Background

Thirty-five percent of college students have overweight or obesity and are in need of brief and simple weight loss interventions that complement their unstructured lifestyles. Implementation intentions, a simple strategy that connects a goal-aligned behavior to a cue, may be a useful stand-alone intervention for weight loss and dietary change in students, but has not been tested.

Methods

College students with overweight/obesity (N = 95) were randomized to an implementation intention group (IMP), an enhanced implementation intention group (IMP+) that included text message reminders and fluency training (i.e., training for speed and accuracy), or a control goal intention group (GOL). All groups were assigned the same dietary goals for weight loss over four weeks. Participants completed anthropometric and self-report assessments pre- and post-treatment as well as experience-sampling assessments that tracked goal-congruent behaviors and implementation intention adherence in the first and last week of the study.

Results

No differences were found for weight and diet outcomes by condition, although across the sample, students lost a significant amount of weight, improved diet quality, and reduced caloric intake (ps<0.05). Multilevel modeling analyses revealed that IMP and IMP+ groups reported significantly more goal-congruent behaviors than the GOL group; further, the IMP+ group demonstrated significantly increased adherence to implementation intentions compared to the IMP group.

Conclusions

Participants in all three groups lost a statistically-significant amount of weight, indicating a simple intervention may be beneficial for college students with overweight/obesity. Furthermore, setting implementation intentions was associated with an increased number of dietary behaviors consistent with weight loss goals, indicating that further evaluation is warranted to assess their impact in augmenting dietary changes and weight loss in the long-term.