Learn to Diet Before Dieting

Weight loss maintenance training before dieting can help keep pounds off a year later

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Starting a diet can be rough, especially if the yo-yo of dieting and falling off the wagon are old habits. Spending time learning new skills before starting a diet may be best.

A recent study of 267 women were segmented into two teams.  Both teams lost the same amount of weight.  But the group who started with weight-maintenance training before dieting kept the pounds off more after a year.

This study's results indicate that individuals do benefit from healthy coaching.

"Speak to a registered dietician before dieting."

Michaela Kiernan, PhD, from the University of Stanford’s Prevention Research Center, led investigations into weight loss best practices.

Dr. Kiernan said, “Losing a significant amount of weight requires a lot of focused attention to what you’re doing, and most people can’t keep up that intensity over the long term.”

“For weight maintenance, we wanted something that would make the day-to-day experience positive while not requiring overwhelming amounts of effort.”

This study included 267 overweight and obese women and split them into two groups.

The first group started a 20-week diet that included behavioral retraining and education about healthy eating habits, nutrition and exercise.

After completing the 20-week diet, this group did an 8-week follow up program focused on weight maintenance “stability” skills.

The second group started with the same 8-week weight maintenance skill program and then followed up with the 20-week diet, education and behavioral retraining.

Dr. Kiernan said, “Those 8 weeks were like a practice run [for the second group]. Women could try out different stability skills and work out the kinds without the pressure of worrying about how much weight they had lost.”

“We found that waiting those eight weeks didn’t make the women any less successful at losing weight. But even better, women who practiced stability first were more successful in maintaining that loss after a year.”

At the end of the 28-week weight loss programs, both groups had lost an average of 17 lbs.

One year later, in which the women were completely on their own, each of the women were weighed again.

Women from the first group had gained back an average of 7 pounds. Only 18 percent from this group stuck to the program guidelines of losing 5 percent or more of one’s body weight and then gaining no more than 5 pounds back.

Women from the second group gained back an average of 3 pounds. A total of 33 percent stuck to the program guidelines where they lost 5 percent or more of their body weight and gained not more than 5 pounds back.

Dr. Kiernan was pleased with the success of the weight maintenance first group. She said, “This approach helps people learn how to make small, quick adjustments that can help them maintain their weight without requiring a lot of effort.”

Further tests including men and larger groups will be necessary to validate these findings. Authors also discussed the need to test techniques with special groups such as binge eaters.

This study was published in October in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Funding for this research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Medicine at Stanford University.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 30, 2012
Last Updated:
November 2, 2012