When it comes to understanding the challenges of living with obesity, obesity scientist and Senior Research Fellow at the University of WA Professor Amanda Salis knows all too well what it’s like to carry the extra weight.
Having lost close to 30kg more than 20 years ago, Professor Salis has experienced the difficulties that people with overweight and obesity face when it comes to weight loss and has dedicated her life’s work to finding the most effective, scientifically proven ways to lose weight – and keep it off.
“My research at UWA involves using diets that are severely energy-restricted, meal replacement diets,” she explains. “These diets restrict the daily kilojoule requirement to around 3000KJ per day – instead of eating food, it involves eating formulated meal replacement products, so things like powders that can be made into a shake, or a bar or a soup.”
Since delving into her research around energy restricted diets, Professor Salis is blown away by what she’s uncovered so far.
“I started this research into these diets to find out just how bad they were and the results really showed the opposite, in fact,” she says.
“Despite being severely energy restricted, it results in this paradoxical suppression of hunger while people are on the diet. So normally when someone is losing weight there is an increase in hunger….but during these severely energy restricted diets, there is often a decrease in hunger from how people feel before the diet.”
Drawing from her research, Professor Salis has developed a specialised behavioural and weight maintenance app, WINK, which is designed to support people in maintaining their weight once they’ve completed an energy restricted diet like total meal replacement.
“The main thing with the WINK app is helping people to maintain their weight after the total meal replacement diet,” she says.
“It involves listening to hunger signals and eating according to hunger signals and also eating a reasonably healthy diet but without needing to count calories,” she said.
“It’s about managing weight in a way that doesn’t involve special foods, but just fruit and veggies and it can be any kind, frozen, tinned or fresh.
“It’s also about combining that with physical activity, which is encouraged in the app as well.”
Earlier this year, Diabetes WA received funding from the WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) and the WA Department of Health to pilot an obesity intervention program that pilots a supported total meal replacement program in the primary care setting.
Three GP practices will recruit 50 Western Australians who live in ‘obesity hotspots’ with a BMI greater than 30 or, if they have an existing health-related condition, a BMI greater than 27.
During the pilot program, participants will follow the total meal replacement regime for eight weeks, while being provided with support via telehealth with a multidisciplinary team of
Diabetes WA health professionals who will listen to their stories, provide clinical support and cheer them on for six months. They will also be given access to Professor Salis’ WINK app along with virtual peer support options.
Needless to say, when Professor Salis was approached to be apart of Diabetes WA’s obesity intervention project, she was keen to jump onboard.
“I think it’s a fantastic approach and a fantastic initiative of Diabetes WA to be doing this,” she says.
“It’s not only using the meal replacement diet, but it’s also combining that with telecoaching, which means this diet (eventually) becomes accessible to people who are all over the State, so it’s not limited to being in a particular location or clinic.”
She adds that regaining the weight is one of the biggest challenges participants may face after following the total meal replacement diet for eight weeks.
“There will likely be some weight regain, and this can feel so discouraging that you may want to abandon the program, including any efforts to eat healthy foods or be physically active,” Professor Salis says.
“It’s important to recognise that weight regain is a normal part of any weight loss regime, and that regaining weight does not mean you have failed at weight loss: it just means that your body is good at protecting you from wasting away in a famine.
“It’s also…really important to keep drawing on the support offered in the trial program, like telehealth meetings with the pilot team, as the team can help you find do-able strategies that work for you to help offset weight regain.”