Statistics surrounding weight loss often make for depressing reading. Losing weight, especially if done rapidly, causes changes in appetite-regulating hormones and brain chemistry, which can make long-term weight loss difficult. In fact, after a weight loss diet, up to 50% of lost weight is typically regained within one year, and around 90% is typically regained within 5 years (1).
However, a new study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that a few simple strategies can make a big difference (2). Researchers followed 508 overweight and obese post-menopausal women over a period of four years to evaluate the most consistently successful weight-loss strategies.
Menopausal women have a particularly difficult time losing weight. Changes that take place in menopause, such as altered oestrogen levels, result in an accumulation of abdominal fat and an increase glucose and insulin levels (3). Coupled with a natural decline in energy expenditure, these menopausal changes appear to be the perfect recipe for weight gain.
The study divided the women into two groups. The first group of women attended Lifestyle Change classes run by nutritionists and psychologists. They were given detailed dietary advice and a goal-oriented exercise programme. The second group attended classes on general women’s health. The researchers then assessed the eating behaviours and weights of the women at the 6-month mark, and again after four years.
The researchers discovered that while strategies such as reducing restaurant visits and reducing fried foods were helpful in the short-term, they were not linked to weight-loss after four years.
Study leader Dr Barone Gibbs concluded that some weight loss strategies are simply not sustainable in the long-term, after initial motivation begins to decline “Maybe you can say no French fries for six months,” she said, “but not forever.”
So which strategies were helpful in the long-term? At the four-year mark, there were just four factors linked to successful weight loss:
- Reduced consumption of meat and cheese;
- Fewer sugar-sweetened drinks;
- Fewer desserts;
- An increase in fruit and vegetables.
Overall the winning dietary strategy for weight loss in the long term was found to be replacing meat and cheeses with fruits and vegetables. A simple and manageable change such as this would not only lower levels of saturated and trans fats, but it would increase levels of phytonutrients and soluble fibre, boosting digestion and even helping to curb troublesome menopausal symptoms in older women.
The simple message to take from these findings is that restrictive diets are destined to fail in the long-term, but committing to small, healthful changes can make a big difference. Weight loss needs to be viewed as a permanent healthful change in diet and lifestyle. This is especially true for menopausal women who can find weight management particularly challenging.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC.
1. Wadden TA, Sarwer DB. Behavioral intervention of obesity: new approaches to an old disorder. In: Goldstein D, editor. The management of eating disorders. Totowa (NJ): Humana Press; 1996. pp. 173–199.
2. Barone Gibbs (2012) Short- and long-term eating habit modification predicts weight change in overweight, postmenopausal women: results from the WOMAN study. J Acad Nutri Dietetics112(9):1347-1355.e2.
3. Carr MC (2004) The emergence of the metabolic syndrome with menopause. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 88(6):2404-11.
4. Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane.