Exercise. Over 70% of the participants exercised enough each week to meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) minimum activity recommendation of burning 1,000 calories through activity per week. Over half also exceeded the ACSM’s 2,000-calorie per week optimum activity level. Since studies have shown people tend to overestimate how much exercise they do, some of the impressive numbers reported may be somewhat inflated. However, increased physical activity was still a notable factor in participants’ weight loss.
Motivating factors. Almost 77% of the people in the study said their successful weight loss was triggered by certain events in their lives. The top three triggers were medical problems, emotional events, and lifestyle events such as an anniversary. Men were more likely to say they were losing weight in response to a medical event or simply for the sake of doing it, while women were more likely to cite an emotional event or a lifestyle event.
Since no single reason was cited by more than a third of the people, perhaps the simplest lesson to learn from these results is that it is important to find personally relevant reasons to lose weight. As you embark on the process of weight loss, take some time to figure out what your specific goals are. Remembering why you’re losing weight can help if you ever become discouraged along the way.
Genetic (un)certainties. Certain genetic conditions can predispose people to having problems controlling their weight, but don’t let fears of a family history of being overweight stop you from trying to lose weight. Many genetic predispositions are more risk factors than certainties. Over 70% of people in the Registry have at least one overweight parent.
Maintenance. Almost 75% of Registry members reported weighing themselves at least once a week. Some continued to count calories and/or fat grams while maintaining their weight loss. Maintaining healthy behaviors has to continue beyond the initial weight loss. Keeping active and eating healthier foods and amounts should be lifelong goals, not just stopgap measures to stave off pounds now and again.
Maintenance vs. losing. One of the study’s interesting findings is that maintaining weight loss is not necessarily harder than losing weight. While conventional wisdom says that keeping the weight off is more difficult, 42% of people in the study said weight maintenance was easier. Those who had kept weight off for longer reported spending less time and effort in maintaining weight loss through means such as keeping food records. It is thought that maintaining weight loss becomes easier because eating healthier and exercising have become second nature to and enjoyable parts of these people’s daily lives. People seeking to lose weight should not despair from visions of a hard road ahead since it may not materialize.
Despite yo-yo dieting. Even if you’ve lost and regained weight before, don’t assume you are doomed to fail at weight loss. Studies have shown that repeated weight-loss attempts do not decrease your chance for future success. Over 90% of people in the Weight Control Registry had tried to lose weight at least once before their successful attempt. The ingredients to their success seem to be a greater focus on exercise, a stricter approach to diet, and increased motivation, either from a greater commitment to losing weight or from identifying greater social and health reasons to change. If your efforts at weight loss have not been successful, you may need to try a different approach from those tried earlier, but don’t give up if a healthier lifestyle is important to you.
Avoiding stumbling blocks
Since the Weight Control Registry encompasses a number of people who have used and are using a variety of weight-loss plans, it’s tempting to generalize its results and say there’s no single, correct way to lose weight. But go back to the basic idea that calories expended in daily metabolism and activities must exceed calories consumed. Remember that the majority of participants in the study used both regular exercise and diet — a plan recommended by most experts — as parts of a successful regimen. A successful regimen requires effort and planning, and quick fixes and discouraging obstacles may prevent you from reaching your goal if you’re not looking out for them. Here are some tips to keep you on course: