Study: Structured daily habits may be the key to lasting weight loss
New findings from a small study at the University of Copenhagen suggest that people who structure their own systematic rules for eating, and adhere to them regardless of feelings of hunger and satiety, are markedly better at keeping weight off compared to those who follow special diets or eat for pleasure and satiety.
The majority of people who are overweight and lose weight end up regaining or exceeding their original weights. A new collaborative study among researchers from the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Hvidovre Hospital and the Department of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Copenhagen investigated what it takes to maintain weight loss:
“We see that people who are good at keeping weight off after losing it don’t eat to accommodate desire, hunger and satiety, or as the result of special diets. Instead, they consider eating as a tool with a higher purpose. Their main aim is weight maintenance. As a result, they devised their own systems for what, how much and when to eat. The most important thing was to keep wight off, as opposed to feeling full,” according to the anthropologist behind the study, Assistant Professor Bodil Just Christensen of UCPH’s Department of Food and Resource Economics.
Eat according to a fixed routine
One can argue that fixed rules and measured quantities are nothing new when it comes weight loss. But these results report more. To a greater or lesser extent, those who did exceptionally well were subject to permanent routines that were very rarely strayed from. They made practical rules for themselves. For example, that they should eat a small meal every three hours, that main meals must never exceed 500 calories, or that they were only allowed to eat chocolate on Saturdays, and no more than 30 grams. What mattered most, was that these systematic habits were followed slavishly. This minimizes the number of choices in relation to when, what and how much they can eat. As a result, the risk of 'caving in' is radically minimized.
Maintaining weight loss is hard work. The study participants who succeeded in keeping weight off after 12 months created systematic routines that fit into their daily lives. This underscores the tremendous effort and degree of discipline required to keep lost weight off. According to Associate Professor Signe Sørensen Torekov, who was behind the clinical portion of the study:
“With regards to obesity, it is important to understand how people deal with weight loss in practice. Only four percent of people maintain a 10 percent weight loss over four years, so there is a great need to identify the critical psychosocial factors over time. This study precisely identifies what is important for weight maintenance and what appears not to be. In the long term, the new approaches can be implemented in clinical practice and recommendations. And, we are already using study results to guide participants in a larger weight-maintenance study that we are working on.
Another one of the findings demonstrated that there are several circumstances that, when combined, determine if people will succeed in establishing permanent and systematic eating routines that help keep weight off in the long term. In particular, the lack of social support, high levels of stress and obligations caused participants to regain lost weight.
The article can be accessed here.
Assistant Professor Bodil Just Christensen
Department of Food and Resource Economics
Phone: +45 35 33 36 27
Press Officer Katherina Killander
Mobile: +45 51 68 04 12
About the study
The study is based on a project that investigated the effect of appetite hormones on weight maintenance. All 42 participants lost weight on a powder diet over a two-month period after which they were encouraged to keep weight off during the next year.
After 12 months, each of the participants was interviewed about their eating habits, everyday and family lives, relationships with food, exercise habits and other relevant factors that may contribute to changes in weight.
The study was funded by UNIK Postdoc Synergy Grant as part of UNIK: Food, Fitness & Pharma, which is supported by The Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation, and is published in Obesity Facts (2017; 10:633-647; DOI: 10.1159/000481138).