Category Archives: Weight Regain

Mediterranean Diet Helps With Maintenance of Weight Loss After Ketogenic Diet

Italian seaside tangentially related to this post

Italian seaside tangentially related to this post

Investigators affiliated with universities in Italy and Greece wondered about the effect on obesity of two ketogenic “Mediterranean” diet spells interspersed with a traditional Mediterranean diet over the course of one year. They found significant weight loss, and perhaps more importantly, no regain of lost weight over the year, on average.

This scientific study is right up my alley. I was excited when I found it. Less excited after I read it.

The Set-Up

This was a retrospective review of medical records of patients of a private nutritional service in three fitness and weight control centers in Italy between 2006 and 2010. It’s unclear whether patients were paying for fitness/weight loss services. 327 patient records were examined. Of these, 89 obese participants met the inclusion and exclusion criteria and started the program; 68 completed it and were the ones analyzed. (That’s not at all a bad drop-out rate for a year-long study.)  The completers were 59 males and 12 females (I know, the numbers don’t add up, but that’s what they reported). Ages were between 25 and 65. Average weight was 101 kg (222 lb), average BMI 35.8, average age 49. All were Caucasian. No diabetics.

Here’s the program:

  1. 20 days of a very-low-carb ketogenic diet, then
  2. 20 days of a low-carbohydrate non-ketogenic diet for stabilization, then
  3. 4 months of a normal caloric Mediterranean diet, then
  4. repeat #1 and #2, then
  5. 6 months of a normal caloric Mediterranean diet

In the ketogenic phases, which the authors referred to as KEMEPHY, participants followed a commercially available protocol called TISANOREICA. KEMEPHY is combination of four herbal extracts that is ill-defined (at least in this article), with the idea of ameliorating weakness and tiredness during ketosis. The investigators called this a ketogenic Mediterranean diet, although I saw little “Mediterranean” about it. They ate “beef & veal, poultry, fish, raw and cooked green vegetables without restriction, cold cuts (dried beef, carpaccio and cured ham), eggs and seasoned cheese (e.g., parmesan).” Coffee and tea were allowed. Items to avoid included alcohol, bread, pasta, rice, milk, and yogurt. “In addition to facilitate the adhesion to the nutritional regime, each subject was given a variety of specialty meals constituted principally of protein and fibers. “These meals (TISANOREICA) that are composed of a protein blend obtained from soya, peas, oats (equivalent to 18 g/portion) and virtually zero carbohydrate (but that mimic their taste) were included in the standard ration.” They took a multivitamin every morning. Prescribed carbohydrate was about 30 grams a day, with macronutrient distribution of 12% carb, 36 or 41% protein, and 51 0r 52% fat. It appears that prescribed daily calories averaged 976 (but how can that be prescribed when some food items are “unrestricted”?).

I found little explanation of period #2 mentioned above, the low-carb non-ketogenic diet. Prescribed macronutrients were 25 or 33% carb, 27 0r 31% protein, 41 or 44% fat, and about 91 g carbohydrate. Prescribed daily calories appear to have averaged 1111.

After the first and second active weight loss ketogenic phases, participants ate what sounds like a traditional Mediterranean diet. Average prescribed macronutrient distribution was 57% carbohydrate, 15 % protein, and 27% fat. Wine was allowed. It looks like 1800 calories a day were recommended.

Food consumption was measured via analysis of 3-day diaries, but you have to guess how often that was done because the authors don’t say. The results of the diary analyses are not reported.

What Did They Find?

Most of the weight loss occurred during the two ketogenic phases. Average weight loss in the first ketogenic period was 7.4 kg (16 lb), and another 5.2 kg (11 lb) in the second ketogenic period. Overall average weight loss for the entire year was 16.1 kg (35 lb).

Average systolic blood pressure over the year dropped a statistically significant 8 units over the year, from 125 to 116 mmHg.

Over the 12 months, they found stable and statistically significant drops in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”), triglycerides, and blood sugar levels. No change in HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”).

Liver and kidney function tests didn’t change.

The authors didn’t give explanations for the drop-outs.

Although the group on average didn’t regain lost weight, eight participants regained most of it. The investigators write that “…the post dietary analysis showed that they were not compliant with nutritional guidelines given for the Mediterranean diet period. These subjects returned tho their previous nutrition habits (“junk” food, high glycaemic index, etc.) with a mean “real” daily intake of 2470 Kcal rather than the prescribed 1800 Kcal.”

Comments

A key take-home point for me is that the traditional Mediterranean diet prevented the weight regain that we see with many, if not most, successful diets.

However, most formulas for calculating steady state caloric requirements would suggest these guys would burn more than the 1800 daily calories recommended to them during the “normal calorie” months. How hard did the dieters work to keep calories around 1800? We can only speculate.

Although the researchers describe the long periods of traditional Mediterranean diet as “normal caloric,” they don’t say how that calorie level was determined  and achieved in the real world. Trust me, you can get fat eating the Mediterranean diet if you eat too much.

I’ll be the first to admit a variety of weight loss diets work, at least short-term. The problem is that people go back to their old ways of eating regain much of the lost weight, typically starting six months after starting the program. It was smart for the investigators to place that second ketogenic phase just before the typical regain would have started!

There are so few women in this study that it would be impossible to generalize results to women. Why so few? Furthermore, weight loss and other results weren’t broken down for each sex.

I suspect the results of this study will be used for marketing KEMEPHY and TISANOREICA. For all I know, that’s why the study was done. We’re trusting the investigators to have done a fair job choosing which patient charts to analyze retrospectively. They could have cherry-picked only the good ones. Some of the funding was from universities, some was from Gianluca Mech SpA (what’s that?).

How much of the success of this protocol is due to the herbal extracts and TISANOREICA, I have no idea.

The authors made no mention of the fact the average fasting glucose at baseline was 103 mg/dl (5.7 mmol/l). That’s elevated into the prediabetic range. So probably half of these folks had prediabetes. After the one-year program, average fasting glucose was normal at 95 mg/dl (5.3 mmol/l).

The improved lipids, blood sugars, and lower blood pressure may have simply reflected successful weight loss and therefore could have been achieved  by a variety of diets.

The authors attribute their success to the weight-losing metabolic effects of the ketogenic diet (particularly the relatively high protein content), combined with the traditional Mediterranean diet preventing weight regain.

The authors write:

The Mediterranean diet is associated with a longer life span, lower rates of coronary heart disease, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. But it is difficult to isolate the “healthy” constituents of the Mediterranean diet, since it is not a single entity and varies between regions and countries. All things considered there is no “one size fits all” dietary recommendation and for this reason we have tried to merge the benefits of these two approaches: the long term “all-life” Mediterranean diet coupled with brief periods of a metabolism enhancing ketogenic diet.

I’ve attempted a similar merger with my Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet. Click here for an outline. Another stab at it was the Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet. And here’s my version of a Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Paoli, Antonio, et al. Long Term Successful Weight Loss with a Combination Biphasic Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet and Mediterranean Diet Maintenance Protocol. Nutrients, 5 (2013): 5205-5217. doi: 10.3390/nu5125205

Exercise Does and Doesn’t Help With Weight Loss

With regards to TV’s “The Biggest Loser” show:

The show’s 24-week regimen consists of approximately 4 hours of daily exercise, including 1 hour of intense resistance, 1 hour of intense aerobic activity, and 2 hours of moderate aerobic activity (for example, walking), along with a caloric  intake of at least 70% of estimated resting daily energy expenditure, explained Dr. [Robert] Huizenga, who is a former team physician to the L.A. Raiders football team.

exercise for weight loss and management, dumbbells

If you’re not familiar with resistance training, a personal trainer is an great idea

This is an excerpt from “The Biggest Loser Pushes Envelope on Diabetes,” in Internal Medicine News, vol. 45, No.11, page 17.

In a previous post about The Biggest Loser, I’d written that I didn’t know how much they exercised.

For purposes of discussion, let’s assume the documented major weight losses of Biggest Loser contestants is not simply due to caloric restriction.

Dr. Huizenga shared some of his experience at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.  In a study of 35 Biggest Loser participants, about half had prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.  Hemoglobin A1c, a measure of blood sugar control, fell significantly in this subset.  Three of the six with diabetes were able to stop metformin early on.  By week 29 of the study, average body mass index for the entire group had fallen from 46 to 29.

Yes, exercise helps with weight loss.  But most folks aren’t willing or able to exercise vigorously for four hours a day.  Physical activity is more important for maintenance of weight loss, when it demands much less time.

Steve Parker, M.D.

The Secret to Prevention of Weight Regain

“I couldn’t do this when I weighed 220 pounds.”

Regain of lost body fat is the most problematic area in the field of weight management.  Solves this problem for good, and you Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Why do most diets ultimately fail over the long run?  Because people go back to their old habits.

Here are the two secrets to prevention of weight regain:

1)    Restrained eating

2)    Regular physical activity

“Successful losers” apply self-restraint on a daily basis, avoiding foods they know will lead to weight regain.  They limit how much they eat.  They consciously choose not to return to their old eating habits, despite urges to the contrary.

The other glaring difference is that, compared to regainers, the successful losers are physically active.  Oftentimes, they exercised while losing weight, and almost always continue to exercise in the maintenance phase of their program.  This is true in at least eight out of 10 cases.  It’s clear that regular exercise isn’t always needed, but it dramatically increases your chances of long-term success.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Think Diets Don’t Work? Think Again

Claims that “diets don’t work” are based on the assumption that any weight lost is simply gained back quickly.

The Endocrine Society met in Toronto in June of 2007.  Experts presented data on maintenance of weight loss by overweight people.  What percentage of people who lost 10% of their weight kept the weight off for one year?  About 20%.  Not great, but better than many would expect.  That’s a 200-pounder losing down to 180 and staying at 180 pounds for a year.  This degree of weight loss will improve many cases of high blood pressure, knee arthritis, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports even better data.  Almost 60% of 1,310  people in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who lost 10% of body weight maintained 95% of the loss for one year.

How do they keep the weight off?  Characteristics of “successful losers” include a low-calorie diet (probably 1,6oo-1,800 on average), weighing at least once per week, and burning about 2,600 calories per week in physical activity.  (A 150-pound person expends 1260 calories a week by walking 3-4 mph for 30 minutes daily.)

Many successful losers cycle through weight loss and gain several times before determining which combination of diet and physical activity ultimately works for them.

So don’t give up!

Steve Parker, M.D,

References:

McGuire, M.T., et al.  International Journal of Obesity, 23[12] (1999): 1,314-1,319.

Weiss, E.C., et al.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 33[1] (2007): 34-40.

Prevention of Weight Regain Is NOT Impossible

I often hear from the general public, and even my physician colleagues, that losing weight and keeping it off is a hopeless goal.  So, why try?

Because it’s not hopeless.

The March 12, 2008, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association includes an article from the Weight Loss Maintenance Collaborative Research Group.  Researchers identified a group of 1,032 overweight or obese adults who lost at least 8.8 pounds (4 kg) during a 6-month weight loss program.  These adults had high blood pressure, blood lipid abnormalities, or both.  38% were African American and 63% were women.

Average weight of the group before losing weight was 213 pounds (96.7 kg).  The weight-loss program consisted of 20 weekly group sessions, exercise goal of 180 minutes per week (26 minutes per day, usually walking), reduced caloric intake, and adoption of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating pattern.  The goal rate of weight loss was 1 or 2 pounds per week (0.45 to 0.91 kg per week).  Study subjects were taught how to keep records of their caloric intake and physical activity.

Except for the weekly group sessions, this program is similar to the Advanced Mediterranean Diet.

So each of these folks lost at least 8.8 pounds on this program.  Researchers followed them over the next 30 months to see how much weight would be regained.  Average weight loss for the entire group actually was 19 pounds (8.6 kg).  As expected, many people did regain weight over the next 30 months, between 6 and 9 pounds on average.  Of course, some individuals lost much more weight initially, and didn’t gain any back.  Some regained all of the lost weight, plus extra.

Overall, 42% of participants “maintained at least 4 kg [8.8 pounds] of weight loss compared with entry weight…” over the 30 months of follow-up.  37% remained at least 5% below their initial weight.

The “5%” figure stands out, for me, because we see improvement in obesity-related medical problems with loss of just 5 to 10% of body weight.

The authors cite studies indicating that “each kilogram [2.2 pounds] of weight loss is associated with a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 1.0 to 2.4 mmHg and a reduction of incident diabetes of 16%.”

To summarize the weight changes:  Study participants weighed 213 pounds before the behavioral weight-loss program.  Average weight loss was 19 pounds, down to 194 pounds.  Average weight regain over 30 months was in the range of 6 to 9 pounds.  Participants were still pretty big, but 37% of them probably saw some improvement in their medical status.

A huge amount of effort went into this study, on the part of both researchers and study participants.  Nevertheless, average results are relatively modest.  Keep in mind, however, that the numbers are averages, and you are not average.  I’m sure some of the participants went from 220 pounds down to 150 pounds and stayed there.  That could be you.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Svetkey, Laura et al.  Comparison of Strategies for Sustaining Weight Loss: The Weigth Loss Maintenance Randomized Controlled Trial.  Journal of the American Medical Association, 299 (2008): 1,139-1,148.

Is Exercise Important as Part of a Weight Management Plan?

While physical activity alone seldom results in significant and sustained weight loss, maintaining weight loss without physical activity is nearly impossible.

The quote above is from James Early, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita (Wichita, Kansas), as printed in Clinical Cornerstone, 2007, volume 8, No. 3, page 69.

It’s a simple truth, one that bears repeating, as the truth too often is submerged in a roiling sea of misinformation and trivia.

Exercise is extremely important for the vast majority of people who want to lose weight and keep it off, but it’s encouraging to know that it is possible to be successful if you don’t want to or can’t exercise.

This second quote is from the first edition of Thin For Life: 10 Keys to Success From People Who Have Lost Weight and Kept It Off, by Anne Fletcher, page 20.  Out of the 160 “weight-control masters” studied by Anne, 70% exercised three or more times per week.  Nine percent told her they didn’t exercise at all.

For help with your exercise program, consider Physical Activity for Everyone and Shape Up America!

Steve Parker, M.D.

Is Exercise Important for Maintenance of Weight Loss In Women?

This news is a bit stale, but I wanted my readers to be sure to see it.

An article in the July 28, 2008, issue of Archives of Internal Medicine teaches us the role of regular physical activity in keeping lost weight from returning to once-overweight women.

Methodology

201 overweight women (body mass index 27-40) aged 21 to 45 wanted to lose excess weight.  They were sedentary at baseline, exercising fewer than three days a week for under 20 minutes.  Sound familiar?  Depending on baseline weight, the participants were assigned to eat either 1200 or 1500 calories per day, and to exercise according to one of four different exercise programs.  Exercise recommendations were to burn a certain number of calories per week (1000 or 2000 calories) at either moderate or vigorous intensity.  There were weekly group meetings for discussion of eating and exercise for the first six months, twice monthly meetings during the next 6 months, and monthly for the next six months.  There was telephone contact for between months  19 to 24.  This is pretty intense contact.  Each participant was given a treadmill to use at home, but my impression is that other forms of exercise were permitted and discussed.

Ten subjects were excluded from follow-up analysis, mostly because they got pregnant.  Nineteen others lost interest and dropped out.

Participants self-reported their physical activity levels.

At 24 months into the study, 170 of the original 201 participants were able to provide objective weight loss data.

Findings

Of the 170 subjects available for full analysis at 24 months, 54 either gained weight or lost none.  Thirty-three lost 0 to 4.9% of initial body weight, 36 lost 5 to 9.9% initial body weight, and 47 (24.6%) lost 10% or more of initial body weight.  [Who says diets don’t work?]

People who lost 10% or more of initial body weight at 24 months reported performing more physical activity – 275 minutes a week – compared with those who lost less than 10% of initial body weight.  This amount of exercise equates to 55 minutes of exercise on five days per week above the baseline level of activity, which was sedentary as you recall.  Whether they were assigned to “moderate” or “vigorous” exercise intensity didn’t seem to matter.  Whether they actually performed at the assigned level is unclear.

These women who sustained a weight loss of 10% or more of initial body weight at 24 months were burning 1835 calories a week in physical activity.

Women who lost less than 10% of initial body weight, or lost no weight, exercised an average of 34 minutes a day on five days a week.

By 24 months, participants on average had regained about half of the weight they had lost during the first six months  [which is typical].

Take-Home Points

After six months of dieting, many people start to regain half of what they lost.  We saw this phenomenon in the Israeli study of low-fat vs low-carb vs Mediterranean diet (DIRECT trial).

If you have a lot of excess fat to lose, you have to wonder if it would make sense to start a different diet program every six months, until you reach your weight goal.  Maybe there’s something about the novelty and excitement of a new diet program that keeps you motivated and disciplined for six months.

The authors note there are few similar long-term studies examining the amount and intensity of physical activity needed to improve weight loss success.  So this is important information.

In using exercise to help prevent weight regain, it may not matter whether the exercise is moderate or intense.

The authors write:

…the inability to sustain weight loss appears to mirror the inability to sustain physical activity.

Long-term sustained weight loss is possible for a significant portion of overweight women.  Although most women won’t do it, success is enhanced by exercising for 55 minutes on five days a week.  Most men won’t exercise that much either.  Which camp do you fall into?

[For physical activity instruction and information, visit Shape Up America!, Physical Activity for Everyone, or Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Older Adults.]

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Jakicic, John M., et al.  Effect of Exercise on 24-Month Weight Loss Maintenance in Overweight Women.  Archives of Internal Medicine, 168 (2008): 1,550-1,559.