While it may seem impossible at times, keeping the weight off is not an impossible feat, according to a new analysis reported in USA Today.
Scientists are currently tracking a group of 10,000 people who have lost more than 30 pounds and have kept that weight off for at least one year. The tracking database, called the National Weight Control Registry, draws its data from responses to survey questions that participants answer every year. It is intended to better understand how weight loss is maintained.
The results, presented at a meeting of the Obesity Society, found that, out of 3,000 people who had been registered in the database for 10 years, most were women and college educated. On average, people weighed 224 pounds before losing weight, and lost an average of 69 pounds.
Unsurprisingly, those who kept their weight off shared healthy lifestyle habits, such as following a low-fat diet and getting regular exercise. They also tended to watch less than 10 hours of TV per week and weighed themselves once a week.
The registry is the largest prospective study of long-term weight loss maintenance.
“I love this project,” said Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York. ”It turns the typical research model upside down by studying the people who actually win at the weight-loss game and studies their commonalities.”
Ayoob also said that, because the participants all lost weight in different ways, the focus is on how they keep the weight off, not how they initially lost it.
“It’s important because it spells out some consistent behaviors for people to follow, but they still need help making and maintaining lifestyle change,” said Dr. Stephen Cook, Samuel W. Clausen Fellow in Pediatrics at University of Rochester Medical Center. “You will notice there is no mention about ‘I took supplement X, Y or Z and it worked for me.’”
But other experts mentioned the registry’s limitations, including its self-reported and self-selective data.
“The main value of this type of registry is that provides very crude evidence that it is possible to maintain weight loss,” said Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. “However, it is severely limited beyond that because the population is self-selected and there is no denominator. … It gives no insight on what percentage is able to maintain weight loss.”
Willett also said that the registry may be misleading about the factors that promote weight maintenance because there’s no comparison, or control, group.
“Almost surely what we are seeing is that those who work hard at controlling their weight are following the diet that is in vogue at the time, and if they really follow it strictly, exercise and monitor their weight, they can control their weight,” said Willett.
Despite its limitations, Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinburg School of Medicine, said that the registry offers realistic hope for people looking to shed a significant amount of weight.
“People do want to hear that there is hope, and it is possible to keep weight off without having to take extreme measures,” said Kushner. “Most people are discouraged. The behaviors listed by the NWCR are reasonable, practical and consistent with healthy living.”