One of the most challenging factors about weight loss is maintaining a significant loss over time. Researchers believe the answer lies in the habits of those who have successfully maintained weight loss over a long-term period.
Weight loss is more than just restricting energy intake. Other behaviours can have a significant impact on the success of weight loss efforts. The dietary intake, physical activity and mental weight loss strategies can all play a role in how successful a person’s weight loss is, both short-term and long-term.
About 20% of people who lose at least 5% of their original weight are able to maintain it over the long-term. By observing people who have successfully lost weight and maintained that loss, we may be able to discover which strategies that have greater long-term success.
Researchers conducted a cross-sectional study to observe the behaviours and strategies practised by those who had maintained significant weight loss. The study looked at the history of weight, weight loss and maintenance strategies, dietary intake and physical activity.
388 adults participated in the study. The participants were aged between 18-65, and were Portuguese citizens. The key criterion for being enrolled in the study was the loss and maintenance of at least 5kg for at least one year.
5kg was selected as it represented 5% or more weight loss for the average overweight citizen. 3-5% weight loss is also believed to result in clinically significantly improvements in health.
On average, the participants had lost 18kg, and maintained it for 28 months. The majority of participants were classed as obese prior to their weight loss. After weight loss, about 80% had lost enough to be classed as overweight or even normal weight.
The average calorie intake was 2199 kcal/day. 33% of energy came from fat, which was attributed to the Mediterranean-style diet of the country. Participants also consumed sufficient fibre according to dietary guidelines.
78% of participants engaged in moderate to vigorous exercise for more than 150 minutes per week. 51% participated in 250 or more minutes per week. Men exercised for longer than women.
The three top strategies reported for weight loss and maintenance were 1) keeping healthy foods at home, 2) consuming vegetables regularly, and 3) having breakfast daily.
Greater weight loss was associated with many of the strategies reported. High levels of physical activity, walking, monitoring weight, goal setting, reduced portion sizes, reduced carbohydrates and increased consumption of protein all led to greater weight loss.
The researchers concluded that weight loss and ongoing maintenance is possible when the correct strategies are employed. A balanced and nutritious diet and regular exercise are both important to include in any weight-loss effort.
However, they also noted that individualised strategies may be important. Different participants responded positively to different strategies. Therefore, the challenge is to find the right set of strategies for each person to achieve their weight-loss goals.
Santos, I., Vieira, P.N., Silva, M.N., Sardinha, L.B. and Teixeira, P.J., 2017. Weight control behaviors of highly successful weight loss maintainers: the Portuguese Weight Control Registry. Journal of behavioral medicine, 40(2), pp.366-371.