No. 1: How to Lose Weight

Asking a search engine for a foolproof weight-loss scheme? You might as well lump in questions like “How do I age backwards?” and “What’s the meaning of life?” too.

Tough economic times aside, Americans live in a land of plenty — or excess: supersized servings, heaping grams of sugar, and stress-induced cortisol to fatten bellies. Thus our perpetual search for the perfect plan: the diet plan, the meal plan, the exercise plan.

The scary seven-letter motivation, though, is “obesity,” which is up 12% in searches compared to last year. More than 72 million of American adults (26.7%) are obese, and while it’s not a word people like, it’s the one heard on news broadcasts, talk shows, and government campaigns that aim to get our weights out of the danger zone. In the “tell us something we don’t know” department, only one in six overweight Americans can lose weight and keep it off.

Not great odds, but how did the successful people do it? Apparently it helps to be female, single, diabetic, healthier overall, young, and college-educated. But single out one common factor, and it’s that the weight loss was intentional. Not magical or improvisational but intentional.

That factor may explain why food diaries have become a favorite among dietitians. Not only does tracking calories give people a reality check, but they also have to commit to filling the diary out — and that takes resolve.

What else motivates? People look for inspiring success stories. On TV “The Biggest Loser” and “Thintervention” have documented some emotionally intense weight-loss processes, and have propelled viewers to search for “biggest loser meal plans” and “biggest loser meal delivery.” Celebrity before-and-after pictures had people scrambling to figure out “How did Kelly Osbourne lose weight?”, “Kim Kardashian weight loss,” and “Drew Carey diet plan.” Even a former president, forced to slim down for a big wedding, got people hungering for the “Bill Clinton diet.”

A slew of diets dominated searches: HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) rocketed to the top in 2010, bypassing regulars like Atkins (pro-protein), South Beach (low-carb), cabbage soup (roughage-ing it), gluten-free, Mediterranean (the most balanced), Acai berry, Dr. Oz, and flat belly (based on a book). HCG was discovered in pregnant women’s urine back in the 1920s, and in the 1950s a doctor discovered that boys being treated with HCG for delayed genital development also lost extra weight without hunger pangs. But HCG requires daily injections or creams, and the diet part is a tough 700 calories a day.

Research what works best for you, but know that the key to weight loss is a combination of exercise, diet, attitude, and lots of math. People go online every day looking for a handy “calorie calculator” and checking “How many calories should I eat?”, “How many calories to lose weight?”, “How many calories in a banana?”, and “beer calories.”

You may need a psychological boost. Many people search for quick solutions: “how to lose weight fast,” “lose weight quick,” “one-week diet,” “how to lose weight in a week,” and “how to burn fat fast.” A University of Melbourne study claimed, “surprisingly, and against current beliefs,” that a fast drop is better than a slow one — at least when it comes to motivation, not for keeping the weight off.

–Vera H-C Chan and Eugenia Chien

Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for four years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events and search trends to share the why behind what’s hot online and in the media. On Yahoo! her writing can be found all over, including in Buzz Log, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame.

Before joining Yahoo! as a Search editor, Eugenia Chien was a reporter at New America Media in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, on KQED, and on KALW. She crushes on geek heroes, transit enthusiasts, and animal lovers.