It can be hard to know what is the best path for optimal health. If you want to lose weight, for example, experts say that a combination of diet and exercise—basically, a lifestyle change—will help you be more successful. But what diet? Which exercise routine? How many hours per week? Indeed, there are many questions.
But while there are a lot of questions you will be prone to ask about your own weight loss efforts, researchers at Drexel University say that the real key is simply consistency.
Published in the journal Obesity, the study suggests that losing the same amount of weight every week is the most likely habit to succeed. More specifically, the study involved 183 men and women—either overweight or obese—and had different groups follow different weight loss plans. The research looked at number of pounds lost week to week over the first 12 weeks and then compared weight loss patterns after 12 months; and then again after 24 months.
Study co-author Michael Lowe, PhD notes, “No matter which program they were on, those who were able to lose roughly the same amount of weight each week early on did better long term than those whose weight loss fluctuated during those initial weeks.”
He puts it this way: if two dieters each lost 20 pounds in that first 3 month period, the one who managed the weight loss by consistently dropping a couple of pounds a week was more likely to maintain their weight loss (or their healthy weight, if they hit their weight loss goal), than someone who dropped a few pounds one week, gained a pound back the next week, and continued this pattern over the 12 weeks.
The Drexel University clinical psychologist and professor in the department of psychology goes on to say, “This is the first time this kind of relationship has been shown. We’ve always known that people take off weight in their own way. Some seem to lose roughly the same amount each week, while others bounce around more. We’ve never known if that variability impacts long-term success. This research says it does have something to do with it.”
While the study is pretty definitive, the researchers also note that they still don’t really know why weight-loss fluctuation might affect the long-term results. Lowe’s team looked at variables like emotional eating and food cravings as possible explanations.
Lowe continues, “We have done two other studies with people who are in a healthy weight range [they’re not trying to drop pounds] where we’ve shown that those whose weights vary more week to week tend to gain more weight in the long term.”