Study participants prefer flexibility when it comes to maintaining weight loss

  • 27 October 2022

Blurry woman in the background holds up and apple and a donut with a bite missing from it

Strategies that feel flexible, ‘normal’ and intuitive are preferred when it comes to maintaining weight loss, a new study by Bristol BRC researchers suggests. 

Maintaining weight loss can be difficult and ultimately it can sometimes also be unsuccessful. This is because our ability to lose weight and maintain it is influenced by many things. Our behaviour, mental state, how our body processes food and social influences all play a part in whether we can keep the weight we’ve lost off. 

During the study, researchers interviewed 20 participants who had recently attempted to lose weight. They wanted to find out what participants thought about three strategies that could potentially help them maintain their weight loss. These were: 

  • Daily weighing 
  • Missing an occasional meal 
  • Cutting out high-calorie foods or replacing them with lower-calorie options 

Study participants disliked strategies that they thought could have a negative impact on their mental health. They thought that daily weighing was unrealistic and weekly weighing would be more helpful. They were also concerned that daily weighing could lead to an obsession with weight and could negatively impact self-image and mood.  

Participants had mixed feelings about the idea of occasionally missing meals. Some felt that, in the long run, missing meals could lead to disordered eating. They also thought that feeling hungry could be distracting and ultimately lead to unhealthy food choices. 

In general, participants were most interested in strategies that felt flexible and normal. This is because they wanted to return to ‘normality’ after a period of weight loss. They felt that cutting out high-calorie foods or replacing them with low-calorie alternatives was an obvious and relatively simple strategy. This strategy also felt familiar as most participants were already using it or had used it in the past. 

Many adults in England are either overweight or obese. This is despite increasing numbers of us trying to lose weight and keep it off for good. Around 60% of people are unsuccessful at maintaining weight one year after going on a diet. 

Maintaining a new weight is difficult because we need less energy than we did when we were heavier. To maintain a lower weight, we must eat less and/or be more physically active, than when our weight was higher. This is difficult because it means we must change our habits in the long-term, whereas a lot of weight loss strategies only change behaviour in the short-term. 

Dr Clare England, lead author, said:  

“More research is needed into how we can make weight loss maintenance strategies more acceptable and useful. Very low-calorie diets and avoiding ‘normal’ food aren’t sustainable for weight maintenance for most people. We need to identify practical interventions that help with this issue.”

Paper

Attitudes to Three Weight Maintenance Strategies: A Qualitative Study

Frances Bird, Aidan Searle, Peter J. Rogers and Clare England