Slimming success: Weight Watchers study reveals best ways to shed pounds after regaining weight

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — It’s one of the most difficult and demoralizing things to deal with after going on a weight loss journey — regaining the weight. However, a new study is revealing the best ways people can successfully keep their weight in check after putting on a few pounds.

In a new review of nearly 2,500 Weight Watchers members, study authors looked at the strategies the company’s most successful clients used to avoid weight gain after completing a long-term weight loss program. All of these members lost an average of 57.9 pounds and kept that weight off for more than three years. They were also part of the Cal Poly Center for Health Research’s Weight Watchers Global Success Registry, including WW members who lost over 20 pounds and kept it off for more than a year.

Using extensive questionnaires, the team surveyed each person’s behaviors, goals, successes, and setbacks between 2019 and 2020.

“This asks the very question: ‘How do people who have successfully maintained weight loss over the long-term do it?’” says Suzanne Phelan, director of Cal Poly’s Center for Health Research and a professor of kinesiology and public health, in a university release. “What can we learn from them to help others going through a similar journey be more successful?”

Survey questions included “What is the largest amount of weight you have regained before restarting weight-loss efforts?” and “When you tried to re-lose this larger amount of weight, what was your primary strategy?”

What’s the best way to deal with weight loss regain?

The team split these individuals into three groups. Nearly half (48%) maintained their weight loss (“Stable”), while 29 percent reported gains and losses (“Gain-Lose”) and 23 percent gradually regained the weight they lost (“Gain”). Study authors note that nearly 95 percent of the participants were women and had an average age of 60.

The most successful weight loss-maintaining strategies included “recording calories; setting a calorie goal; self-weighing and tracking weight; and tracking exercise.”

In comparison to the group who gained their weight back, participants in the Gain-Lose group managed their regain in the following ways:

  • Resumed weight-loss efforts after a smaller amount of regain (less than 8 pounds).
  • Sustained weight-loss efforts longer (16 weeks in Gain-Lose vs. 10 weeks for the Gain group).
  • Engaged in more frequent self-weighing, self-monitoring, and healthy dieting.
  • Used more psychological coping mechanisms, such as self-reinforcement, problem-solving, and restructuring negative thoughts.

While a setback during a weight loss journey is natural, researchers say thinking about it in the right way makes all the difference.

“If the number goes up on the scale, a negative thought would be ‘Oh, this is hopeless; here I go again,’” Phelan says. “Instead, this group of weight-loss maintainers are saying, ‘I’ve got this. This is a setback, but it’s temporary.’”

The new study builds on Phelan’s previous work earlier in 2022, where researchers tracked the progress of 6,000 WW members who lost more than 50 pounds and kept it off.

“Weight regains are inevitable along the journey, and the path to long-term success is not a straight line,” says Gary Foster, WW’s chief scientific officer. “Results from this study showed that those who resumed their weight loss began efforts after smaller weight regains. Findings also reinforced that building helpful thinking styles and healthy habits along the way can help fuel the journey.”

The study is published in the journal Obesity.

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