Long Term Weight Loss

Yes, there’s a right way and wrong to do almost everything and long term weight loss is no exception.  Let’s face it:  Americans (and almost every other industrialized society) is losing the war with obesity:  currently 32% of all adult males are obese and that percentage is growing every year. [1]  And remember that medically defined obesity doesn’t just mean “chunky thighs” – it means almost Sumo-level fat.  Let’s face it – looking at from the outside, it almost seems as if this is an “Unwinnable War”.

Furthermore, the stats show that over 80% of overweight people cannot even keep off 10% of their body weight for one year!  In other words, four out of five people that need to lose weight have very short term success at best.  Furthermore, we all know people – maybe even ourselves – that have lost weight and regained it many times in their life.  This sort of yo yo dieting is the antithesis of long term weight loss success.

The desperation to control weight is shown in the rise of cosmetic procedures such as liposuction, gastric banding and lipodissolve as an “instant fix”.  These are less than desireable for many reasons, including the fact that gastic banding frequently leads to malnutrition and lipodissolve can lead to scarring and nasty complications if done incorrectly.  Liposuction is even more insidious, because it does not lead to any reductions in cardiac risk factors. This has surprised researchers, because the fat tissue is removed and yet heart outcomes do not change. [2]

This is in marked contrast to losing even a modest amount of weight (10%) gradually through dieting and exercise which lowers virtually every risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. [3] [4] In spite of all these health benefits, Americans (and most other wealthy socieities) are failing miserably at long term weight loss and are clearly losing the Battle of the Bulge.

So is all hope lost?  Of course not and, as you might expect, we can look to the research to show us what works and doesn’t work.  The number one “technique” for losing weight according to numerous studies is – you may have guessed it – Brother Exercise.  One literature review found that exercise was a very consistent key to long term maintenance of weight loss.  [5] And one meta-analysis also found that those who exercise more intensely were much better at keeping the pounds off and were clear that “our study confirmed the important role of exercise in weight-loss maintenance. Although persuasive prospective clinical trials have not been done to evaluate the long-term benefits of regular exercise for weight-loss maintenance, the 6 studies analyzed in this report and other extensive evidence emphasize the importance of exercise in long-term weight maintenance”. [6]

Yet another study examined a group, the National Weight Control Registry, that is considered the biggest cohort of those successful at long term weight loss.  The secrets of this group were are outlined below: [8]

  1. Greater than one hour per day of physical activity (generally exercise)
  2. Low calorie diet
  3. Low fat diet
  4. Self-monitoring weight
  5. Eating breakfast
  6. Eating consistently on the evening and weekends

None of this is rocket science. Almost anyone can keep off the pounds – it’s really just a matter of applying successful principles and being consistent.  Most people self-medicate with food and nothing could be more of a mistake when it comes to long term weight loss.

By the way, it is worth noting that exercise has fallen out of favor with the pop press when it comes to long term weight loss. TIME MAGAZINE, for example, in an apparent move to eliminate some of the dead wood and kill off the weakest of its subscriber base, attacked exercise in an article entitled “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin”.  [9]  Silly us! We thought exercise was actually good for the masses. Apparently not as Time disparages the concept of exercise with great fervor and points out that a 2001 Obesity Research study found that muscle burns 6 calories/day and fat 2. This means, according to Time’s resident mathematician, that if you convert 10 pounds of fat to muscle, you’ll only burn 40 more calories per day.  And clearly, the article points out, this is hardly enough to keep that spare tire from inflating.

Time then reinitiates the attack and quotes a PLoS study [10] that shows no weight loss amoung moderate exercisers and only mild weight loss amongst pretty darn heavy exercisers.  They even go on to quote one embittered couch-potato-grudgingly-turned-exerciser, “Why am I doing this anyway?”

Our only comment is simply to say, “How could anyone so educated be so ignorant?!?”  Again, study after study shows exercise is probably the biggest key to long term weight loss success.  Remember, besides burning calories, exercise generally adds muscle, decreases insulin resistance and increases lipase circulation, all of which turn us into an efficient fat-burning machine.

And, if we look beyond weight loss maintenance, exercise is, quite simply, the staff and stuff of life for us guys.  It helps dramatically with erections, builds new neurons, lowers inflammation, improves your HDL and LDL, lowers blood pressure, improves mood, releases endorphins and lowers your overall risk of death. It’s also a part of every super-healthy culture around the world.

We could go on and on rather sarcastically, of course, but will encourage you instead to read this link on the Incredible Power of Exercise (In Spite of What Time Magazine Says). Remember:  long term weigh loss does not have to be as hard as everyone says if you just do what the research says.


1) JAMA, Jan 20 2010, 303(3), “Prevalence and Trends in Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2008”

2) Obesity, 2008, 16(12):2648 2651, “Long-term Effects of Large-volume Liposuction on Metabolic Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease”

3) Obes Res, 1998, 6(Suppl 2):S51 S209, “Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults The Evidence Report”

4) N Engl J Med, 2001, 344:1343 1350, “Prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus by changes in lifestyle among subjects with impaired glucose tolerance”

5) Obes Res, 1994 Nov, 2(6):587-99, “Physical activity and long-term maintenance of weight loss”

6) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nov 2001, 74(5):579-584, “Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies”

7) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1997, 66:239-246, “A descriptive study of individuals successful at long-term maintenance of substantial weight loss”

8) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jul 2005, 82(1):222S-225S, “Long-term weight loss maintenance”

9) Time Magazine, 8/17/2009, p. 44.

10) PLoS Hub for Clinical Trials, “Changes in Weight, Waist Circumference and Compensatory Responses with Different Doses of Exercise among Sedentary, Overweight Postmenopausal Women”, Timothy S. Church, et. al.

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