Losing weight is one thing, but keeping it off is another issue altogether. A new study took a closer look at people who maintained their weight loss.
The researchers behind the new study followed people over a 10-year period.
The study found that participants who lost more weight initially and had longer periods of weight maintenance were better able to keep the weight off long-term.
"The challenge of weight-loss maintenance is well known, but few studies have followed successful weight losers over an extended period or evaluated the effect of behavior change on weight trajectories," explained the study authors, led by J. Graham Thomas, PhD, of the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Dr. Thomas and colleagues utilized the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), which the researchers say was created to explore the successful maintenance of weight loss.
In Dr. Thomas' study, participants were followed for 10 years. The initial data was collected between 1993 and 2010, and the researchers' analysis was conducted in 2012.
The researchers looked at 2,886 participants who had an average age of 48 years and were 78 percent female. The participants had all lost at least 13.6 kilograms (kg), or 30 pounds (lbs.), and kept the weight off for at least one year.
Participants completed questionnaires which covered a variety of topics, including current weight, physical activity levels, how often the participants weighed themselves, and dietary habits including disinhibition (a loss of control in terms of over-eating).
Dr. Thomas and colleagues found the average weight loss from the participants' highest weight was 31.3 kg (69 lbs) at the study's start, 23.8 kg (52.47 lbs) at the study's midpoint 5 years later, and 23.1 kg (50.93 lbs) at the 10-year mark. These numbers account for the participants maintaining 77 percent of their initial weight loss at year 5 and 74 percent of their initial weight loss at year 10.
The researchers reported that over 86 percent of the participants were estimated to have maintained at least a 10 percent weight loss at both the 5 and 10 year marks.
"Larger initial weight losses and longer duration of maintenance were associated with better long-term outcomes," Dr. Thomas and colleagues noted.
"Decreases in leisure-time physical activity, dietary restraint, and frequency of self-weighing, and increases in percentage of energy intake from fat and disinhibition were associated with greater weight regain," these researchers wrote.
"Taking weight off is relatively easy, keeping it off is difficult," said Dr. Barry Sears, President of the non-profit Inflammation Research Foundation in Marblehead, MA and creator of The Zone Diet.
"In taking weight off, exercise has a very limited role. In keeping the weight off, it is an important factor coupled with strict dietary control. The exercise may not be important in burning calories, but in helping to reduce insulin resistance that is caused by inflammation. Therefore following a calorie restricted anti-inflammatory diet with a consistent exercise program is your prescription for maintaining weight loss and the health benefits that come with it," Dr. Sears said.
The researchers concluded that maintenance of weight loss in the long-term is possible, but sustained changes in behavior are required to keep the weight off.
It is important to note that the rates of questionnaire completion fell as the follow-up years continued. Further research is needed to conclude these findings.
The study was published in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. No conflicts of interest were reported.