Being consistent may be the best way to hit your weight loss goals, a new study from Drexel University suggests. The findings apply across many different diet plans.
The study of 183 participants, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that the men and women whose weights fluctuated the most in the first few weeks of a behavioral weight loss program eventually had poorer weight loss outcomes one and two years later, compared with those who lost a consistent number of pounds each week.
“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,"
lead author Emily Feig, PhD, former grad student in the College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel University, explained.
Improving Treatment Outcomes
Psychologists conducting the study wanted to investigate what makes some people less successful in weight loss programs, and to identify predictors that could improve treatment outcomes in the future.
They signed up people who were overweight or obese to a year-long weight loss program that used meal replacements along with behavioral goals such as self-monitoring, calorie monitoring and increasing physical activity.
Study participants went to 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.
What the researchers discovered was that higher weight variability over the initial six and 12 weeks of weight loss treatment predicted poorer subsequent, long-term weight control at 12 and 24 months. 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.
Good Start Important
Men and women 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.
Just why some people have more weight variability than others is a question the researchers are interested in exploring in future studies.
Michael Lowe, PhD, a psychology Drexel professor, notes the study does highlight a possible 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,"
Feig, E. H. and Lowe, M. R. (2017) Variability in Weight Change Early in Behavioral Weight Loss Treatment: Theoretical and Clinical Implications Obesity, 25: 1509–1515. doi:10.1002/oby.21925
Image: Anne-Katrin Purkiss/Wellcome Images