No strings for yo-yo dieters
Contrary to popular belief, a history of yo-yo dieting doesn't affect a person's ability to lose weight in the future, a new study indicates.
Even if you've had problems with losing and regaining weight several times before, it's never too late to try again, says Anne McTiernan, the study's senior author and a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
"You hear people say, 'Diets don't work for me,' but they do work if you use a structure and stick with it," she says. "The message is: Don't give up."
For the latest study, McTiernan and colleagues followed 439 overweight or obese, sedentary women, ages 50 to 75, who followed one of four programs: a reduced-calorie diet; a reduced-calorie diet plus an exercise program of at least 225 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity (mostly brisk walking); an exercise program only; or no intervention.
Those who followed the reduced-calorie plan lost about 9% of their starting weight, an average of 16 pounds. Those on the reduced-calorie diet plus exercise program lost about 11% of their weight, or roughly 20 pounds.
About 42% of the participants had a history of weight cycling: losing and regaining 10 or more pounds on three or more occasions.
Yo-yo dieters lost the same amount of weight as non-cyclers, the findings show. They're being published online in the journal Metabolism, and the results have been reported at a professional meeting.
Other studies on yo-yo dieting have shown mixed results, including some that suggested weight cycling might have health and psychological consequences and others that didn't show any harm.
The latest study is "good news" for people who have struggled with their weight, says Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University in Philadelphia. "Weight control is tough work, but even a small weight loss brings big improvements in the medical and psychosocial consequences of obesity."
Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, says the study is "heartening news for people who have been on many diets in the past. There is always hope."
Elaine Jacobson of Rochester, N.Y., 56, is 5-foot-3 and weighs 129 pounds, down from 285 pounds. She says the trick to keeping the weight off this time -- she lost and regained a lot of weight once before -- was making small changes she could stick with, such as cutting back on salad dressing and cutting out french fries and onion rings. Then she moved on to make bigger changes, such as eating more grilled and broiled foods and watching portions more closely. She began by walking and now exercises regularly, and she uses a personal trainer.
Elizabeth Cullen, 42, of Wallingford, Conn., who lost 120 pounds and has kept off 63 pounds, says her Weight Watchers leader often tells the group at meetings: "It's OK to mess up. It's not OK to give up."
She regained weight after a back injury and knee surgery. "The results of the study reinforce how I see my weight issues. It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle," Cullen says. "Being consistent and working toward a healthy lifestyle is what is important, and that is a goal that is never too late to try again."
The news is comforting, says Kevin Fowler, 53, of Farmington, Minn., who was carrying more than 230 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame before he lost weight by cutting portion sizes and taking up running. He now weighs 181 pounds.
His weight fluctuates about 7 pounds, but he empathizes with those who have more dramatic changes on the scales. "It's a lot of work to get it off, so you want to try to keep it off."
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