WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Rate of weight loss may not be a determining factor in how much weight is regained.
WHAT WE KNOW
One of the most common issues with weight loss is not simply losing the weight, but maintaining the weight that is lost. In fact, many studies have shown that weight regain is common in ~80% of people who participate in diet-induced weight loss.1 One topic when considering weight regain is the rate of weight loss. Many people, as well as regulatory bodies including the CDC believe that rapid weight loss is more likely to lead to weight regain compared to gradual weight loss.2 However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this notion.
HOW DO WE KNOW THIS?
A recent study evaluated two approaches to weight loss and subsequent weight regain in 57 adults with overweight and obesity3. Participants were randomized to either a low-calorie diet (LCD), which consisted of 1,250 calories/day for 12 weeks or a very-low-calorie diet (VLCD), which consisted of 500 calories/day for 5 weeks. Following the active weight loss period, participants were instructed to maintain weight for 4 weeks, based on diets designed specifically for their caloric needs. Lastly, weight was measured monthly for the following 9 months, but no dietary advice was provided. During the initial weight loss period, weight change was similar between the two groups (~19 lb lost). After the 9 month follow-up, weight regain was also not significantly different (~9.5 lb regained). The results of this study suggest that rate of weight loss does not influence how much weight will be regained.
Despite these findings, there are some important considerations regarding the safety and feasibility of VLCDs. These diets are only appropriate for adults with obesity and should only be practiced under the supervision of a physician. VLCDs do increase risk of hair loss, headache, fatigue, dizziness, cold intolerance, as well as gallstones.4 Additionally, many people find them unrealistic because it is very hard to feel satisfied as well as have enough energy to complete daily tasks when intake is so low. These are issues that you need to take into consideration on your own and with your physician before pursuing a VLCD. A standard low-calorie diet consisting of 1200-1500 calories/day that allows you to eat in a way that will more closely resemble your diet once you reach your goal weight (i.e. including a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean animal products, etc.) may be a more reasonable approach for you.
Given the results of the study described here, losing weight rapidly or over a long period of time likely does not affect whether or not you will maintain that weight loss. The important thing to keep in mind once you’ve lost weight is what you will need to do to maintain your new weight. It will be important to keep your calorie goals (both what you eat and what you burn) in mind. Recognizing that you can’t go back to old habits or eat the same amount of calories that you did when you were a heavier weight is important. Weight loss and weight maintenance requires a shift in lifestyle that will last the rest of your life, so be sure to make smart food choices like filling half your plate with fruit and veggies and incorporate regular physical activity in order to support your new weight.
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