Permanent weight control is difficult to achieve. Up to approximately 95% of repeat dieters fail, regaining the weight that they initially lost. What about the other 5% though? Has anyone studied them and found out their secret? In her book Eating Thin for Life, award winning journalist and dietician Anne Fletcher delved into the habits of a few hundred folks who had not only lost an average of 64 pounds but also maintained that loss for an average of 11 years. What did she find?
“[B]asically, they’re eating the opposite of a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet,” Fletcher reported. When she asked them to describe their eating habits, the top responses were “low-fat” followed by “eating less meat.”
These dieters with long-term success also told her they ate “more fruits and vegetables.” Research seems to support this notion. One research study showed, for example, that significant weight loss could be triggered in people just feeding them extra fruit–3 added apples or pears a day. Harvard studied 75,000 women for a decade and the results suggest that the more fruits and vegetables women eat, the less likely they will become obese. A 2004 review of the available research suggests that in general “increasing fruit and vegetable intake may be an important strategy for weight loss.”
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute followed over 75,000 people for ten years to find out which behaviors were most associated with weight loss and which with weight gain. They wrapped tape measures around people’s waists for a decade and found that the one dietary behavior most associated with an expanding waistline was high meat consumption, and the dietary behavior most strongly associated with a loss of abdominal fat was high vegetable consumption.
Even after controlling for other factors, men and women who ate more than a single serving of meat per day seemed to be 50% more likely to suffer an increase in abdominal obesity than those who ate meat just a few times per week. The researchers conclude: “Our analysis has identified several easily described behaviors [such as reducing meat intake to less than three servings per week and jogging a few hours every week] that, if widely adopted, might help reverse recent increases in adult overweight… Increases in vegetable consumption might reduce abdominal obesity even further.”
The sad thing, according to the Director of Nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is that “people keep believing that the magic bullet is just around the corner … if they only eliminate food ‘x’ or combine foods ‘a’ and ‘b,’ or twirl around three times before each meal.” The reality is that most successful dieters lose weight without the gimmicks on which Americans spend $30 billion per year.
A recent survey of 1300 adults found that low-carb diets seemed to be 50 percent less effective at helping people reach their weight-loss goals than weight-loss diets in general. In the largest survey ever undertaken on the long-term maintenance of weight loss, Consumer Reports found that the vast majority of the most successful dieters said they lost weight entirely on their own, without enrolling in some expensive program, or buying special foods or supplements, or following the regimen of some diet guru. The most popular fad diet right now may be Atkins, but it’s not the most popular diet, and not the one that seems to work the best.