Behavioural strategies based on research findings, for sustainable weight loss.
Obesity, with its dangerous and unpleasant social, personal and medical problems is dramatically on the rise. 1 in 3 of the world’s adult population is overweight and almost one in 10 is obese. Unhealthy diets and physical inactivity are key risk factors for major non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Diet and physical activity are therefore a public health priority in many countries. They are also personally significant and urgent for many of us who resort to dieting as a way to manage our weight.
The average adult gains 200g to 2kg every year. This suggests that our energy intake is higher than energy expended. To maintain a healthy weight as we age, we must therefore ensure a balance between energy consumed and expended while if we are overweight, that has to shift to more energy expended than consumed.
Most people want to get rid of those excess kilogrammes and we want to do it with as little discomfort as possible. Well, there is the good news and the bad news. The good news is that in the short term, significant weight loss is mostly achieved through restricting calorie intake. The bad news is that most dieters gain the weight they lost within a year.
Research on dietary restraint shows that even thinking about restricting our food intake can cause considerable emotional distress! Dissatisfaction with body and low self-esteem and even overeating to compensate for calorie deprivation can result from dieting. Weight control follows a pattern similar to other aspects of lifestyle and behaviour change such as alcohol. It is characterized by frequent relapses over extended periods of time with many people returning to baseline weight in 5 years. Successfully keeping the lost weight off involves lifestyle changes and enhanced self-regulation leading to moderate calorie intake and increased physical activity.
So, what does work? Here is a summary of what research studies tell us about losing weight successfully and keeping it off over a long period of time.
WEIGHT LOSS GOALS
Intuition favours modest weight loss goals and suggests that people who have very high weight loss goals will either not succeed or will regain what they lost. However, research studies show that people who lose weight quickly are more likely to lose more and tend to keep it off for longer! Sure, they regain more and faster but they still maintain about 10% lower than their original weight. Compare that with persons who lost little weight and weighed more than their original body weight in a couple of years! It appears that seeing the scales go down steadily was very motivating. A safe yet faster rate of weight loss would be about 500 to 700g per week.
People who frequently revise their goals based on diet and physical activity tend to have more success in the long term. Finally, specifying clear, reasonable and achievable weight loss and healthy eating goals is the first step towards achieving them.
- Aim to lose 10% of your body weight at the rate of about 500g-700g a week.
- Specify goals based on diet and exercise
- Revise weight loss goals periodically
WEIGHT LOSS STRATEGIES
Research suggests that instead of focusing on kilos to be lost, persons intending to lose weight should focus on their dietary behaviours. Being more aware of eating habits and changing them will improve the ability to change behaviours based on situations and feelings. That in turn leads to greater ability to moderate eating even in difficult situations where there are tempting foods available or one has a craving or is feeling stressed or angry. It is easier to get rid of excess weight when one can regulate eating thereby helping to achieve weight loss eventually.
On the contrary, when a person focuses too much on the outcome of a weight management programme without paying attention to changing behaviours, it increases their tendency to overeat after a lapse or a deviation from the eating plan!
People who are able to maintain a healthy weight in the long term usually adopt a staged approach to weight loss. Instead of thinking of the end goal only, they have mini-goals to break up the weight loss goal into stages and takes into account changes in nutritional needs, exercise routines and eating habits.
Moreover, these persons use several behavioural strategies for weight control. They make relatively small adjustments to diet and/or exercise behaviour that slowly lead to significant lifestyle changes. Examples of such changes are dropping an unhealthy pre-dinner snack, not eating after 9pm at night, cutting back on sodas and fizzy drinks, wearing a pedometer to keep track of the number of steps you take each day or doing 20 minutes of aerobic activity such as walking or swimming every day.
- Change eating behaviours to achieve weight loss goals.
- Break your goal into smaller achievable goals.
- Use different strategies to make small adjustments to eating and exercise behaviours.
(End of Part 1 of this article. Part 2 of the article discusses successfully managing the challenges to managing weight.)
Go To Part 2
By Shrimathi Swaminathan on 22 March 2013 at 13:33