Keep the Weight Off: Lessons learned from the NWCR

Keeping weight off is hard, about 20% of people are successful long-term. The good news is that it gets easier with time, if you keep weight off for 2 years, you reduce your risk of re-gaining the weight by 50%. People who keep weight off longer use fewer strategies to keep it off and say that it takes less effort. These successful folks also say that life is better after weight loss than before and report improvements in their mood, self-confidence, physical health, level of energy and quality of life. 

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) is a research study that looks at the habits of people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off. On average the people in this study have lost about 70 lbs and kept the weight off for about 5 years, but all people in the study have lost at least 30 lbs and kept it off for at least 1 year. I've looked at the most recent research from this study and broken the things these people do into Six Steps to Keep the Weight Off. 

1. Watch Calories              2. Don't go overboard on fat                3. Eat breakfast

4. Monitor yourself          5. Focus on physical activity                6. Stay off the screen

In the resources section I have Choose Your Own Nutrition Adventure Goal Setting Worksheets for each of these steps, so you can download the PDFs and fill those out to figure out where you are and which goals you need to focus on.

Here are the details: 1. Watch calories and 2. Don't go overboard on fat: The easiest way to find out if you're doing this successfully is to track what you eat online or with a phone application. There are many good programs and applications out there, but one I like is Myfitnesspal. The account is free and they have a huge library of foods. They give you a daily pie chart to show you how much fat you're getting each day (get instructions on the Steps 1 & 2 worksheet). But don't forget- the type matters, if your fat is from mono and polyunsaturated fats, I say keep eating those nuts, olive oil and avocados. If you find it's from trans and saturated fats- it might be time to cut back. For the fastest way to get this info, enter two weekdays and one weekend day (start on thursday and go through saturday) and this will give you a pretty good idea of your overall pattern.

3. Eat breakfast: About 80% of NWCR participants eat breakfast every day and only 4% never eat breakfast. We don't understand all the reasons, but eating breakfast may reduce hunger late in the day or fueling up in the morning may help you stay active. If you're not hungry in the morning, go for something small, like a piece of fruit with either a handful of nuts or string cheese.

4. Monitor yourself: About 80% of people who keep weight off weight themselves at least once a week and researchers think that this keeps you more aware of what you eat. It's important to do this in the beginning, but you may be able to stop after you've kept weight off a long time. If the scale is stressful for you, choose a pair of pants that give you an idea of how you're doing and try them on once a week. Don't focus on one number on the scale, everyone's weight varies day to day, and most people have a 3-5 lb range that's normal for them. The important thing is to have strategies to  when you go above that range. Use the goal setting sheets to write down your strategies. Examples of strategies are: When I go above my range... I'll only have alcohol on the weekends, I'll skip dessert at restaurants, I'll take an extra 15 minute walk each day.

5. Focus on physical activity: While you can lose weight without physical activity, most people need to be very physically active to keep weight off. 90% of NWCR participants used diet + physical activity to maintain their weight loss. How much do you need? NWCR folks burn about 2800 kcals/wk doing physical activity. The is equivalent to walking about 4 miles/day or exercising moderately or vigorously for about 40 minutes/day. The activities used most often are walking, cycling, weight lifting, aerobics, running and stair climbing, but there's nothing wrong with getting creative, anything that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up will do the trick.

6. Stay off the screen: It doesn't only matter how much you exercise, how much you sit factors in too. In the NWCR researchers examined TV watching- though I think screen time falls under this category, since any leisure time you spend sitting and looking at a screen is similar to watching TV. NWCR folks mostly watched 10 hours per week or less (60%), a sizable group watched 5 hours per week or less (30%) and only about 10% watched 21 hours per week or more. The people who started the study watching more TV and increased how much they watched during the study were more likely to re-gain the weight they lost. 

Share your strategies for success below in the comments section!

Posted on August 17, 2014 .