How to Be a Successful 'Loser'
Keeping lost weight off is a seven-day-a-week commitment
SUNDAY, March 28, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- So you've met your weight-loss goal and managed to keep the unwanted pounds off for several months. And you've been good all week, exercising and paying attention to what you eat.
Now, the weekend looms, with its endless temptations -- snacks during TV time, dinner out, parties. Don't you deserve a break from all that effort, maybe a two-day pigout?
You may believe so, but you better think twice if you want to remain a successful "loser." In one of the latest studies to look at how those who successfully lost weight manage to keep it off, researchers found that consistency -- paying attention to food consumption seven days a week, not just five -- pays off in better weight maintenance.
Those who "let loose" on the weekends and holidays had more weight "regain" than those who paid attention to daily food intake, says Amy Gorin, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She's also the lead author of the study, which appeared in the February issue of the International Journal of Obesity.
As anyone who's tried to shed weight and keep it off knows, losing is the easy part. Maintaining the loss is difficult. Only about 60 percent of the weight lost during treatment in clinic-based programs is maintained at one year, Gorin says, and nearly all weight is regained within three years.
As depressing as that sounds, Gorin and others offer some glimmers of hope. They've been studying successful losers to gather their strategies. The new consistency study, like many others, focuses on participants in the National Weight Control Registry, a database of more than 3,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year.
For her consistency study, Gorin and her co-researchers zeroed in on 1,429 registry participants and asked them whether they ate a consistent diet on weekdays, weekends and holidays, or whether they were less strict on weekends and holidays.
The participants were, on average, 48 years old with a body mass index of 24.1. (A BMI of 25 or higher is termed overweight). They had maintained a weight loss of 30 pounds or more for an average of eight years.
Those who reported a consistent diet seven days a week were 1.5 times more likely to maintain their weight within five pounds for a 12-month period, than those who paid closer attention to food intake on weekdays than on weekends, Gorin says.
"Those who report the same consistency do better over time," she says.
In their previous research on the registry subjects, Gorin and others have found four characteristics that predict success in keeping weight off: Eating a low-calorie, low-fat diet; exercising regularly; "weighing in" regularly; and eating three meals a day, including breakfast.
The results of the new study are no surprise to Lona Sandon. She's a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
"Be consistent with the eating and exercise habits that helped you to lose weight in the first place," she regularly tells those who've lost weight and want to keep it off.
That doesn't mean you can't have a bit of fun on the weekend, Sandon adds. "You may use the weekend to relax a bit and have a special treat if you have been diligent about your eating habits throughout the week," she says. "But that does not mean a special treat at every meal on Saturday and Sunday."
"If you allow yourself the weekend to pig out, you can easily undo the calorie saving you had made during the week," she adds.
Other strategies that work, says Sandon:
- Keep track of eating and exercising habits. Many people trying to lose weight will record their food consumption and write down their exercise routines. Sandon advises them not to abandon that habit once they've lost the weight and want to keep it off. "Keep yourself on track by keeping a log of your exercise habits to be sure you are not slacking off now that you reached your weight-loss goal. Same goes for eating habits. Keep a food diary a few days a month to see that you are keeping with your new eating habits."
- Don't forget weigh-ins. "Monitor your weight regularly so you are aware when the scale starts creeping up," she says. Two pounds is easier to correct than 10.
- Drop the "diet mentality." If you want to "maintain your new weight, you must consider your new way of eating and exercise permanent lifestyle changes," Sandon says.
That's a pretty small price to pay for the chance to smile the next time you step on the scale.
To learn more about the National Weight Control Registry, click here. To learn more about the health problems associated with too much weight, visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.