Lose weight slow and steady – keep it off years later

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If you’ve worked to lose weight, you may have found it just as challenging to keep it off months and years later. And there aren’t a lot of clear answers on how to avoid pounds creeping back on. But we do know that staying a healthy weight is one of the most important lifestyle factors you can do to reduce risk of many cancers, including postmenopausal breast, colorectal and esophageal.

Now, a recent study, published in Obesity, finds that slow and steady weight loss may be best. Taking that approach, even in the first few weeks of a program, may predict your ability to maintain that weight loss even up to 2 years later. Research has been mixed on whether consistency in weight loss and diet affects ability to keep weight off longer term. In this study, researchers compared those with steady weight loss to those with weight fluctuations in the first 6-12 weeks of the study to see how that affected their long term ability to maintain weight loss.

The scientists assigned 183 people to one of three groups with different diets. They met weekly for 6 months, then less often the rest of the year. Those who lost a consistent amount of weight week to week had low variability, and those who lost, for example, 5 pounds one week and then gained 3 and lost several again, had high weight variability.

Weight loss and weight variability were similar for all 3 groups so results were combined for the analyses. They found that the less a person’s weight varied over both the first 6 and 12 weeks of the treatment, the more likely they were to have maintained that loss at the 1 and 2 year follow-up. The finding was stronger for men for the first 6 weeks.

The less a person’s weight varied over both the first 6 and 12 weeks of the treatment, the more likely they were to have maintained that loss at the 1 and 2 year follow-up.

This finding may eventually help weight loss programs and dieters focus on maintaining consistent diet and exercise in the first 2-3 months of weight loss efforts. The authors suggest that leaders and counselors could introduce new strategies and approaches if participants struggle early and that focusing on sustainable habits and results is also helpful.

Whether being part of a group or individualized weight loss program, those I’ve worked with had the most weight loss success when they checked in regularly to review progress and/or setbacks and to come up with strategies to minimize the setbacks.

Setting specific realistic weekly diet goals, like cutting portion sizes of high calorie foods or keeping food records, and adjusting goals and strategies as appropriate is key. By focusing on specific and realistic changes – and practicing them over and over – you develop new habits, which is what supports long term success.

Setting specific realistic weekly diet goals, like cutting portion sizes of high calorie foods or keeping food records, and adjusting goals and strategies as appropriate is key.

If you want to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way – or keep off what you’ve lost – sign up for AICR’s New American Plate, a free 12-week online program starting on September 25. You get weekly challenges that you can tailor to your needs and if you join our private Facebook group you can get free dietitian coaching and support. It’s fun and will get you moving more and eating healthier, one week at a time.

 

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    Author: Alice RD

    Alice G. Bender, MS, RDN, is the Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR. She helps put the science of cancer prevention by providing tips and tools to choose nutritious and delicious foods. Alice has guided thousands of individuals to healthier lives through diet changes and choices.

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