Losing weight is tough. It takes dedication, persistence and patience. But as anyone who has ever lost a significant amount of weight can tell you, it can be just as hard—and in some cases, even harder—to maintain that weight loss.
A meta-analysis of 31 diet-related studies found that 83 percent of dieters who were followed for at least two years gained back more weight than they had originally lost. Additionally, 50 percent of dieters weighed more than 11 pounds over their starting weight five years after dieting.
So, we know that weight loss maintenance can be a challenge. But why? Are there certain factors that make it easier, and others that hinder all the efforts to keep the pounds off for good?
A recent study sought to answer this question by looking at various psychosocial aspects—specifically social support, quality of life, depression and stress—that could promote or suppress weight regain.
The researchers hypothesized that those who had greater social support, higher quality of life, lower depressive symptoms and less stress would be more likely to maintain their weight loss successfully over the years. To test their theory, they enlisted 1,685 overweight or obese people to take part in a two-phase study.
During phase 1 of the experiment, the participants were enrolled in a six-month weight loss program, which required them to attend weekly group counseling sessions and follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. Exercise—180 minutes or more per week—was also encouraged.
People who lost more than 4 kg during phase 1 moved on to phase 2 of the study. A total of 1,025 people (mostly women; 61 percent white, 38 percent black and one percent Hispanic) were randomly assigned to one of three maintenance groups:
- Self-directed/minimal intervention
- Interactive technology (participants were given unlimited access to an interactive weight loss maintenance website)
- Personal contact (participants received monthly personalized contact via phone, and quarterly in-person contact from a study interventionist)
Both interactive technology and in-person contact interventions offered the same content; the only difference was mode of presentation.
Researchers evaluated everyone at 12 and 30 months using various surveys that assessed social support for exercise and eating habits, health-related quality of life, depression and stress.
Results showed that at 12- and 30-months follow up, higher scores on the quality of life survey usually meant more successful weight loss maintenance.
Better Mental Health, Higher Success
Overall, the researchers determined that the better one’s mental health, the greater the chances at long-term weight loss maintenance.
If you’re in the process of losing weight, or if you’re trying to maintain your weight loss, put whatever measures into place that you personally find inspiring or motivational. You know better than anyone else what outside influences will keep you on the right path toward long-term success.
That may mean eliciting the help of family and friends to cheer you on and keep you accountable. On the contrary, you may prefer to keep loved ones out of it and instead attend anonymous group meetings. One-on-one counseling may also boost your mental and emotional health, and therefore quality of life—another very important factor to boost your success.