, called Acceptance-Based Behavioral Treatment (ABT), aims to teach dieters skills that will help them stick to their diet and fitness goals. These skills include "mindful decision making, identifying and committing to big-picture life values and a willingness to accept discomfort and reduced pleasure for the sake of those values," according to the press release. Meanwhile, standard obesity treatment (SBT) focus more on the reduction of caloric intake and increased physical activity, but are difficult to maintain in the long term.

ABT "teaches highly specialized self-regulation skills so individuals trying to lose weight can continue making healthful choices long after the program ends," said Evan Forman, lead author of the study, and a professor of psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, in a statement.

In the study, to be published in the October issue of Obesity , Forman placed approximately 200 obese or overweight people in two groups: SBT or ABT, and went to 25 group sessions over one year, meeting with therapists with expertise in weight loss. The first group received training in nutrition and exercise, including other traditional weight loss strategies, such as how to monitor calorie intake and remove foods from work or home that may induce problematic eating.

The second group received similar training, in addition to the ABT strategies. ABT sessions provided a new clinical approach to weight loss. For example, people chose a goal based on their personal values, such as living a long and healthy life or being a present, active grandparent. This allows the dieter to evaluate why their weight loss matters; what do they want in life, and how weight is related to that goal.

Secondly, ABT aimed to help the dieter recognize weight loss is a struggle, and they would inevitably produce discomfort (such as urges to eat, hunger, cravings, feelings of deprivation and fatigue), and a reduction of pleasure (such as choosing a walk over watching TV or choosing an apple over ice cream). Another component of ABT is being "mindful." This is the increase awareness of what cues in our environment  influence our decision to eat.

The findings revealed after one year, participants in the ABT group lost 13.3 percent of their initial body weight, compared to 9.8 percent in the standard group. In addition, 64 percent of participants in the ABT group were able to maintain a 10 percent weight loss after 1 year, compared to 49 percent of participants in the standard group. The success of ABT seemed to be linked to dieters' ability to better curb their food cravings, and to motivate themselves to lose weight.

This drive for commitment is similar to a talk therapy known as “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Previous studies have found it can boost physical activity and improve fitness in those who haven’t previously exercised. ACT teaches people to become mindful, or more aware of their thoughts and feelings in the current moment. In regards to exercise, thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “I want to give up” may get in the way of goals, but with ACT, dieters learn they’re really just thoughts, not facts.

“This study is one of the first of its kind, and offers promise of a new tool to add to the toolbox of treatments for overweight and obesity” said Forman.

ABT still warrants further studies before it's considered a reliable means of weight loss. Questions like whether this program can be incorporated into other programs like Jenny Craig . Also, it’s unclear whether participants need to do these sessions consecutively, or if they will engage in follow-up sessions after the year, among others.

The effectiveness of ABT in weight loss is still in its infancy, but it seems like we have more to gain with being mindful.

Source: Forman E. New Therapeutic Treatment Helps People Lose More Weight and Keep It Off. Obesity. 2016.