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Strategies for weight loss success

Why is it that some of us lose weight and then put it back on again — while others manage to keep the kilos off? In 1994, to try and solve this mystery, US researchers began a register of more than 5000 ‘losers’ to learn what helps people keep the weight off. Called the National Weight Control Registry, it studies the lifestyle habits of people who’ve lost about 13 kilos or more and most have kept the weight off for at least five years.

Five habits of highly effective losers

So far, the Registry’s research suggests that successful losers share the following five habits.

1. They eat less fat and takeaway and more fruit and vegetables

Although many of the Registry’s losers report eating a low-fat diet, it’s important to be clear what ‘low-fat’ eating means, says Dr Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Newcastle. It doesn’t mean eating no fat — it means your diet should focus on selecting very lean meat, poultry or fish, using low-fat and reduced-dairy products, avoiding fast food and takeaways, using low-fat cooking techniques and eating at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables or salad every day.

2. They eat breakfast

Almost 80 percent of the Registry’s successful losers reported eating breakfast every day, echoing results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the US that found breakfast eaters tended to be leaner.

Although it’s tempting to cut kilojoules by skipping breakfast, dietitians say this can backfire as you may then snack on high-kilojoule foods when you feel hungry. A healthy breakfast appears to help with weight control in two ways. One is that it prevents the urge to graze later in the morning. The other is that it can stop your metabolism from slowing down to conserve kilojoules after your overnight ‘fast’.

If there’s no time to eat breakfast in the morning rush, have healthy food handy for when your hunger kicks in — whether it’s on the way to work or when you arrive. The essential ingredients of a filling, weight-friendly breakfast are:

  • Lean protein-containing foods. This includes low-fat yoghurt, milk and ricotta and poached or boiled eggs
  • Quality carbohydrates. Examples are wholegrain bread, wholegrain breakfast cereals and fruit.

Like healthy eating generally, this takes forward planning — mixing untoasted muesli and yoghurt in a container the night before, or having portable food ready to go — like small cartons of low-fat yoghurt or fresh fruit and small wholegrain rolls.

3. They don’t overindulge at weekends

Successful losers are able to moderate their eating habits on weekends and holidays as well as weekdays — they are not just Monday to Friday dieters. The Registry found that people who keep to the pattern of eating consistently through the week are more likely to keep weight off compared to those who only watch what they eat on weekdays. This is backed up by other US research that suggests overindulging at weekends slows weight loss and can add up to four kilos of weight gain over a year.

4. They stick with regular exercise

The losers on the Registry are physically active, with 90 percent of them averaging an hour of exercise most days of the week. Walking was the most common form of physical activity followed by resistance training. Most of the Registry’s losers report having more energy and a better mood because of the physical activity they do and these are both powerful motivators to keep exercising. If you can stick to regular exercise long enough to see and feel benefits like weight loss and improved wellbeing, regular exercise can become a habit you won’t give up.

5. Watching less TV

Most people enrolled on the Registry watched less than 10 hours of television a week, with more than a third watching fewer than five. Compare this to the national average in Australia where people watch around 20–24 hours a week. Successful losers also tend to have fewer TVs, adds Dr Collins, who believes this has a big influence on how much time you may end up sitting in front of the screen. With fewer TVs in the house, you have to negotiate to watch what you want when you want — which means you will watch less TV.

It’s also a good idea to monitor your sitting time. Work out how many hours of the day you’ve spent sitting — facing your laptop, behind the steering wheel, or in front of the TV — and if it adds up to a lot of hours, think of ways to spend less of the day sitting and more time moving around.

Further information

The National Weight Control Registry


Catenacci VA Ogden LG Stuht J et al. Physical activity patterns in the National Weight Control Registry. Obesity. 2008; 16(1): 153–161.

Cho S Dietrich M Brown C et al. The Effect of Breakfast Type on Total Daily Energy Intake and Body Mass Index: Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2003; 22(4): 296-302.

Racette SB Weiss EP Schechtman KB et al. Influence of Weekend Lifestyle Patterns on Body Weight. Obesity. 2008; 16(8): 1826–1830.

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2010

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