Lessons from the NWCR: Weight Loss

The following article is excerpted from my latest book, Matt Hoover’s Guide to Life, Love, and Losing Weight by Matt Hoover (winner of “The Biggest Loser” Season 2) and Sheri Colberg, Ph.D.

Fact or Fiction?
“Most people keep the weight off.”

Fiction. The reality of dieting is that over the long haul, it just does not work for most people. Not only does it become progressively harder to lose weight the longer you diet (thus making it harder for you to stay motivated), but also at least 90 percent of dieters who have successfully lost weight ultimately regain the pounds that they struggled to shed. In reality, most people gain back even more weight than they originally lost, regardless of which diet they followed.

Even if you do keep your weight under control, it’s common to regain some of what you lost while dieting. Even among successful weight-loss maintainers in the National Weight Control Registry, some weight gain was common during the two years after they joined the registry, and recovery from even minor weight regain was uncommon. Those who regained less in the first year, though, fared better, as did those who reported fewer and less severe bouts of depression, which gives you another good reason to work on your emotional as well as physical health.

Over the past decade, the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) has tracked individuals who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year. Keeping lost weight off for a year is actually quite uncommon, even among successful dieters, since you’re most likely to regain the weight you lost within the first six months after the diet ends. The NWCR members have lost between thirty and three hundred pounds and have managed their weight loss for between one and sixty-six years, so there’s a lot of diversity among them. Some lost their weight rapidly, while others have done so slowly over a number of years.
Their results confirm what exercise professionals like Dr. Sheri have known all along: physical activity matters.

It doesn’t appear to make any difference what method or weight loss plan the successful dieters used to lose weight. What matters most are the three lifestyle habits that almost all of them adopt to maintain their lower body weight. First, they continue to be conscientious about what they eat (focusing on more healthful, lower-calorie foods in appropriate portions, with limited consumption of fast foods, and a moderate fat intake), and most weigh themselves at least once a week. Second, they start their day off right with a balanced and healthy breakfast (high-fiber cereals and fruit top the list). Third, and likely most important, 90 percent of them exercise almost daily, on average for about an hour, and expend about 2,000 calories a week being physically active. Even in studies on diabetes prevention, people who participate by making lifestyle changes are only successful at keeping any lost weight off (and preventing the onset of diabetes) if they continue to exercise regularly and monitor the amount of calories (particularly fat) that they eat. So, if you want to maintain your weight loss, get up off the couch and go for a walk (and do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next)—but eat your breakfast first.

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