Researchers say that consistent weight loss in the first few weeks of dieting may help to achieve long-term weight loss.
It is estimated that more than 2 in 3 adults in the United States are overweight or obese. Excess weight can increase the risk of numerous health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even some types of cancer.
Adopting a healthful, balanced diet is considered one of the best strategies for weight loss, but - as many dieters will know - it is not as easy as it sounds.
Every year, around 45 million people in the U.S. go on a diet, primarily with the aim of losing weight. However, research has indicated that up to 40 percent of people who lose weight regain more than half of it over the subsequent 2 years.
So, why are some people able to maintain their weight loss while others struggle? Lead study author Emily Feig, Ph.D., of the College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, and colleagues sought to find out.
The team's findings were recently published in the journal Obesity.
Fluctuation vs. consistency
The researchers enrolled 183 participants to their study, all of whom were either overweight or obese. For 1 year, each subject participated in a weight loss program. This comprised meal replacements and behavioral goals, such as increasing physical activity and calorie tracking.
Study participants were asked to keep a record of any food-related behaviors they experienced, such as cravings, binge eating, and emotional eating.
Additionally, subjects attended weekly weigh-in sessions. Two years after the weight loss program began, participants were weighed for a final time.
The team found that participants who experienced consistent weight loss in the first 6 and 12 weeks of the program were more likely to have maintained their weight loss at 12 and 24 months, compared with those whose weight fluctuated.
As an example, the team explains that a person who lost 4 pounds one week, regained 2 pounds the next week, and lost 1 pound the following week were less likely to achieve long-term weight loss than those who consistently lost 1 pound over the same 3-week period.
Weighing in on food-related behaviors
The researchers were interested to discover that participants who reported lower preoccupation with food, lower binge eating, and lower emotional eating at study baseline experienced greater weight fluctuation and lower total weight loss.
The team says that these findings indicate that it may not be a person's relationship with food or food-related behaviors that influence long-term weight loss. Rather, it may be down to the consistency of weight loss.
The researchers caution that their study cannot prove cause and effect between weight loss consistency and better long-term weight loss.
However, principal investigator Michael Lowe, Ph.D. - who is a professor of psychology at Drexel University - believes that they may have identified an effective strategy for shedding the pounds and keeping them off.
"Settle on a weight loss plan that you can maintain week in and week out, even if that means consistently losing ¾ of a pound each week."
Michael Lowe, Ph.D.