23 July 2018

New study shows that structured daily habits may be the key to lasting weight loss

Research project

A new study by researchers at BMI suggests that people who structure their own systematic rules for eating, and adhere to them regardless of feelings of hunger and satiety, are markedly better at keeping weight off compared to those who follow special diets or eat for pleasure and satiety.

A new collaborative study among researchers from the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Hvidovre Hospital and the Department of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Copenhagen have investigated what it takes to maintain weight loss, since the majority of people who are overweight and lose weight end up regaining or exceeding their original weights.

The study is based on a project that investigated the effect of appetite hormones on weight maintenance. The 42 participants lost weight on a powder diet over a two-month period after which they were encouraged to keep weight off during the next year. After 12 months, each participant was interviewed and the results showed that those who did exceptionally well were subject to permanent routines that were very rarely strayed from.   

The routines were for example practical rules such as eating a small meal every three hours, main meals never exceeding 500 calories, or to only eat chocolate on Saturdays, and no more than 30 grams. What mattered most, was that these systematic habits were followed closely. This minimizes the number of choices in relation to when, what and how much they can eat. As a result, the risk of 'caving in' is radically minimized.

Weight maintenance is hard work

Maintaining weight loss is hard work. The study participants, who succeeded in keeping weight off after 12 months, created systematic routines that fit into their daily lives. This underscores the tremendous effort and degree of discipline required to keep lost weight off. According to Associate Professor Signe Sørensen Torekov, who was behind the clinical portion of the study:

“With regards to obesity, it is important to understand how people deal with weight loss in practice. Only four percent of people maintain a 10 percent weight loss over four years, so there is a great need to identify the critical psychosocial factors over time. This study precisely identifies what is important for weight maintenance and what appears not to be. In the long term, the new approaches can be implemented in clinical practice and recommendations. And, we are already using study results to guide participants in a larger weight-maintenance study that we are working on.    

Another one of the findings demonstrated that there are several circumstances that, when combined, determine if people will succeed in establishing permanent and systematic eating routines that help keep weight off in the long term. In particular, the lack of social support, high levels of stress and obligations caused participants to regain lost weight.

Read the scientific article