Losing weight is hard. In fact, losing weight is hard as [insert any expletive]. Think about it. We can partly blame the weight loss struggle on the addictiveness of many weight promoting foods. It’s no secret that kicking a drug habit isn’t an easy task. However, imagine how hard reaching sobriety would be if Wal-Mart sold cocaine. In terms of food, that’s the reality facing many people. You don’t have go to a seedy alley or dark corner to get potato chips (check out my post on chip addiction).
How does one lose weight while simultaneously living culture where gaining weight is so easy? This is the question that the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) attempts to answer. The people behind the registry have identified a large population of people who lost weight and the behaviors that lead to their success. In the post, I’ll share some of the keys to weight loss success based on the NWCR’s findings.
What is the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR)?
In my weight management clinic, everyone asks me about what I’ve seen work for other people. I have plenty of anecdotes and stories to share. However, I prefer to move beyond stories and share research. The NWCR is an example of research that I often cite. The registry is essentially an organized database of over 10,000 weight loss success stories.
According to the NWCR’s website, “the NWCR was developed to identify and investigate the characteristics of individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss.” The registry was started in 1994. Since that time, the registry’s participants have completed annual surveys that examine “the behavioral and psychological characteristics of weight maintainers, as well as the strategies they use to maintaining their weight losses.”
What are the characteristics of people in the National Weight Control Registry?
As with any study, it’s important to know about the people in the study. Are they mostly men or women? What’s the average age of the participants? These are both valuable questions that can determine how to apply the studies findings.
Here are a few characteristics of the participants in the registry:
- 80% are women with an average age of 45 years and an average weight of 145 lbs.
- 20% are men with an average age of 49 years and a weight of 190 lbs.
- Participants have lost an average of 66 lbs and have maintained the weight loss for an average of 5.5 years. Their weight loss has ranged from 30 to 300 lbs.
- Some people lost weight quickly, whereas others have lost it slowly.
Here are 7 key findings from the National Weight Control Registry that may help you lose weight
1. 45% of the participants lost weight without assistance. 55% had help from a program.
You may be able to lose weight on your own. But, keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with seeking help. If you have no idea how to begin your weight loss journey, there are people out there who can help. Find a personal trainer, a dietician, a medically supervised weight loss program, etc.
2. 98% of the registry’s participants modified their food intake to lose weight
I frequently come across people who have the desire to lose weight, but lack the desire to change their diets. Yes, change is tough. I wish eating the same foods that led to weight gain can also lead to weight loss. However, almost every published research study out there shows it doesn’t work like that. Weight loss requires a dietary
The specific type of dietary change that leads to weight loss is a subject for debate. I’m fine with people trying ketogenic diets, veganism, Mediterranean diets, etc. Regardless of which pattern of eating someone chooses for weight loss, modifying their original diet is the first step towards losing weight.
3. 94% of the study’s participants lost weight by increasing their physical activity
Physical activity matters. Getting to the gym is undoubtedly helpful. But, everyone should
4. 78% of the registry’s members eat breakfast every day.
In a previous post, I commented on how frequently I see people skip breakfast in my weight management clinic. The frequency in which people in the registry ate breakfast supports its importance in contributing to weight loss. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging an unhealthy breakfast. Eating donuts, stacks of syrup-soaked flapjacks or bagels blanketed in cream cheese probably won’t help you lose weight. However, skipping breakfast isn’t characteristic of most people who’ve successfully lost weight.
5. 75% weight themselves once per week
Monitoring your weight is essential if you are trying to lose it. I routinely tell my patients to weigh themselves 1-2 times per week. Regularly using a scale serves the purpose of identifying if your weight loss strategy is working or not. It is a reminder to stay focused.
On the other hand, I do not encourage people to check their weight multiple times per day. Paying excessive attention to the scale can quickly turn into an unhealthy compulsion or an obsession.
6. 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
As a doctor, I can honestly say I’ve never written “Netflix and Chill” on a prescription pad. Watching too much TV has become synonymous with a sedentary lifestyle. I tell people if they are going to watch TV, try to move around during commercials or at least keep the remote near the television.
7. 90% exercise an average of 1 hour per day.
The people in the registry were working hard to keep the weight off.
What’s the bottom line?
These are just a few characteristics and habits of people who successfully lost weight in the National Weight Control Registry. This post is not an exhaustive list of what leads to weight loss. It is, however, an excellent place to start.
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I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.