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Quick Weight Loss May Be Best for Long-Term Success

Obese women who lose 1.5 pounds a week or more fare best, researchers say

FRIDAY, May 14 (HealthDay News) --When it comes to weight-loss patterns, the old adage proclaims that "slow and steady" wins the race, but recent research suggests otherwise.

A new study found that obese women who started out losing 1.5 pounds a week or more on average and kept it up lost more weight over time than women who lost more slowly. They also maintained the loss longer and were no more likely to put it back on than the slowest losers, the researchers added.

The results shouldn't be interpreted to mean that crash diets work, said study author Lisa Nackers, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Her report is published online in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Rather, she said, the quicker weight loss of the fast-losing group reflected their commitment to the program, Nackers said. "The fast group attended more sessions [to talk about weight loss], completed more food records and ate fewer calories than the slow group."

Fast loss is relative. For her study, Nackers said, "fast losers are those who lost at least a pound and a half a week."

The faster loss resulted from their active participation in the program, she said. "Those who make the behavior changes early do better in terms of weight loss and long term [in keeping it off]."

For the study, Nackers drew from data on 262 participants in an obesity treatment trial that included middle-aged women, average age 59, who were obese, with an average body-mass index (BMI) of 36.8 (30 and above is obese).

During the six-month intervention, they were encouraged to reduce calories enough to lose about a pound a week. The follow-up was another 12 months, for a total of 18 months.

When Nackers tracked the weight loss, she divided the women into three groups: 69 were in the fast group, losing about 1.5 pounds or more a week; 104 were in the moderate group, losing about a half pound to under 1.5 pounds a week, and 89 were in the slow group, losing less than a half pound weekly.

At six months, the fast group had lost an average of 29.7 pounds, the moderate group 19.6 and the slow group 11.2.

After 18 months, the fast group was 5.1 times more likely to achieve 10 percent weight loss -- a good goal for improving health -- than the slow group, and the moderate group was nearly three times as likely.

Nackers found no significant differences in weight regain among the three groups.

The results are no surprise to Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston. "It confirms that those individuals who are more adherent to the weight loss intervention lost more weight," she said.

"I think the point is, you want people to make changes in their diet and physical activity patterns so they start losing weight and maintain the loss," she said.

Nackers agreed, saying the study results should in no way encourage people to go on fad diets but to adopt healthier lifestyle behaviors.

More information

To learn more about weight loss and nutrition myths, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCES: Lisa Nackers, doctoral student, University of Florida, Gainesville; Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc.; Stanley J. Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, Friedman School, Tufts University, director and senior scientist, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston; May 5, 2010, International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, online

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