Keeping Weight Off

Here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we’ve explored various strategies[1] and motivations[2] for weight loss in the past. But we haven’t yet focused on ways to approach a goal that may be even more difficult that losing weight: maintaining weight loss.

A new study[3], published in the journal Obesity earlier this month, helps explain why keeping the pounds off is so difficult for many people who have successfully lost a large amount of weight. As described in a New York Times article on the study[4] and its participants, the research looked at what happened to contestants on the TV show The Biggest Loser during the six years that followed their season on the show (Season 8, in 2009).


Of the show’s 16 contestants that year, 14 signed up to participate in the follow-up study. Participants had their weight and body composition measured regularly, as well as their resting metabolic rate — a measure of how quickly the body burns calories in its resting state. At the end of the competition, the participants had lost an average of 58.3 kilograms (128.5 pounds) of body weight, while at the same time seeing their resting metabolic rate slow by an average of 610 calories per day. This means that to stay at their newer, lower weight, participants would have to eat an average of 610 fewer calories each day than at the beginning of their weight loss — while maintaining a high level of physical activity. Not surprisingly, this was impossible for most participants to maintain, most likely in part because of constant hunger.

Six years later, participants had gained back an average of 41.0 kilograms (90.4 pounds). But shockingly, even with this regained weight, their metabolism didn’t speed up — in fact, it got even slower, falling to an average of 704 calories per day below what it had been at the beginning of the competition. This means that participants had to eat considerably less — and exercise more — just to maintain a body weight that was almost as high as before the competition. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that 4 of the 14 participants ended up weighing more than they had before the weight-loss competition. Only one participant weighed less six years later than she had at the conclusion of the TV show.

What’s your take on these study results — is it discouraging to learn that there are such strong biological barriers to sustained weight loss? Have you tried — and succeeded, or failed — to lose weight and keep it off? If so, how much of a problem did constant hunger pose for you? Do you know of any effective strategies for combating hunger and weight gain in the face of a slowed metabolism? Leave a comment below!

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