It could be that the act of writing down values and beliefs is the next big fat-buster, as part of a mental diet strategy.

A Canadian study suggests value affirmation as a psychological step towards weight-loss initiatives. According to the study, the intervention for effective weight loss is possible by writing down thoughts about one's self-defining values.

The research, published in Psychological Science - a journal of the Association for Psychological Science - stated that women who wrote about their most important values (like notes on close relationships, music or religion) lost more weight over the following few months than women who did not. The study was based on the ability to maintain self-control... a trait that becomes essential in a calorie-dense society that has succumbed to over-eating.

My dream, and my research goal, is to get this to the point where people can do it deliberately to benefit themselves, said lead researcher Christine Logel, of the Renison University College in the University of Waterloo, Ontario. There's certainly no harm in taking time to reflect on important values and working activities you value into your daily life, Logel added.

The study worked towards providing a mental intervention designed to encourage psychological resources and was centered on women since previous records suggested women were more vulnerable to weight-related stress.

One element of the study encouraged participants to consider positive memories important to them. The belief was that re-affirmation helped build defenses against mundane stress elements that might otherwise drain mental resources needed for self-control.

The researches enlisted 45 female undergraduates, with Body Mass Index (BMI) of 23 or higher. Incidentally, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal and 58 percent of the women chosen were either overweight or obese.

The participants were weighed and given a list of important values, like creativity, music and relationships. These were then ranked in order of personal choices.

Instructions were then given, to 50 percent of the women, to write for 15 minutes on the value most important to each of them. The other half, the control group, were told to write why a value far down their list might be important to someone else.

The women were weighed for a second time, between one and four months later. It was found that while women who wrote of personally important values lost an average of 3.41 pounds. The women in the control group, on the other hand, gained an average of 2.76 pounds... a pattern of weight gain that is typical for undergraduates.

How we feel about ourselves can have a big effect. We think it sort of kicks off a recursive process, Logel explained, adding that perhaps when one of the women who wrote about an important value went home that night, she felt good about herself and did not eat to make herself feel better. Furthermore, since snacking next day was as much a habit, she may have skipped it. That pattern, Logel suggested, could have made a real difference over the next few months.

We have this need to feel self-integrity, said Logel, who co-wrote the study with Geoffrey L. Cohen of Stanford University.

When something threatens your sense that you're a good person, like failing a test or having a fight with a friend, we can buffer that self-integrity by reminding ourselves how much we love our children, for example, she explained.

Many studies in the past have found that even briefly thinking about values can have a big effect on situations where people feel a threat to their integrity. Co-author Cohen tried the same technique on minority seventh-graders who were underperforming in comparison with their white peers. Those who did the exercise were still performing better years later.