How Not to Regain Weight -- Techniques
(August 4, 2015)
Although I’m sure you read my newsletter last week, let me briefly recap it anyway. After slicing and dicing (so to speak) the members of the National Weight Control Registry, we found that these people (who’ve managed to lose an average of 66 pounds and keep it off for over five years) have several things in common.
Generally they: (1) were first inspired to lose weight by some precipitating incident, most frequently by being terrorized by someone in a white coat; (2) are really good at controlling their eating behavior; (3) weigh themselves more frequently than those who regained significant amounts of weight; and (4) somehow or another managed to regain less than 3% of their body weight in the first two years (a key period) after completing their diets.
This is all well and good. But inquiring minds want to know -- just what specific techniques do these blessed few employ to keep their weight off? Well, there are six well-established strategies that at least three-quarters of these dietary heroes employ that seem to be important. To wit:
1) Engaging in high levels of physical activity.
And they aren’t kidding about the “high”. Right now the official exercise recommendation for good health in adults is 150 minutes per week in moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) and two sessions weekly of some type of weight training for another 75 minutes. But that is not what these folks are doing. No, 90% of these folks exercise AT LEAST AN HOUR PER DAY. Mostly walking, of the above-described brisk variety. In an era where the average person is exercising two hours per week and 90 minutes of that is probably a lie, that’s pretty impressive.
2) Eating a diet that is low in calories and fat.
Now, ANY successful diet, no matter what its rules, works by decreasing the amount of calories taken in to where they are fewer than those burnt up. I am not trying to get into any arguments here about whether some foods are better for you than others, or whether some are more or less satiating, or even whether different foods affect the metabolism differently. No! ALL I am saying is that in order to lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than you burn. Every diet out there works this way, no matter how many years the author of said diet spent studying Australian pygmies or rubbing papayas on his/her third eye.
So this finding does not mean that these folks are following a standard “low-fat low-calorie” diet of the type that is so miserable that diet books offering alternatives to it abound. All it specifically states is that NWCR women report eating about 1300 calories per day and men about 1700, plus both get about 24% of those calories from fat (where the average American gets about 30%). Before you go get the family shotgun out of the hall closet, know that researchers think that actual daily calorie consumption is probably more like 1800 for the women and a few hundred more than that for the men -- which is much less painful to contemplate.
3) Eating breakfast.
78% of these folks eat breakfast every day. Interestingly, right now the state of the science on this matter right now is genuinely unsettled. No one has been able to establish whether or not eating breakfast is a successful weight loss strategy. So I have no opinion on this, other than to point out that THESE guys mostly eat breakfast every day. Just sayin’.
4) Self-monitoring weight on a regular basis.
75% of these folks weigh themselves at least once a week. The majority weigh themselves at least daily.
5) Catching “slips” before they turn into larger regains.
If they start to gain weight back, they immediately lose it again. By the end of the first year, most people who gain weight back don't lose it again – so the first year is crucial. After two years of successful weight maintenance, your odds of keeping it off improve considerably. After five, you're practically golden.
6) Maintaining a consistent eating pattern.
People who don’t “loosen up” regularly on the weekends, but who stick to their dietary guns day in and day out, are much better at hanging onto their gains. Er, losses.
These techniques and strategies are great. But the devil is in the details, as someone once said, and it seems to me that the detail with the devil in it is that last item -- “maintaining a consistent eating pattern”. Because the rest of this stuff will never happen if you can’t manage that.
So – what helps in maintaining a consistent eating pattern? Specifically (to quote one of the more insightful researchers), shouldn’t we further investigate the ability of these people to manage to stick to their disciplines “in the context of a ‘toxic’ environment that strongly encourages passive overeating and sedentary lifestyles”? In other words, how can you fight the system -- and your self -- successfully?
There is something special about these people. Somehow they actually DO manage to “just say ‘no’ “. That is something that is not that common. But let’s be fair – for much of human history, not being able to say “no” to food didn’t matter because there wasn't that much of it around to begin with. In fact, eating like there’s no tomorrow might even have been a successful survival strategy at one time – the more of the mastodon you choked down before it rotted, the more likely you’d have enough stored energy to get to the strawberry patch in the next valley over.
It's not just “self discipline”, because anyone who manages to lose many hundreds of pounds over a lifetime sure isn’t lacking in THAT. No, there’s a little more going on here. But I have to read other stuff to find out about it, so that will be next week.
--dr. diane holmes
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