Structured Meal Plans and Weight Loss

WLR's Site Manager, Laurence Beeken

Research has shown that people are more likely to lose more weight when following a structured meal plan such as PlanBot from Weight Loss Resources.

A US study found that people asked to follow structured weight loss meal plans or who had food provided, lost more weight over 6 months (an average of 11.8kg) than people using less structured guidance (8kg loss).

Eighteen months into the study, the benefit remained; weight loss was on average double for the structured groups. It was also found that that people who had just the structured diet plans and shopping lists to follow lost as much weight as those who also had their food provided for free!

What was the Study About?

The study was originally published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders1 in 1996 and was designed to show that providing overweight patients with the food they should eat would significantly improve weight loss.

Conducted on 163 overweight women, the objective of the study was to examine the contribution of three components of food provision:

  • the specific meal plans indicating what foods should be eaten at each meal
  • the food itself
  • the fact that the food was provided free.

How the Study  Worked

The research was a controlled study with subjects assigned to one of four groups:

  • a standard behavioral treatment program (SBT) with weekly meetings for six months;
  • SBT plus structured meal plans and grocery lists;
  • SBT plus meal plans plus food provision, with subjects sharing the cost; or
  • SBT plus meal plans plus free food provision.

Results of the study

Subjects in Group 1 lost significantly less weight than subjects in Groups 2-4 at the end of the six month program (-8.0 kg vs -12.0, -11.7 and -11.4 kg respectively) and at follow-up one year later (-3.3 kg vs -6.9, -7.5 and -6.6 kg respectively). No significant differences were seen in weight loss between Groups 2-4, suggesting that the component of food provision that is responsible for its success is the provision of highly structured meal plans and grocery lists.

What the study concluded

Providing structured meal plans and grocery lists improves outcome in a behavioral weight control program; no further benefit is seen by actually giving food to patients.


1International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders

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