7 Science-Tested Strategies for Weight-Loss Success
If you aim to lose or maintain weight you’ve lost, the intelligent way to achieve your ambitions is to employ the very strategies which scientific study has revealed to result in the best weight-loss outcomes.
Here are 7 evidence-based strategies shown to really work for real people like you.1 Get focused on all the positive outcomes you’re going to experience by achieving your aspirations. A new study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior (September 2015) finds that people who focus on what they’ll accomplish from their weight loss have more success at weight-loss/maintenance than those who think about how their weight loss will fulfill responsibilities to their loved ones or prevent negative health outcomes.
Psychology researchers at the University of North Florida and University of Minnesota followed two groups of adults—those in a guided group, and those doing their own intervention—all of whom had previously lost 10% or more. After two years, the psychologists"People who focused on positive aspirations had significantly better weight loss/maintenance than those who focused on preventing negative outcomes."compared body weights and motivational outlook in the groups. In both settings, participants who focused on positive aspirations had significantly better weight loss/maintenance than those who focused on preventing negative outcomes. And in the guided group, people who were prevention-focused and far from their weight goal had especially poor weight maintenance rates. Only when those participants got close to their desired weight did the prevention outlook keep them going.
2 Set and meet realistic goals to inspire you to make it all the way. Goal-setting and self-monitoring are associated with greater weight-loss, report University of Exeter researcher CJ Greaves and colleagues, who reviewed 30 weight-loss intervention studies as well as 129 analyses and published their findings in BMC Public Health in 2011.
3 Use the most effective exercise protocols for weight loss—alternatively, the most effective ones for you. To determine the most effectual weight-loss treatments, JE Clark of Manchester Community College analyzed 66 population-based studies and 162 intervention groups, focusing on what he called the aggregated effect size of weight-loss changes. His fascinating findings, published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders (April 2015), are:
- Both exercise and dietary changes are necessary to effectively change body composition, as well as biomarkers of disease
- Resistance training (any exercise that causes muscles to contract against an external resistance) was more effective in altering body composition than either endurance/aerobic training or even a combination of resistance and aerobic training! This was particularly the case when participants did 2-to-3 sets of 6-to-10 reps of whole body and free-weight exercises at an intensity of 75% or more of what’s called one rep maximum—the maximum amount of force they could generate in each of their contractions.
- Endurance/aerobic training was more effective at altering body composition when participants worked out (using intervals or otherwise)"Resistance training was more effective in altering body composition than either aerobic training or even a combination of resistance and aerobic training!"for 30 minutes, 3−4 times a week, at high intensity—in other words, when they perceived the exercise to be "somewhat to very hard" or it was ≥70% of their VO2max/or maximal oxygen uptake (to learn more: "What Every Adult Needs To Know About Exercising for Health"). He concluded: "The focus of [weight-loss] treatment should be on producing a large metabolic stress, as induced by resistance training or high levels of endurance training."
Two strong caveats:
- For safety and other reasons, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends low-to-moderate intensity workouts for those just beginning or returning to exercise. If you decide you want to push it for potentially best results, get your doctor’s support and be monitored by a trusted health/fitness expert.
- It’s important and ultimately more effective to keep exercising at a level you enjoy. As Carol Garber, PhD, immediate past president of the American College of Sports Medicine, points out in this interview: "Doing a light amount of exercise regularly is way better than pushing yourself for additional improvement and then not exercising at all."
4 Utilize technology to monitor and advance your progress. People who use tech-based weight-loss management tools stay with their chosen program longer than those who don’t use tech to assess their headway, Netherlands researchers report in Appetite (July 2015)—and on average the tech users lose more weight.
Using an app may help, say researchers in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (July 2015). They grouped nearly 17,000 participants in Australia’s free 10,000 Steps physical activity program based on how the users logged their activity: web only, app only, or web and app. The web-and-app users were most engaged, continuing on the program longer than web or app only participants. (It's unclear, though, whether the web-and-app users had a greater commitment that influenced their choices to log in by all means available.)
Weight loss-related apps are proliferating, and there are great computer versions too for non-smartphone users. Here are just 3 free desktop/app options we’ve tested to get you started. Google and explore to find the right ones for you:
- Lose It! (www.loseit.com): Helps you determine your food calorie budget based on your current weight, your desired weight, health vitals, and how many pounds per week you wish to lose. Congratulates you when you reach your goals. Provides tips regarding what you ate on days you consumed the fewest calories. Sends reminders if you stop tracking. Social media option facilitates community support. Shortfall: Activity tracker does not accurately measure calories. Premium version has more bells and whistles.
- Cronometer (https://cronometer.com): Sets your calorie budget based on current and desired weight and health vitals. Has more thorough activity tracker. Presents complete report on how close you come to meeting your nutritional Daily Values (using the Nutrition Coordinating Center Food & Nutrient Database overseen by University of Minnesota and USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference), helpful for those who are cutting calories extensively and want to be sure they’re getting sufficient nutrients simultaneously. Shortfall: Entering new foods—depending on the food, the serving size you consumed may not be an option. Premium version has more bells and whistles.
- National Institute of Health Body Weight Planner (https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/bwp/index.html): Sets your calorie budget based on your current and desired levels of both weight and exercise, health vitals, and your goal dates. Projects your new realized weight based on your commitment to decrease calories and/or increase activity levels, with a 365+ day visual simulator. Shortfall: Poor visuals.
5 Play a social game with financial incentives. It might seem crass to some, but T. Leahy of Brown Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior reports that DietBet, where bettors make money if they lose 4% or more of their initial body weight in 4 weeks, is an "excellent" option. More than 30% of the 17,171 participating gamers studied lost 5% or more of their starting weight. The betting wasn’t expensive, $27 on average, and winners won $59 on average. Participants who had the greatest weight loss (and were more likely to win) bet more money at the onset, weighed in more often, shared on Facebook, and had more social interactions throughout the game.
6 Enlist professional support to stay on track. University of Glasgow and other UK university researchers tested whether professional motivators could also help currently or formerly"The intensive motivation counseling group lost 8+ pounds more than the leaflet group."obese adults to either lose or maintain their newly lost weight. They randomized 170 adults aged 18−70 who’d lost 5% or more that year to one of three groups: an intensive motivation group (6 in-person sessions followed by 9 telephone sessions), a less intensive group (2 in-person sessions, 2 telephone sessions) and a control group (a leaflet with advice on healthy living). After a year, researchers reported in Health Technology Assessment (July 2015), the intensive intervention group had lost 8+ pounds more than the leaflet group.
University of Florida researcher MG Perri and colleagues came to a similar conclusions: the more counseling support, the more weight lost. They randomly assigned 612 obese adults to 1 of 4 groups: high (48) behavior change sessions,"The more counseling support, the more weight lost."moderate (32) sessions, low (16) sessions, or no sessions (nutrition info was furnished instead). After two years, the researchers reported in Obesity (2014), the high counseling support group had lost 6.8% and the medium group 6.7% of their body weight—significantly more than the weight losses in the low counseling group, 3.5%, and the no sessions group, 2.9%.
7 Get social support from friends and family. You’ve heard that before, and for good reason: Research shows that social support contributes to greater weight loss.
After examining 30 weight loss studies and nearly 130 study analyses in search of the factors that most influence clinically"Social support was 1 of the 3 most important components driving meaningful weight-loss success."meaningful weight loss, University of Exeter researcher CJ Greaves and colleagues concluded that social support was 1 of the 3 most important components driving success. (The other two were using established behavior change techniques and targeting both diet and physical activity.)
One example: this study published in Preventative Medicine. Researchers kept track of 90 middle-aged men who’d completed a 15-week weight-loss program. Two years later, the men who perceived themselves as having ongoing social support lost significantly more weight on average than participants who didn’t feel supported.
And if your preferred social support is a weight-loss group, be sure to join one with 4 or more of these 5 features—personalized content, a structured program, counselor feedback, group support of course, and an opportunity for you to monitor your own progress. A 2015 review of 27 intervention studies designed to help individuals with a 25+ BMI lose or maintain lost weight discovered that people participating in programs which synthesized 4 or all 5 of these attributes had the most significant weight losses.
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