Steady Weight Loss Leads to Long Term Success
What to Know
Getting down to a healthy weight brings enormous benefits. Weight loss helps reduce the risk of heart disease, lowers blood glucose levels and blood pressure, and may aid in the prevention of certain cancers. But losing weight is hard, and keeping the weight off can be even harder. This study sought to identify weight loss patterns that could improve the long-term success of efforts to slim down and stay slim.
Researchers recruited 183 volunteers. Their average age was 50, and most were women. All were overweight or obese. The study authors assigned each volunteer to one of three yearlong weight-loss programs. One group focused solely on developing behaviors such as calorie counting. The second group worked on similar behavior modification; they also received instructions on weight loss–oriented meal replacements. The third group worked on limiting high-calorie foods and getting more protein and fiber. Each group met weekly for six months; the meetings then became less frequent. At intervals over two years, the researchers evaluated each participant’s weight, eating habits, and attitudes toward food.
The participants who lost weight steadily in the first 12 weeks of the study did better. They were more likely to maintain their weight loss at the two-year mark than the participants whose weight fluctuated in the beginning. For example, consider two participants who each lose 3 pounds in three weeks: Jane loses 4 pounds the first week, regains 2 the next, and loses 1 the final week, while Mary loses 1 pound per week. Over the long term, Mary is more likely to keep the weight off than Jane. Such weight-loss patterns better predicted success than the participants’ attitudes and behaviors around food at the start of the study.
To lose weight, make lifestyle adjustments you can stick with, even if those changes seem insignificant. Weight loss of a pound or less per week adds up over time. Think of weight maintenance as a marathon. Slow and steady will keep you in the race. As the study authors point out, people who quickly lose lots of weight due to very restrictive diets often just as quickly give up and regain those pounds. Future research may eventually help identify people at high risk of backsliding and offer effective means to keep them on the weight-loss track.
“Variability in Weight Change Early in Behavioral Weight Loss Treatment: Theoretical and Clinical Implications.” Emily H. Feig and Michael R. Lowe. Obesity, 2017 September; 25 (9): 1509-1515.