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Lose Weight Fast, Keep It Off Longer


If you lose weight fast at the beginning of a diet, are you more likely to keep it off longer than if you lose weight slowly? Yes, according to the results of a University of Florida study, which provide some food for thought among those who are struggling with weight loss issues.

Americans spend an estimated $60 billion a year on weight loss programs and food. A 2005 review study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that of the ten most popular weight loss programs in the United States, only one provided documentation that it worked. In one of the studies reviewed, participants lost about 5 percent (10 lbs) of their starting weight in six months and had kept about half of it off two years later.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes in 2009 figures that more than one-third of adults in the United States—more than 72 million people—are obese, and that 16 percent of US children are obese. Since 1980, rates of obesity for adults have doubled and for children have tripled. Approximately one-third of Americans say they are on a diet at any given time, and 95 percent of people regain all the weight they lost within the time it took to lose it. This sounds like weight loss is a losing battle in more ways than one.

Although slow and steady weight loss may be the way to go for people who are overweight but not obese, the University of Florida study suggests that obese individuals will fare better in the long run if they lose weight quickly at the beginning of their program.

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Lisa Nackers and her colleagues analyzed data for 262 middle-aged obese women who had participated in the TOURS (Treatment of Obesity in Underserved Rural Settings) trial. The women followed a program that encouraged them to reduce their caloric intake and increase their moderate exercise to achieve an average weight loss of 1 pound (0.45 kg) per week. This portion of the study lasted six months, and the women were then supported for an additional 12 months through a program that involved contact twice monthly via group sessions, newsletters, or telephone calls.

The women were grouped according to the amount of weight they lost during the first month of the program. Participants in the FAST group lost more than 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) per week, those in the MODERATE group lost between 0.5 and 1.5 pounds per week (0.23-0.68 kg), and those in the SLOW group lost less than 0.5 pounds per week (0.23 kg). The women’s weight was checked again at the end of six months and at 18 months.

Among people who are obese, successful weight loss is defined as a 10 percent or greater reduction of initial body weight maintained for at least 12 months. The researchers found that women in the FAST group lost more weight overall, maintained their weight loss for a longer period of time, and were less likely to regain the weight than women in the other two groups. Specifically, when compared with women in the SLOW group, those in the FAST group were 5.1 times more likely to reach the 10 percent weight loss goal at 18 months and women in the MODERATE group were 2.7 times more likely.

These findings indicate that if you want to lose weight and keep it off, you are more likely to be successful if you lose weight fast at the start of your diet program. The study’s authors suggest that, “within lifestyle weight control programs, substantial efforts should be focused on promoting large rather than small behavioral changes during the initial weeks of treatment.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Nackers LM et al. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 2010 May 5
Tsai AG, Wadden TA. Annals of Internal Medicine 2005 Jan 4; 142(1): 56-66