When it comes to weight loss, more Americans will turn to dieting than exercise for results. But researchers have found time and time again that diets don’t work in the long run, and often result in depressive, cyclical failure. According to a new study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the key is to make it personal.

A team of researchers from Newcastle University recruited 1,607 adults in seven different European countries to participate in a website called Food4Me. Over the course of six months, each participant was given one of three personalized diets: one based on their current diet; another based on their level of body fat; and a third based on their genetic makeup. A fourth group was given one-size-fits-all dietary advice. Throughout the course, participants were given diet plans to follow. In the end, 80 percent of the participants who were given a tailored nutrition plan successfully followed their new diets.

"Many of us know that we could improve our health and wellbeing if we eat better — however, we find it really difficult to change our eating habits and to maintain those improved eating patterns,” said the study’s lead author John Mathers, the director of the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University, in a statement. "Personalized nutrition advice helped people to make bigger and more appropriate changes to their diets than the conventional healthy eating advice."

Instead of giving generic advice, such as eating five servings of fruits and vegetables or two servings of fish each week, participants were instructed to address only certain eating habits that were relevant to their current diets, health, or DNA. While some were told to consume less meat or salt, others were told to add more whole wheat into their breakfast. By simply following three personalized food goals, participants were significantly more likely to comply.

"Compared with the control group, the personalized nutrition groups had about double the improvement in overall healthiness of their diets,” Mathers said. “We expect this to translate, eventually, to bigger improvements in health and wellbeing. This approach could be scaled up to help much larger numbers of people chose healthier eating patterns and could be a valuable tool for improving public health."

Source: Mathers J, Livingstone KM, and Celis-Morales C, et al. Effect of personalized nutrition on health-related behaviour change evidence from the Food4Me European randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2016.