Sunday, May 14, 2006

National Weight Control Registry

The National Weight Control Registry is a research group you can sign up with if you've lost at least 30 pounds and maintained that loss for at least 1 year. There are over 5000 members. Their goal (generally speaking) is to study what characteristics successful weight loss maintainers have.

I signed up about 18 months ago, and just recently finished my 1st follow-up survey. Every year they send you this giant collection of surveys about, oh, everything you eat and how much and how often and how you feel about a million things. It basically takes a couple of hours to fill all of it out, and of course you end up feeling kind of bad because, really, how easy is it to estimate exactly how often and how much broccoli you eat? And then you remind yourself that they can't be basing their findings on perfect recall and reporting and you get over it and send in these forms for science.

Anyway, this year I received back a copy of an article they published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005;82(suppl);222S-5S) about some of their findings so far. You can go look this up yourself if'n you want, but I'll summarize.

About 20% of people (Americans, presumably) have successfully lost weight, when the criteria of success are that you (a) intentionally lost 10% or more of your highest non-pregnant weight, and (b) kept it off for at least a year. This isn't a finding of the NWCR itself, of course, but an average from a few different studies that all got numbers around 20%.

The NWCR has been trying to determine, among other things, what factors make some people maintain a loss, while others gain the weight back. They've so far identified six things that they can recommend for maintaining a weight loss, as follows:

  1. engaging in high levels of physical activity (for their members, an average of about 1 hour of moderate intensity activity every day)
  2. eating a diet that is low in calories and fat
  3. eating breakfast
  4. self-monitoring weight on a regular basis (44% of their members weigh themselves every day, and another 31% at least once per week)
  5. maintaining a consistent eating pattern (i.e., not slackening up on weekends or holidays)
  6. catching "slips" before they turn into larger regains

Also associated with success, though not specifically recommendations, are low levels of depression and disinhibition (read: "bingeing"), and continued adherence to diet and exercise strategies. And people who started losing weight because of a medical event (broadly defined to include everything from your doctor telling you to lose weight to a family member having a heart attack) were also more successful than people who had another kind of trigger (like seeing themselves in a mirror) or no trigger.

The basic thing for me about weight loss and maintenance is that both of them take a lot of attention. If you have a weight problem, and you wish to lose weight and maintain that loss, there is no going back to just eating what you want when you want it, ever. So that's the choice.


Debbie said...

Hey, by their definition, I'm one of the 20%, although I have since failed at maintaining the weight loss.

The first time I gained too much weight, it was from working at summer camp where I had all I could eat three times a day for free. They key to losing that weight was to eat only my own cooking, and quit working at summer camp. I tried eating less at summer camp, but this only led to me gaining less weight.

The second time was from getting sick for a year with something no one diagnosed and which zapped my energy. I quit walking quickly, running upstairs, etc. Not long after that I sprained my ankle so badly that for a year I could no longer play ultimate frisbee, and by that time my ultimate frisbee group has broken up.

Now I eat out too much and I ballroom dance instead of playing ultimate frisbee. I also get free food at work, and I eat out of frustration at work. By eating fewer donuts, and having healthy food on hand, I have quit gaining weight, which is good. But I still like my old weight better, and it liked me better, too.

Do you know what is meant by moderate-intensity activity?

Tam said...

Moderate intensity activity means something like brisk walking - generally, something that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat, but where you can still have a conversation. (I think the general standard of "brisk" is about four miles per hour, though I never attain that speed and consider 3 mph brisk for my own purposes.)