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August 30, 2012 | 3 minute read

Want to lose weight? Forget past yo-yo diets and grab an apple

Because overweight and obesity increase risk for seven cancers, we write a lot about diet and exercise choices to stay lean and to lose weight if you are overweight. Now, two new studies provide some good news on that topic, especially for post-menopausal women who want to lose weight.

The authors of the first study, published in Metabolism, wanted to know whether postmenopausal women who had lost and regained weight multiple times throughout their life (yo-yo dieting) would have different results from a weight loss diet and exercise program than their peers who did not have a history of yo-yo dieting. Some research, though not all, suggests that weight cycling may lead to lower metabolic rate, higher body fat and lower body esteem.

All women in the study were overweight or obese and were randomly assigned to one of four groups: diet only, exercise only, diet and exercise or control (no changes in diet or exercise). The intervention groups attended group meetings (diet) and/or classes (exercise) for 12 months.

The results showed no significant differences in all groups – weight cyclers were just as likely to lose weight and have changes in blood pressure, glucose and insulin sensitivity as non-weight cyclers.

The bottom line: don’t let previous weight loss frustrations keep you from making the kinds of healthy diet and exercise changes that can lead to losing weight and keeping it off.

What are those changes?

The second study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, gives some specific examples of eating habits that helped postmenopausal women lose weight and keep it off four years later. The authors used data from the WOMAN (Women on the Move through Activity and Nutrition) study that was designed to look at how a diet and physical activity program for weight loss would affect heart health. The participants were all overweight or obese and were randomly assigned to a group that received intensive instruction and support for weight loss or to a group that was offered general women’s health information.

For this study, the authors looked at desserts, eating at restaurants, sugar-sweetened beverages, fried foods, fish, meat and cheese, and fruits and vegetables. The women reported how often they ate these foods or ate at restaurants at 6 and 48 months.

At six months, researchers found that women who lost the most weight ate fewer desserts and fried foods, drank fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, ate less often at restaurants and ate more fish.

At four years, women who added more vegetables and fruits, ate fewer meats, cheeses and desserts, and drank fewer sugary beverages were more successful at weight loss. Adding vegetables and fruits was the single most effective strategy. One interesting note is that eating at restaurants did not link with weight change after 4 years even though it did at six months. It may be that the women who had changed their habits carried those changes over to their restaurant choices as well as their choices at home.

The bottom line: Use a variety of strategies for losing and maintaining weight. Cutting back on high calorie dense foods (high fat and high sugar) may pay off quickly, while adding low calorie dense foods (vegetables and fruits) pay off in the long term.

We have more information on how to subtract high calorie foods and add in low calorie dense foods here.


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