Today, when two thirds of all Americans qualify as either overweight or obese, many of us are trying to lose weight or know somebody who is. And as with any goal, finding the secret to success is high on the priority list. But, a new study tells us that there’s really no secret at all to achieving successful weight loss. Instead, the tried and true methods of eating less and exercising more – is what seems to work.
The April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published the findings by a team of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School researchers.
For the study, 4,021 obese adults, 20 or more years of age and with a body mass index of 30 or greater, were analyzed. Data was gathered from participants of the 2001-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative assessment by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate the health and nutritional status of U.S. adults.
More than half of study participants (2,523 individuals – about 63%) reported that they attempted to lose weight during the previous year. Of those, 40% (1,026 individuals) said they lost 5% or more of their body weight – an average loss of 21.8 lbs. – and another 20% (510 individuals) lost 10% or more of their body weight, for an average loss of 31.8 lbs.
What was the common thread linking both weight loss groups? Simply eating less food, less fat, and exercising more. An overwhelming 65% of participants who attempted weight loss lowered their caloric intake, while 43.7% reduced their fat intake, and 55.1% exercised.
Prescription weight loss medications were also associated with weight loss in both weight-loss groups, and enrollment in a commercial weight loss program was strongly associated with 10% or more weight loss. However, both were used by a small percentage of participants.
Consumption of food and products marketed as “diet” made it less likely for adults to achieve 10% weight loss, and popular diets, liquid diets, and nonprescription weight loss pills were not positively associated with successful weight loss.
The study is “encouraging,” says study co-author Dr. Christina Wee, Co-Director of Research at BIDMC’s Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, because it shows that a substantial proportion of obese U.S. adults do lose weight, and “most of the weight loss methods associated with success are accessible and inexpensive.”
The strategies employed for successful weight loss in this study are similar to those found in other studies. In one study, researchers found that participants who achieved 10% weight loss reported the strongest association with weight loss programs, eating fruits and vegetables, eating healthy snacks, limiting carbohydrates, controlling portions, doing different kinds of exercises and focusing on the progress they had made.
In a 2004 mail survey, researchers found that successful losers were more likely to exercise at least 30 minutes per day, add physical activity to current routines, plan meals, track calories, track fat, measure food on their plate and weigh themselves daily.
Among members of the National Weight Control Registry, the most successful strategies included restricting types of foods, limiting quantity of foods and counting calories.
The Bottom Line
In a culture where we are constantly being sold on the latest and greatest products for effortless weight control, it can be hard to believe that changes as basic as modifying our eating and exercise habits can be the most effective methods for achieving weight loss.
There’s simply no quick and easy weight loss technique. If it took 10 years to pack on the pounds and unhealthy eating habits were developed along the way, losing the weight is just not going to happen overnight.
Study after study has shown that exercise, weight loss support programs, and controlling what you eat – counting calories, limiting food quantity, reducing refined carbohydrates, and eating more fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks – result in “successful losers.”
As the study authors point out, weight loss must be maintained in order to be truly successful, and the only way to do that is to make lifestyle changes that encourage long-term healthful behavior.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.