Our editor lost 20 pounds using the Social Diet. Here is his first tip:
The connecting power of smartphones means members don't have to be local—we had members in three states—but it helps to have people you can talk to face-to-face, as well. We liked that our group was smaller than 10, though we have no evidence that improved results. One weight-focused app, Noom, facilitates setting up groups of around eight for its users.
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2. Establish Your Personal Daily Calorie Limits and Weight Goals
We set a goal of one pound lost per week—this was not a crash diet. Calculate your goal using WebMD's BMI Calculator. Generally, safe goals for women are 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day; for men, 1,200 to 1,600 per day. Most people will need to cut 500 to 1,000 of the calories they consume each day, or burn some of those calories through exercise. Consult your doctor before going on a weight-loss diet. Decide whether your group wants weekly weigh-ins.
3 of 10Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner
3. Let Members be Flexible with Goals
Let members be flexible with goals. Some may want to lose weight, others to maintain, and others to focus on fitness with weight loss as a side benefit. We did not require members to share their starting weights or have weigh-ins (after a couple of attempts)—only that they honestly report pounds lost.
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4. Decide on an App
As a group, select a calorie-tracking app that will allow members to communicate and support each other, such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It!
5 of 10Photo Courtesy of Jawbone
5. Consider a Fitness-Tracking Device
Check whether it will "talk" to your calorie-tracking app, in which case it will adjust your daily calorie allowance when you exercise. The advantage of devices such as UP or FitBit is that they track total steps per day and are motivating feedback devices that encourage small efforts (taking the stairs instead of the elevator), as well as large. However, if you can't afford a device, you can manually enter exercise information into most apps.
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6. Get Religious About Tracking Calories
Fire up the app after each meal and snack (or before, as some members do, setting limits on what they will eat). Many packaged and chain restaurant foods are in the database, as are many recipes and member-entered values for common dishes. However, be aware that community-entered data can vary widely—you can find a serving of "homemade lasagna" on MyFitnessPal at 132 calories, another at 350, another at 540.
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7. Measure Ingredients
And portion your servings carefully. Calorie values for ingredients like pasta are easily found on nutrition labels or on the Web. When possible, cook with recipes that have full nutrition data, including portion sizes. Many Cooking Light recipes have already been entered into MyFitnessPal by community members.
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8. Focus on Overall Nutrition
Calorie cutting is central to weight loss, but limiting salt and saturated fat while increasing the amount of plants in the diet, including whole grains, is the basis of a long-term, sustainable way of eating.
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9. Use the Social Tools
Use the social tools on your apps to provide tips and encouragement to other members.
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10. Don't Rely on the Apps Alone for Group Support
Find a way for the group to talk regularly, using a free telephone conference-call service or, online, a program like Google Hangouts or one of the free video-conferencing services. Discuss challenges, successes, tips, motivation. Check out our video conversations here.