Whenever there’s any discussion about how to break a bad habit or change an unhealthy behaviour inevitably someone says something like... “The best solution is to not start in the first place!” While this approach may not be helpful (and is often annoying!) for people already impacted, avoiding and preventing a problem is actually a good strategy for most health and wellness issues, including weight management. Studies show it is better and easier to prevent weight gain than it is to try and lose weight and successfully keep it off (1). However, with North American adults typically gaining an average of 0.5 kg a year (2), it may be easier said than done.
So, what are the best ways to maintain a steady, healthy weight? A systematic review was conducted to answer that question. The review included 22 studies, involving more than 480,000 participants, and examined whether changes in diet, exercise or lifestyle (or a combination of all three) worked best to keep people from gaining weight. The body mass index (BMI), weight and/or waist measurements of all participants were recorded before and after the study. The results were compared between those in the study groups and those in control groups who received only usual care and attention (3).
What the research tells us
While there doesn’t appear to be any one recommended strategy for avoiding weight gain, there was evidence that choosing a low fat diet, eating more fruits and vegetables, and getting encouragement through support groups and/or text messages may help. Participants who monitored their heart rate during exercise to reach fitness targets were also more likely to avoid weight gain.
Interestingly, there was not as much difference in weight gain as the researchers expected between the study groups and the control groups, even though the control group participants weren’t involved in any of the diet, exercise or lifestyle programs, and received no special support or information. They were, however, weighed at the start of the study and knew that their weight measurements would be recorded again, leading the review authors to wonder if that alone motivated them to keep their weight under control (3).
In terms of that harder to achieve weight loss, a more recent systematic review looked at the impact of internet-delivered weight loss programs with personalized feedback –such as feedback on performance, information about consequences, and goal setting– in overweight or obese adults. The results showed that people who participated in these types of programs experienced more weight loss at 3 and 6 months than people who did not receive personalized feedback. More research is needed to discover the long-term effects of these programs (4).
When it comes to something as important as reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, you need to do what’s right for you. If, like many people, you need the structure and accountability of regular weigh-ins, include them as part of your personal weight management routine.