By contrast, the National Weight Control Registry, founded in 1994 by researchers Jim Hill of the University of Colorado and Rena Wing of Brown University, set out from the start to discover what successful weight maintainers had in common. That is, they wanted to see whether they could come up with factors that predicted success.
What a concept! Too often in research, especially obesity research, we look at what goes wrong and try to come up with explanations.
National Weight Control Registry researchers had no interest in reinventing that wheel and, instead, went straight for the successes, people who lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year.
To a large extent, both the present study and the National Weight Control Registry are attempting to answer the $64,000 question about weight loss: how to keep it off.
Face it, losing weight is really pretty easy: Go on a sensible diet, or even some fad diet, or cut out some major food group or two, and the pounds eventually drop. It may not be fun, or even healthy, but there are many ways to get it done.
What the National Weight Control Registry found was, although people lost weight differently, they kept it off similarly.
What is reinforced, to some degree by the present study, is that maintaining weight loss seems to require some common factors. Here are some traits found of successful maintainers:
Most eat a low-fat diet, but not a hugely restrictive one. They watch portion sizes.
Nearly four in five eat breakfast every day of the week.
Most are physically active, but walking is their most common form of activity and they do it for nearly an hour daily. These people probably aren't getting four or more hours of leisure screen time.
They actually find pleasure in their healthier lifestyle and the liberation from constant dieting.
More good news for the winners: It gets easier over time. After a while, the maintainers just knew what would work and what wouldn't, and it became much easier and more satisfying to do what worked.
As a result, most members of the National Weight Control Registry have lost at least 60 pounds, twice as much as they needed to become registered.
That contrasts from the present American Journal of Preventive Medicine study, which suggested how too great a weight loss was more likely to result in a regain of weight.
Perhaps the National Weight Control Registry volunteers, now 4,500 strong, are highly motivated and extremely proud of their success and want to tell the world. Good for them. They deserve it. Besides, aren't we all ready for a little good news on the obesity front?
See how closely you can begin to adopt the winning habits of successful maintainers. Some friendly advice: Forget the quick stuff. Slow and steady changes are easier and they really help you enjoy the ride.
Just ask the folks who have done it.
Keith-Thomas Ayoob is an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.