This is from a study conducted at Oxford University ( S. Byrne, Z. Cooper and C. Fairburn ) investigating people who had lost weight and then kept it off for at least a year.
(To see the some of the thought processes of those that kept the weight off after losing it, click here.)
Not all of the people that lost weight achieved their goal weight, however the group of people who kept the weight off reported that they were still satisfied with their new weight. This is in contrast to the people who regained the weight over time, who reported that they had not been satisfied when they did not reach their goal weight (even though they had lost weight ). This finding endorses the maxim ‘Aim for progress, not perfection’.
* A dichotomous (‘black-and-white’ or ‘all-or-nothing’) thinking style was more commonly observed among the Regainers than the Maintainers or Healthy Weight subjects. Many Regainers spoke about eating, weight and shape in dichotomous terms and there was evidence that this way of thinking reflected their general style of thinking.
“I have very strict ideas about what failure and success are made of. In my head, I always think I’d like to be 8 stone. Obviously if you don’t get to 8 stone you’re still fat.” (Regainer)
Maintainers and Healthy Weight subjects tended to express less polarised views on eating, weight and shape, and their control.
“I plan what I’m going to eat, but if I can’t keep to it exactly, well not to worry because that’s life.” (Maintainer)
Coping with perceived negative life events:
The majority of Maintainers and Regainers reported the occurrence of adverse life events since they had lost weight, but they differed in the way they coped with these events. When faced with a stressful situation, Regainers reported that they habitually over-ate.
“It’s not being able to control the situation, not being able to sort my problems out, so I need to eat to make me feel good. It’s just immature, I think. It’s like a little child who hasn’t quite worked out how to handle things and be calm about it.” (Regainer)
In contrast, Maintainers and Healthy Weight participants appeared to be able to sustain their established pattern of eating and exercise in the face of difficult circumstances.
“I have had some pretty hard times since losing weight, real struggles with money and quite traumatic experiences, but nothing ever made me put on weight. So I don’t think experiences like that affect me in that way.” (Maintainer).
“I’ve learnt to look for other things that give me the same feeling that eating might. Because that for me, seemed to be the only way forward.”
“I knew I couldn’t go back to what I was doing before. So I keep an eye on fat and alcohol, no eating masses of fried food or huge amounts, because this is what I’ve got to do to stay at this weight.”
“Once I started losing weight, I began to get the confidence to know that I could do aerobics and swimming, and now I do some form of physical exercise every day.”
“It’s always been my routine. After doing what I do during the day, I go and exercise. It’s so ingrained I wouldn’t change that.”
“I have still got a certain amount of caution about it all. But you’ve got to have a happy medium between encouraging yourself and whacking yourself over the head.”
Psychological factors may, at least partly, account for many individuals’ lack of persistence with weight maintenance behaviour following successful weight loss. For example, one potential explanation for weight regain may be that individuals (especially those with a dichotomous thinking style) who do not achieve the weight (and other objectives) that they had hoped to achieve during weight loss, will consider any weight loss to be inadequate and unsatisfactory. Such individuals are unlikely to be motivated to maintain a weight that they do not consider to be worthwhile, leading to the abandonment of efforts directed at weight maintenance.
It is worth noting here that Regainers reported over-eating as a way to cope with adverse life events. In contrast to this, people who enjoy exercise will often use exercise as a means to make themselves feel better. For this reason it is worth considering ways to learn to enjoy exercising, or finding forms of exercise that you like.
Having other goals will help in your efforts to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Get yourself involved in interests that will also get you active. Consider taking up a sport – team sports in particular are good because they also offer a social outlet. Or maybe there is something that you’ve always dreamed of doing, such as a marathon, or hiking a mountain. A friend of mine ( a lady in her sixties ) recently took time off from her accounting firm to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and then a few months later, Base Camp in the Himalayas. She came back with stories to tell and photos of a picturesque landscape – she said she loved it. This could also be you. Go to the page “A Few Words of Motivation” and watch the clip “One man’s journey from obesity to completing a marathon”.
Other people have prepared for funrun events such as the Colour Run ( a 5km event). It is not important what the event is, just so long as you have an interest.
It is also important to surround yourself with as much support as possible. Speak to your family and get them on board. Ask them to keep junk food out of the cupboards, and to go for walks with you. Train with a friend. Consult with a dietician for advice and a mealplan. Meet with a personal trainer for guidance on what you need to be doing in regards to exercise. Start moving forward.
If you wish to lose weight and then keep it off, the long-term needs to be considered. To see the long-term plan that I guide my most of my clients through, click here.
The American College of Sports Medicine is a leader in research for exercise and sport. Among the many fields that it is involved in, it also conducts trials in weight-loss. To see the findings of some of these trials, go to this page.