Seven Habits of Successful Weight Loss

More physical activity, less inactivity and eating breakfast rank among the most common behavioral strategies adopted by a group of people who have successfully lost weight and maintained their weight loss, according to a new review of approximately 6,000 self-selected individuals who make up the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). 

Founded in 1994, NWCR asked adults to join who had maintained a weight loss of 30 pounds or more for at least one year. Members had all maintained their lower weight for an average of more than five years by the time they enrolled.

Although almost all NWCR members (89 percent) reported combining both diet and physical activity to lose weight, one of the most common and prominent behaviors was the high amount of physical activity, says James O. Hill, PhD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition of the University of Colorado and one of the founders of the NWCR.

Seven Habits of Successful Weight Loss Maintainer

1. High levels of physical activity: more than one half of NWCR members expend more than 2,000 kcal week.

2. Limit television watching: about 63% of NWCR members report watching less than 10 hours per week of television.

3. Low-calorie, low-fat diet: NWCR members report consuming 1,380 kcal day, with less than 30% of calories from fat.

4. Consistent diet: NWCR members tend to eat the same foods regularly and do not ''splurge'' on high-calorie foods on weekends, holidays or other special occasions.

5. Breakfast consumption: at least 78% of NWCR members report eating breakfast daily, which may help curb hunger and overeating later in the day.

6. High dietary restraint and low disinhibition: NWCR members report exerting high levels of control over their eating, and they rarely overeat in response to internal (e.g., emotional) or external (e.g., availability of highly palatable food) cues.

7. Self-monitoring: more than one half of NWCR members weigh themselves at least weekly and track their daily food intake.

"What we find over and over is that physical activity is very, very important," says Hill, who has also presented at the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) Annual Research Conference.  "I suspect it's maybe the strongest key."

No matter what their age, gender or weight, NWCR members appear to exercise frequently and consistently. More than one half of NWCR members expended more than 2,000 calories each week, equaling about 200 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. (AICR Guidelines for Cancer Prevention suggests 30 minutes or more of physical activity daily.) "Based on these findings, I believe physical activity is the key to long term weight maintenance… if you're not doing physical activity you have to eat so few calories and it's hard for people to do that."

Indirectly, activity makes another appearance on the list of common habits in TV watching. NWCR members watched fewer than 10 hours per week of television. This suggests that NWCR members found time to exercise by reducing their time sitting, says Hill.

Other key behaviors common among NWCR members include eating breakfast and self-monitoring. They keep food records, monitor their physical activity and pay attention to their behaviors, says Hill. "They also tend to eat more frequently than the average person does, spreading out the calories throughout the day may be a good idea,"

Whatever the final successful strategy of individual NWCR members, over 90 percent of members reported a history of previous weight loss attempts, losing and then regaining the weight.

"These aren't people who did it just once and were successful: they failed many times before, and the message is 'don't give up,'" notes Hill. "This is only one small group of people: we don't know how many people are out there, and these people, almost to a person, tell us it's all worth it, they feel better and life is better than when they were obese or overweight."

Source:Thomas JG, Bond DS, Hill, JO, Wing RR. "The National Weight Control Registry: A Study of 'Successful Losers.'" ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: March/April 2011, Vol.15:2, pg 8-12.