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Are Successful Losers More Common than You Think?

We’ve all heard the claims that something dire—like 95% of people—always end up gaining back the weight they’ve worked so hard to lose. The point underlying the nay saying and the contrarian remarks is the notion that weight loss is a hopeless, pointless, waste of time.

On the other hand, most of us know someone who lost a chunk of weight and did keep it off. So what made them special? How did they beat the (purported) odds?

The fact is the so often repeated 95% figure, can be traced back to a 1958 research review paper[i] by Albert Stunkard. However, the data from Stunkard’s review was never applicable to the general population.

Part of the reason the 95% myth has been so intractable is that there has been almost no research on weight-loss maintenance that is applicable to the general population.

Would you believe that 1 in 6 US adults has maintained a weight loss of at least 10% of their body weight for at least a year? In fact, data collected on 14,000 US adults between 1999 and 2006, showed that about 17% had kept off an average of 42-pounds for a year or longer. (This data is from a random US adults sample--NHANES).[ii]

This data is reminiscent of the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) data, which is not a random sample, but is where most of what we believe we know about successful weight loss/maintenance comes from.

In 1993 researchers started an ongoing study—The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR)—to identify the behaviors associated with long-term successful weight-loss maintenance. In 1997 the first report on the study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study group (786 individuals) had lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for an average of 5 years (16% of them had maintained for 10 years).

Most of the dieters had been overweight since childhood. Almost all, 91%, said they had tried and failed to keep weight off in the past. Many reported previously losing and regaining as much as 270 pounds! This time they were stricter with their diets and exercised more vigorously. About half, 57%, initially got help from a weight management program or a health professional.

The NWCR now includes over 10,000 subjects and 31 research papers[iii] have been published to date illuminating key behaviors that successful “losers”—the Masters of Weight Control—have in common.

1. Track your progress. 74% of the Masters used food and activity records while they were losing weight, and 50% continue to track calories during maintenance. Also, 69% report weighing themselves at least weekly.

2. Get moving. The men and women in the study reported weekly physical activity levels equivalent to 4 miles walking per day for their respective body weights. Additionally, 62% report watching fewer than 10 hours of TV per week—the national average being 28-hours.

3. Turn off the TV. 62% of men and women in the study also reported watching fewer than 10 hours of TV per week—the national average is 28-hours.

4. Structure and consistency. Participants report eating breakfast 6.3 days per week, and 4.7 meals/snacks per day. Furthermore, they also report maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays, weekends, and holidays and special occasions.

5. Eat breakfast. Participants report eating breakfast 6.3 days per week.

6. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Emphasizing fruits and vegetables is one of the main methods Masters use to add volume to their meals, while also keeping their calorie intake low.

7. Skip the fast food—Masters eat fast food less than once a week.

8. Become a manager and problem-solver. Masters have learned to problem-solve how to respond to cravings and stressful situations, and have learned to control problem foods. Not bringing them home is the foundation of ending the struggle with problem foods.

9. No man (or woman) is an island. Masters have become skillful in developing support relationships and have learned to be assertive about their needs. Not surprisingly, most report increased general quality of life, moods, mobility, self-confidence, health, and energy.

10. Practice makes perfect. Weight loss maintenance gets easier over time; after 2 years the chance regaining is reduced by 50%. In fact, most Masters report that maintaining weight is EASIER than taking it off.

The Bottom Line:
You can lose weight and keep it off, and don’t let anybody try to tell you otherwise. It will take patience, won't be the result of fadish dieting, and will require permanent lifestyle changes.

All the Best,

Related topics:
The Game of Weight Loss has Rules

Manage Yourself to Success!

[i] Stunkard AJ, et al. Arch Intern Med 1958;103:79-85.

[ii] Kraschewski JL, et al. Int’l J Obesity 2010;34(11):1644-54.

[iii] National Weight Control Registry – Research findings

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