October 8, 2021

Study reveals strategies to avoid gaining back the weight you worked so hard to shed.

Many people manage to lose weight, but few keep it off. How do those few successful people avoid regaining the weight?

“Keeping it off can be much more challenging,” said Lisa Connor, R.N., BSN, CDE, a certified health coach with Vanderbilt’s faculty and staff wellness program. “How many of us have lost weight only to see the pounds creep back? It  leads to feelings of self-defeat and discouragement.”

But there are proven ways to keep off that excess weight.

The National Weight Control Registry was established in 1994 by researchers from The Miriam Hospital’s Brown Medical School and The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. It’s the largest study of people who have maintained weight loss. The registry tracks more than 10,000 people who have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least one year. Their personal stories are inspiring. The registry aims to identify common behaviors, strategies and characteristics.

Those commonalities offer a blueprint for other people trying to lose weight who can use those same “secrets” for their own success.

The most common thing registry participants reported: They stopped thinking about weight loss as dieting and started thinking about it as a new lifestyle. This was not going to be a temporary quick fix, but their new normal.

Other things these weight-loss winners had in common:

  • They ate breakfast. More than 75 percent reported eating breakfast consistently, and that it helped reduce hunger later in the day. Less hunger translates to better food choices. If you have ever skipped breakfast only to feel ravenous during a morning meeting that includes a platter of donuts, you’ll recognize why this is a problem. Eating a nutritious, satisfying breakfast will make it so much easier to decline the donut tray or other bad food choices.
  • They choose fats wisely. Individuals reported that they aimed to limit saturated and trans fats found in things like fatty meats, processed crackers and butter. You can limit saturated fats by choosing lean meats, and choosing unsaturated fats such as olive oil and canola oil. Another strategy: making substitutions, when possible, using part-skim cheese and low-fat sour cream instead of full-fat versions of these foods.
  • They weighed themselves regularly. Nearly 75 percent of the study participants weighed themselves once a week. Weighing in frequently lets them notice a small increase before it becomes unmanageable.
  • They kept a food journal. People tend to underestimate what they eat and drink; it’s human nature. The National Weight Control Registry reported that people who monitor their food and beverage consumption were the most successful at maintaining weight over time. Writing these details down makes us more aware. It is also a great way to see trends in what we eat based on days of the week, time of day and moods.
  • They were physically active. Participants reported that they did one hour of some form of moderate physical activity every day. The most common form of fitness was walking. The good news for those of us struggling to find a way to fit in even 30 minutes of activity most days is that it can be accomplished by breaking it into three 10-minute sessions. That’s just as effective as walking for 30 straight minutes.
  • They kept screen time to a minimum. The average American spends about 28 hours a week in front of the television! Successful weight losers in the registry reported that they watched less than 10 hours per week of TV.

The registry’s findings are not a total solution for people struggling to lose weight and keep it off long term. Not all of these strategies will work for everyone. However, these tactics are a great starting point for people looking for realistic steps to reaching a healthy body weight for life.

Even moderate weight loss can provide health benefits, Connor said. Excess weight increases people’s risk for problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, some cancers and more.

“A weight loss of 5 to 10 percent (of body weight) can significantly reduce health risks,” Connor said. So, “for a person who weights 200 pounds, that’s 10 to 20 pounds.”

Stacey Kendrick, MS, is a health educator with more than 20 years of experience in wellness and population health. She spent much of her career at Vanderbilt’s Faculty/Staff Wellness Program and currently works in Strategic Marketing at Vanderbilt. She is mother to two adult daughters. In her free time, she teaches healthy cooking classes, runs, gardens and enjoys backyard bonfires.

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The Vanderbilt Medical Weight Loss Program provides a comprehensive, evidence-based approach for achieving long-term weight loss. Patients work with a team of caring experts who help develop a personalized weight loss plan combining medical, nutritional, exercise and psychological support.

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