That’s the advice researchers from Drexel University have after watching people regain weight they had previously lost one to two years before.
In a small study of roughly 200 people, those who consistently lost the same number of pounds every week were the most likely to keep it off months later. And, those whose weights fluctuated the most during the first few weeks of a behavioral weight loss program were more likely to put the pounds back on. The study was published in the journal Obesity.
“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,” said lead author Emily Feig, PhD.
Researchers wanted to find out why some people are not as successful as others in weight loss programs.
To find out, they enrolled individuals who were overweight or obese into a year-long weight loss program that used meal replacements along with behavioral goals such as self-monitoring, calorie monitoring and increasing physical activity. The participants attended weekly treatment groups during which they were weighed, and returned for a final weigh-in two years from the start of the program. The participants also reported on food-related behaviors and attitudes like cravings, emotional eating, binge eating and confidence in regulating intake.
The researchers found that the more someone’s weight varied over the first six to 12 weeks, the less likely they were to keep the weight off one to two years later. For example, someone who lost four pounds one week, regained two and then lost one the next tended to fare worse than someone who lost one pound consistently each week for three weeks.
Interestingly, individuals who reported lower emotional eating, binge eating and preoccupation with food at the start of the study showed higher weight variability and less weight loss overall. This suggests that initial weight change, rather than relationships with or behaviors toward food, is much more important in predicting who will succeed in weight loss and maintenance.
Exactly why some people lost weight steadily while others didn’t wasn’t clear. The study also does not prove that steady weight loss leads to longterm weight loss. However, Principal Investigator Michael Lowe, PhD, a psychology professor at Drexel, said the study does illuminate a potential method for sticking to weight loss goals.
“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,” he said.