There’s no perfect formula for successful weight loss and maintenance. As a veteran weight-loss researcher, I’ve seen it all: people who continually struggle to shed pounds and, on the flipside, champion losers.
What’s their secret? To help answer that very question, Dr. Rena Wing of Brown University and I founded the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) in 1994.
As the largest prospective investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance, NWCR tracks 10,000 adults, 18 years or older, who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept them off for at least a year. Through detailed questionnaires and annual surveys, we examine the behavioral and psychological characteristics of weight maintainers, as well as the strategies used to achieve this success. Weight loss of registry members ranges from 30 to 300 pounds. Even more impressively, they have kept those pounds off from between one to 66 years. That kind of success makes them a fountain of great information.
We haven’t found the Holy Grail of weight loss and weight maintenance just yet, but understanding what behaviors help and hinder the process provides some good insights.
For example, we have learned that registry members eat breakfast almost every day. They weigh themselves regularly and are also active, getting at least an hour of exercise daily. They also often drink diet beverages, and most feel that diet beverages help them be successful in keeping weight off.
That real world scenario meshes with what the science also shows. Contrary to what you may read on the internet, clinical studies have shown diet beverages can actually help people lose weight and keep it off. Intrigued by these findings, I recently conducted another study about diet beverages that was published in the journal Obesity. Our study examined some 300 overweight and obese people who wanted to lose weight. They all followed the exact same diet and exercise regimen for 12 weeks. The only difference is that one group drank water only; the other group drank diet beverages. We wanted to see if diet beverage drinkers could lose as much weight as those who drank only water.
What we found is that diet beverage drinkers actually did significantly better at losing weight than the group just consuming water. The diet beverage group shed an average of about 13 pounds compared with nine pounds for the other group. We also found that 64 percent of diet beverage drinkers lost at least five percent of their body weight, compared with 43 percent of those who drank water. Losing five percent of your body weight might not sound like a lot, but research shows that it has a major impact on overall health and can lower the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
The diet beverage group also showed significantly greater improvements in blood levels of total cholesterol and the so-called ''bad'' cholesterol (or LDL), and had a notable reduction in triglycerides. The bonus: the diet beverage drinkers also reported feeling less hungry.
So, despite what you may read online, there’s no reason to avoid diet beverages if you’re trying to lose weight. Weight loss is a complex process, but it’s the small lifestyle changes here and there that can make the difference between success and failure.
This blog is brought to you by the American Beverage Association.