Leslie Beck: Slow and steady wins the Weight Loss race

After a season of hamburgers, ice cream and summer cocktails, you may be weighing in a little heavier than you did 10 weeks ago. If you are determined to take those additional pounds off for good, you are more likely to succeed if, early on, you get rid of a similar amount of weight each week.

That’s according to researchers from Drexel University in Philadelphia, who set out to determine whether variability in weekly weight loss, early in a program, predicts long-term weight reduction.

The study, published this month in the journal Obesity, involved 183 overweight and obese adults, average age 51, who had been recruited to take part in a one-year behavioural weight-loss plan. Participants frequently attended 75-minute small-group sessions and were given goals such as self-monitoring, calorie counting and increasing physical activity. Their weights were measured and examined weekly.

Dieters who underwent weight loss variability early in the program — e.g., people who lost a couple of pounds a week, then gained some back the next, and then attempted to lose more the next week — fought to control their weight from the end of the program and one year later.

Participants who lost a similar amount of weight week after week — even if only 1 pound — were a lot more likely to have lost more weight long term.

It’s possible that individuals who experience greater fluctuations in weekly weight loss use stricter, more rigid techniques to eliminate weight. They experience a large drop in weight weekly, which is followed by hunger and overeating — and weight recover — the next.

Individuals who follow this kind of approach might not learn sustainable eating and exercise habits to help them maintain their weight loss over following months. Losing weight consistently and gradually allows time to construct new habits.

Or, it might be that some individuals, physiologically, have the ability to lose weight more frequently than others. Not seeing results, despite following recommendations consistently, may lead some dieters to feel frustrated and drop motivation, making them regain some weight.

The analysis has limitations, however. Most participants (81 percent) were women, so whether similar results would hold up in a group of guys is not very clear. (In this study, girls were more consistent than guys at losing weight, with less fluctuation week per week)

At the same time, the study was observational so it doesn’t prove that variation in premature weight loss causes future weight struggles.

Nevertheless, this is not the first study to observe that consistency and success at the start of a weight-loss program calls for long-term success. I have certainly witnessed this in my personal practice.

Losing weight steadily (and safely) requires a consistent approach, the exact same one that’s vital to sustain a weight loss. These strategies will help keep you on track.

Set short-term targets. Perhaps you’ve got 20 pounds to lose, maybe 40 or more. To maintain motivation, place smaller attainable monthly targets (e.g., four to eight pounds) instead focusing on the major end objective.

Plan meals beforehand. To remain on track during a busy week, plan meals and snacks beforehand. Batch cook on the weekend for fast and simple lunches and dinners. To protect against giving into temptation at restaurants, scan the internet menu in advance to determine what you’ll purchase.

Manage weekends. People who do not give themselves a day or two off to “cheat” are a lot more likely to keep unwanted pounds away. When you start giving yourself a few breaks on the weekend, you are more likely to ease off on Friday and then Thursday. Meal times may change on the weekend, however, stick to the exact same equilibrium and portion sizes at meals as you do during the week.

Be accountable. To keep you focused and motivated, have accountability systems in place. Track your food consumption in a diary or a program for example MyFitness Pal or Lose It! If weekends are trouble spots, keeping a food diary is particularly important. Weigh in weekly, or as often as it seems appropriate for you. Take your measurements (waist, hips, chest) once a month.

Expect lapses. Maybe you ate two portions of birthday cake rather than one. Or tucked into a bag of potato chips. Remind yourself that one lapse isn’t the ruin of all of your hard work. Rather than berating yourself — making it more difficult to get right back on track — reflect on your progress so far and the wholesome habits you’ve developed. Then, return to your regular routine at the next meal, not Monday.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition in Medcan.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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