February 24, 2010

Weight Loss, Control: Expectations vs. Research-based Realities

In the era of the Biggest Loser, the ante for pounds to expect to loose per week has gone up, not that the number ever approached realistic, even before Biggest Loser. People have long had unrealistic expectations for weekly loss - 3, 5, 10 pounds - feed by overpromising diets. Simply AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN if you’re following a sane and sensible weight loss plan!

Experts suggest that 1 to 2 pounds per week is realistic. And this weight loss won’t be steady week after week. Some weeks, particularly at the beginning of your efforts, you’ll lose more weight more easily. Then it will slow…and perhaps halt, or plateau, a week or two. Then, if you hang in, put the strategies into action, the pounds will once again fall off…slowly. Yes, losing weight takes stick to it-ness and a commitment to changing your ways forever!

What does the research say about how much weight you can expect to loose and how to get maximal weight loss for your efforts?

  • Expect to lose the majority of pounds by six months to a year into your effort and in the end expect to lose about 5 to 7% of your body weight (ex: about 10 to 20 pounds for someone starting at 200 pounds). Understandable, this magnitude of weight loss, or lack thereof, likely falls shy of your desire. But keep front and center that myriad health benefits can be derived from melting away minimal pounds - lower blood pressure and blood glucose, improve lipid profile (blood fats), decrease sleep problems, increase energy level, and more.
  • Research shows that you’ll increase the amount of weight you lose by:
      1. being engaged in and attending (not just signed up for) a sane and proven successful weight loss program which offers interactive components: working with a trained facilitator (in person or online), and attending regular meetings, weighing and measuring foods at least on occasion, keeping food and exercise diary, etc. (Check out Log On to Log Off ).
      2. reducing your calorie intake and putting an emphasis on trimming the amount of fat you eat.
      3. engaging in regular (at least five days a week) physical activity.

      Then the real work begins...expect to have to fight hard to keep these 10 to 20 pounds off. Studies shows that the body's goal is to put that extra padding right back on. Even when studies continue to offer at least some interaction with a health care professional over one, two or more years; people gain weight back towards their starting weight. And this is even truer if you’ve been up and down the scale once or twice. Why? One factor, among several, may be the energy gap for maintaining weight loss. Research shows that energy requirements decrease proportionally with a decrease in body weight. Calorie needs are thus lower after you lose weight (true, you can’t eat as many calories as you used to, even when you were at the lower weight). Unfortunately, as people gain weight research shows there are metabolic changes that occur. These work to keep you overweight.

      Though these words are hard to read, keep in mind that studies show being in the negative column by even a few pounds can help you stay healthier today and many tomorrows. An important reminder: the average American is gaining one to two pounds of weight per year. So, view your weight loss, even if it feels and is minimal, as a huge achievement...and factor in those two pounds a year you didn’t gain.

      So let me be crystal clear. You will need to commit to permanently changing your eating habits and become more physically active to have a fighting chance at keeping lost weight at bay. The sooner you get your head around this difficult to digest concept the better you will set yourself up for success. There is no such thing as “off diet.”

      Research with people who have lost weight and kept if off for years shows these keys to keeping lost weight off for the long haul (learnings from the National Weight Control Registry):

      • Watch your calories in and keep the fat gram count trimmed.
      • Eat breakfast daily.
      • Get regular and significant physical activity (60-90 min/day)
      • Zero in on an approach that works for you.
      • Minimize sedentary behavior eg TV watching
      • Keep food and activity journals – this makes you accountable.
      • Weigh yourself regularly and have a relapse prevention plan to implement if you gain a couple of pounds
      • Maintain regular support.

      It’s time to redefine realistic expectations for weight loss, be honest about the challenges of keeping those pounds at bay and, on the plus side, recognize how few pounds you need to shed to make a BIG difference in your health and longevity.