To combat expanding waistlines in the Information Age, an increasing number of U.S. Internet users — more than 40 percent — are going online for weight loss advice.
However, a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health shows the top search engine results often provided “substandard quality information.” The study reveals shortcomings ranging from unsubstantiated health claims to sites focused solely on a single fix, such as medication.
Reputable medical, government and university websites weighing in on how to shed pounds, researchers say, need to improve their search engine optimization efforts to get in front of more browsers. In the meantime, here’s the skinny on how you can optimize your search for weight loss advice online:
Know where to search virtually
Search for websites that end in .edu, .org or .gov. This may mean going past page one of your search results. Professional blogs, such as one written by a health professional, may also provide quality information, according to research, but still be aware of unproven claims.
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Look for reputable references, such as a link to a peer-reviewed journal or for input from a credible, licensed professional, such as a registered dietitian.
Click off the quick weight loss fix
“There is no magic pill, bean, diet or workout program that helps people get ‘shredded’ or drop massive amounts of weight in a few weeks or months,” says Mark Hedegore, a registered dietitian, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and owner of highly rated Live Fit Personal Training + Nutrition in Westlake, Ohio. Instead, look to lasting lifestyle changes, such as eating a Mediterranean diet with fruits, veggies, nuts and fish.
Get back to the basics, away from fad diets
According to evidence-based guidelines, researchers noted that women on a diet should generally consume 1,200 to 1,500 calories and men should take in 1,500 to 1,800 calories. Or guidelines suggest dieters should take in less calories than they burn or restrict certain foods such as those high in carbs, fiber or fat.
To maintain weight, evidence shows high levels of activity, more than three hours weekly, are typically needed, too. Even at this basic level, experts caution against any one-size-fits all approach to weight loss.
Ditch the pitch
No shortage of products and programs exist with testimonials and celebrity endorsements doing what science said they couldn’t. Each wants to allegedly help you lose unwanted pounds and certainly lighten your wallet.
“They want to optimize their visibility so they can get clients or sell products regardless or their credentials,” says Alix Landman, a registered dietitian and owner of highly rated Landman & Associates in Plantation, Fla., who advises patients on nutrition and weight management. Resist the urge to sign onto a weight loss program without first getting a second opinion from a health professional you trust.
Go offline for a tailored approach
Your doctor should discuss whether you’re maintaining a healthy or unhealthy lifestyle; however, you may need to initiate the conversation. Evaluate health risks and benefits of treatment, if needed. In addition, a licensed health professional, such as a registered dietitian, can help you develop a weight loss program that fits you.