PHILADELPHIA — For years, scores of dietitians, weight loss experts, and fitness gurus have all claimed to hold the secret to dropping pounds. Many offer tips on how to shed a significant amount of flab quickly, but a new study finds that when it comes to losing weight, a person will fare better when focusing on smaller, fixed intervals consistently.
Researchers at Drexel University recruited 183 overweight and obese individuals to participate in a study on how initial weight loss attitudes can affect long-term outcomes within a structured program.
Participants, who were asked to take part in a year-long experiment that combined meal replacement with behavioral goals (e.g., self-monitoring, calorie monitoring, and starting a consistent workout regimen) for weight loss, were weighed weekly throughout the study’s duration.
The researchers found that individuals whose weight showed more variance at the sixth and twelfth week of the experiment were also more likely to be heavier by the halfway point and end of the study.
In other words, losing five pounds, gaining two pounds, losing another three pounds, then putting back on two more, ad infinitum — instead of losing a pound or two consistently each week — was less effective when it came to broader program success.
“It seems that developing stable, repeatable behaviors related to food intake and weight loss early on in a weight control program is really important for maintaining changes over the long-term,” says lead author Dr. Emily Feig in a news release.
Oddly enough, individuals who refrained from emotional and binge eating at the study’s outset were more likely to display both more weight variance and less overall weight loss.
This finding suggests that early results are more predictive than early attitudes as it pertains to weight loss.
Since the researchers are still not certain as to why a given individual may struggle with weight variability more than another, they hope to conduct further research to explore any possible causes (e.g., biology).
Meanwhile, it is fairly unequivocal what you should aim to do if embarking on a weight loss program.
“Settle on a weight loss plan that you can maintain week in and week out, even if that means consistently losing ¾ of a pound each week,” explains researcher Dr. Michael Lowe.
The study’s findings were published Aug. 28 in the journal Obesity.