Losing weight and keeping it off can be hard to do, however maintenance of weight loss is far from impossible. In this post, Master of Human Nutrition student Glenda Bishop explores insights into why some people are better at preventing weight gain following substantial weight loss
With the collective weight of the nation continuing to grow in the face of so many different popular diets, it may seem that weight gain is inevitable for most people. There are though a small group of people who are successful in not only taking weight off, but keeping it off long-term. Studying the habits of highly successful ‘weight losers’ gives keys to what really works for sustainable weight loss.
The National Weight Control Registry was established in the United States in 1994 to identify successful weight losers and determine which strategies they use to maintain weight loss. The registry forms the basis of a large prospective study that monitors over 10,000 people who are 18 years or over, have lost at least 13.6kg (30lb) and have managed to keep that weight off for at least one year. On average the participants have lost 29.9kg (66lb), with a range from 13.6kg to 136kg (30lb to 300lb). The average length of time that the weight has been kept off is 5.5 years, with a range of 1 year to 66 years.
Registry participants had to have lost weight and maintained this weight loss prior to enrolling, which means that they were able to use whatever strategies worked for them rather than following specific strategies dictated by the researchers. This means that a variety of approaches have been used, and from this researchers have been able to determine that there are 6 common strategies used for successful weight maintenance.
Strategy 1: Eat a low-fat reduced-energy diet
The majority of participants lost weight using low-fat reduced-energy diets that were nutritionally balanced, and have continued with a similar approach to maintain their weight loss.
Strategy 2: Maintain consistent eating patterns
Having consistent eating habits regardless of the day of the week was common to 59% of participants, while 39% reported stricter eating patterns during the week than on the weekend.
Strategy 3: Perform about 1 hour of moderate-intensity exercise each day
A high level of physical activity was common to 90% of participants, although very intense exercise wasn’t necessary since 76% of participants reported doing brisk walking. Weight training, cycling and aerobics were the next most common activities, and many people used more than one activity, so it’s about the amount of exercise not the type.
Strategy 4: Eat breakfast every day
Over three-quarters of participants ate breakfast daily, with a fairly typical breakfast being cereal and fruit. This is one habit that is really worth thinking about since only 4% of participants didn’t eat breakfast at all.
Strategy 5: Monitor weight on a weekly basis
Regular self-monitoring of weight was performed by 75% of participants at least once per week. This strategy is particularly useful for the detection, and subsequent correction, of small weight gains.
Strategy 6: Restrict the amount of time spent watching television
Television viewing of less than 10 hours per week was common to 62% of participants, which is much less than the average 28 hours per week of television viewing by American adults. Notably only 12% of participants reported watching 21 hours or more per week.
This study was performed with American participants, the majority of which were female, Caucasian and had at least some tertiary education. Thus, men and minority groups were not well represented. Also, the registry only follows adults so it is not clear if the findings are applicable to children.
The National Weight Control Registry is a prospective study, however this is not a major limitation since it allows participants to use their own preferred strategies for weight loss and maintenance. This means that the weight loss results are realistic and applicable for fitting into the lifestyle of any person struggling to keep hold of hard-fought weight loss.
- National Weight Control Registry: http://nwcr.ws
- Butryn ML, Phelan S, Hill JO, Wing RR. Consistent self-monitoring of weight: a key component of successful weight loss maintenance. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007; 15(12):3091-3096.
- Raynor DA, Phelan S, Hill JO, Wing RR. Television viewing and long-term weight maintenance: results from the National Weight Control Registry. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006; 14(10):1816-1824.
- Wing RR, Phelan S. Long-term weight loss maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005; 82(1 Suppl):222S-225S.