While leafing through my latest professional journal, I was happy to see research support for what I think is so important – the attitudes and behavior skill-building needed to maintain weight loss. Let’s not forget how easy it is to lose weight relative to how hard it can be for many people to maintain the loss. If long-term strategies are viewed as optional (“I’ll figure that out once I lose the weight”), aggressive short-term efforts usually end in weight regain.
Most studies on weight loss and maintenance are quantitative, looking at blends of nutrients, metabolism, etc. – all of those measurable factors that look at how the body responds to calories and varying nutrients. The recent study that caught my interest looked at the qualitative side of weight regain – What are the general behavior patterns and thought processes that are associated with maintainers that are different from the regainers? A very good question!
Admittedly, this is a more fuzzy look at the topic, but let’s face it – as human beings, thinking that eating behaviors can be easily defined in black and white terms is a very unrealistic expectation.
The study, reported in the most recent Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, conducted focus groups consisting of people who have lost at least 10% of their body weight over the last 2 years. Regainers were defined as those who regained at least 33% of the weight they lost, while maintainers had regained no more than 15%.
Differences in attitude stood out as significant. The maintainers were more likely to continue the strategies that made them successful with weight loss. In other words, they did not view them as temporary measures to be used just to “get the job done”. They also used productive problem solving and positive self-talk, unlike the majority of regainers.
Maintainers weighed themselves regularly, while regainers did not. I find that attitude is important here as well, and I would bet that the maintainers did not let the scale rule their mood as I see happen when people have more negative black and white thinking.
The study mentioned previous qualitative research on weight maintenance, and although it is very limited, a couple of studies offer similar interesting results. One study found that maintainers were more active (not surprising), snacked less, and employed more effective problem-solving or support-seeking coping styles instead of avoiding issues.
Another study noted that maintainers continued diet and physical activity routines, reacted quickly to weight gain, and met non-weight goals as well as weight goals. (My thought: focus on other “wins” besides the scale keeps attitude more positive.)