The last time I lost twenty pounds, I had a very strong motivation. I was determined I would not be permanently memorialized as the fat lady in my son’s wedding pictures. So I dieted for 6 months—enduring hunger, nausea (I was on the Atkins diet), and bad breath. I also hired a personal trainer to whip me into shape. I did all of this for vanity; it is a powerful motivator. I hit my lowest weight in 20 years the week of the wedding. I look pretty darn good in the pictures.
By the week after the wedding, the pounds were piling back on. I did not regain all of it. But I did regain most of it. Why? Because I could no longer force myself to have bacon and eggs without potatoes and toast for breakfast. And, I let myself get too busy to exercise. No surprise, I was soon back to my pre-diet plump self. What a pity, after all that work.
Behaviors associated with successful weight loss maintenance
Unfortunately, regaining weight is an all too familiar story for many dieters. But, some people who lose weight are able to successfully keep it off. What type of dietary and physical activity behaviors are associated with successful weight loss maintenance? Judy Kruger and her research colleagues at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set out to find the answer to this question. The results are published in an online issue of The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Ten thousand people were selected to receive a series of surveys that assessed their weight loss and activity behaviors and asked them whether they had been able to lose weight and keep it off. More than 60% of people who received the surveys responded. The researchers zeroed in on the data from 1958 (non-pregnant) adult men and women who comprised two different groups: 543 who were successful weight losers and 1,415 who lost weight and couldn’t keep it off or were unsuccessful at losing weight in the first place. Other people who responded to the survey and had either maintained weight with or without effort, gained weight and had not tried to lose it, paid no attention to their weight or were missing data on weight loss or maintenance were excluded from further analysis.
Here is what they found. Fully a third of the sample was successful at losing weight and keeping it off. Men were more likely to be successful at losing weight and keeping it off (36%) than women (27%). Being younger (18-29) increased the odds of success as did having a lower initial BMI.
Successful strategies for getting it off and keeping it off included:
- Self-monitoring (weigh oneself, planning meals, tracking fat and calories)
- Exercising 30 or more minutes daily
- Adding physical activity to the daily routine
The odds of being a successful weight loser were 48%-76% lower for those reporting that aspects of exercise behavior were influencing factors (no time to exercise, too tired to exercise, no one to exercise with, too hard to maintain exercise routine) compared to those who reported little or no barriers to exercise as a weight control measure.
The odds of being a successful weight loser were also significantly lower (48-64%) for those who reported being influenced by dietary barriers to weight control (e.g., eat away from home too often, like to eat junk food, don’t pay attention to diet, diet/health foods not satisfying, diet/health foods cost too much). A significantly lower proportion of successful weight losers reported using over-the-counter diet products. Finally, successful weight losers were more likely to report lifting weights or cooking/baking for fun compared to unsuccessful weight losers.
There were a number of strategies that did not differ between the successful and unsuccessful groups. In other words, the same percentage of people in both groups employed these behaviors:
- Reduced amount of food consumed
- Ate more fruits and vegetables
- Smaller portions
- Fewer fatty foods
- No sweetened beverages
All of the key results are summarized in a series of tables in the paper. It is worth taking a look at them.
What is the bottom line?
It is that vigilance is important. When weight loss is viewed as a short-term, unpleasant activity to endure before returning to “normal life”, it is less unlikely to result in long-term weight loss maintenance. This is what I did when I dieted to lose weight for the wedding.
I have a different view of weight loss and maintenance now. I joined the online weight loss support system, PEERtrainer, last December. I have successfully lost weight and now weigh a full pound less than I did when I transiently lost weight for the big event. I have been at this healthy weight for my height for almost three months. I realize that doesn’t qualify for “long-term weight loss maintenance” yet, but another thing that is different is that I am confident that I can keep it off this time.
Why? Because I now track my diet and exercise daily on my PEERtrainer log. I know that my group and teammates are going to check up on me and that helps keep me on track. I have a personal trainer who takes me through a vigorous workout an hour a day, five days a week. Sunday mornings are a ritual of treadmill and Sunday talk shows. I rarely miss some sort of physical activity on Saturdays as well.
Watching my diet, tracking my calories, planning my meals, and vigorous daily exercise are now a way of life and not just a short-term (grueling) strategy to reach a certain weight by a certain date. That doesn’t mean I will never slip up again. But I do believe it means I can permanently discard my large size clothes and go out and by some mediums. Wahooo!