by Kristina Lewis, MD
Ask 10 friends or patients who have successfully dieted in the past year what their strategies were, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. With choices ranging from Atkins and Ornish to the dubious blood type diet, there are so many unique weight loss strategies available that it is difficult to keep track of them all. Despite the cornucopia of options for weight loss, it turns out that the secret to long-term weight loss maintenance involves far less variety. Keeping weight off is not about jumping on board with the latest trend. It has more to do with making some simple changes and sticking with them for the long haul. As it turns out, when thinking about how to keep weight off, “boring” may be the best strategy.
Some of the strongest evidence for this idea comes from the National Weight Control Registry, a cohort study based out of Brown University that has followed over 10,000 men and women since 1994 to evaluate factors that may contribute to long term maintenance of weight loss. Their key findings? The less excitement a person has in their diet, the more likely they are to prevent weight regain after a successful loss. In addition to eating breakfast every day and watching very little television, successful maintainers of weight loss also report relatively little variety in the type of foods they eat. These individuals might, for example, eat the same thing for breakfast every day (e.g. greek yogurt and a banana), regardless of their mood or company. This may sound unappealing to those with taste buds that crave variety. But, this same predictability eliminates much of the uncertainty about choosing food, especially when so many unhealthful food choices are available. For example, if you bring oatmeal to work every morning, then you’re not likely to find yourself starving in line at your office canteen, choosing between the tantalizing bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit and an anemic-looking banana. People who are “boring” eaters may also have a leg up during the holidays. Another study from the National Weight Control Registry found that those who are successful with long term weight loss work hard to maintain their diet and exercise routines, even during the winter holiday season. This is crucial because holidays are times when most diets are thrown out the window, resulting in weight gain that tends to linger well past January 1.
Not surprisingly, weight loss success may be even explained by personality traits, such as a strong future orientation, that confer an advantage in maintaining the calorie restriction necessary for long term weight loss maintenance. While we can’t expect people to change fundamental aspects of their personalities, it’s possible that they can replicate some of the key behaviors observed in this cohort. Picking a healthful option that can be eaten daily for breakfast, and committing to regular walking are some great starting points that should be feasible for most people. Although they don’t sound quite as dramatic as “go vegan”, or “run a marathon”, these may be just the kind of New Year’s resolutions that actually stick.