Prevention of Weight Regain

Clinical Diabetes recently published a review article, “Weight Regain Prevention,” summarizing effective strategies for prevention of weight regain after a successful weight-loss program. The article is not specifically for or about people with diabetes. You are probably aware that regain of lost weight is a huge problem.

“One more rep then I’m outa here!”

The authors start with a review of various weight-loss strategies, including low-calorie diets, very low-calorie diets, commercial programs such as Weight Watchers, behavior modification therapy, meal replacements, weight-loss drugs, etc. I recall no mention of bariatric surgery.

To its credit, Weight Watchers is the only commercial program to report data from randomized controlled trials, the gold standard in clinical scientific studies of effectiveness. [Weight Watchers lost more weight than the self-help control group.]

By way of review, here is the typical pattern of a weight loss effort. Maximal weight loss occurs in the first six months, at least for people who are compliant and don’t drop out of the program after the first few weeks. After the initial six months, weight regain starts. By one or two years after start of the effort, most people – but not all – have regained all the lost weight, if not more.

The authors’ recommendations for prevention of weight regain are mostly based on well-designed, published, peer-reviewed, scientific studies. They identified characteristics of successful weight loss maintainers – what I call “successful losers.” The idea is that a person will enhance her odds of keeping the lost weight off by incorporating these habits into her lifestyle:

  • Maintain high levels of physical activity. Consider at least 60 minutes daily of moderate activity. Ouch!
  • Limit television to less that a few hours a day.
  • Eat a diet low in fat and calories. [I disagree with the accross-the-board low-fat recommendation.]
  • Maintain a consistent eating pattern throughout the week and year. Successful losers often report less variety, compared to other people, in all food groups except for fruits.
  • Eat breakfast routinely.
  • Control emotional eating.
  • Weigh frequently, whether daily or weekly.
  • Catch and address weight regain early, before it gets out of hand.
  • Consider sequential medications. E.g., sibutramine for months, then orlistat for months.
  • Individual and/or group follow-up support. Even follow-up by phone works.
  • Have realistic expectations. Most dieters only lose about half the weight they expected in the first place. The resulting sense of disappointment sabotages efforts to keep the weight off. Anticipate the universal tendency to regain lost weight.
  • Helpful diet patterns: eat more than five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, watch portion sizes, self-record food intake, plan meals, limit fast food.
  • “Exercise is central to weight loss maintenance.” And finally . . .
  • “Exercise is central to weight loss maintenance.”

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Ulen, Christina, et al. Weight Regain Prevention. Clinical Diabetes, 26 (2008): 100-113. DOI: 10.2337/diaclin.26.3.100

One response to “Prevention of Weight Regain

  1. Excellent advice and a welcome reminder