New Study Links Sustained Weight Loss To Lower Risk Of Disease
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight will tell you: Losing it is hard, maintaining it is hard, and gaining it back is easy. And even if we manage to lose the weight, the odds aren't in our favor. Only a small percentage of people who lose weight are able to keep it off—some studies estimate as low as 1 to 3 percent1.
Now, there are numerous factors and variables that go into weight loss and weight gain—so many that it'd take too long to list them out—but if you are someone whose barriers to weight loss are rooted in the psychological and nutritional, then this may be of interest to you: Losing weight and keeping it off could lower your risk of disease. That is, according to a new study.
Researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found that those who could maintain they weight can "stabilize or even improve their cardiometabolic risk factors compared to people who regain weight." Specifically, participants exhibited healthier levels of HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as better fasting glucose and glycated hemoglobin concentrations, blood pressure, and waist circumference. The study took place over several years.
So put simply: Weight loss improved participants' markers of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and keeping it off furthered those benefits. On the flip side, those who regained the weight saw adverse results—they lost the benefits they reaped from losing the weight in the first place.
"Regaining weight was associated with a reversal of the benefits seen from losing weight," said senior and corresponding author Alice H. Lichtenstein, a nutrition scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. "If you lose weight and maintain the weight loss for a long period of time, do the benefits continue? The answer is yes, and sometimes the benefits get even stronger. If you lose weight and don't maintain it, the benefits are diminished or disappear. These findings emphasize the dual importance of not only achieving a healthy body weight but maintaining a healthy body weight."
Researchers did try to suss out when "maintaining" turned into "regaining" and at what point the benefits of the weight loss began to decrease, but they found no clear divide. According to study authors, "Few studies have directly compared successful weight loss maintenance with weight regain, in part because no standardized definition for successful weight-loss maintenance exists.”
We've long known that sometimes to attain optimal health and well-being, weight loss is part of the equation. And while fad diets historically lend themselves to regaining lost weight, there are, in fact, effective weight loss strategies to tackle whatever's holding you back—whether it's calorie surplus, inflammation, or otherwise. Assuming that you don't have an underlying medical issue (adrenal fatigue, chronic disease, etc.) and aren't currently at your healthy weight, the take-away here is simple: Losing weight could help you dodge disease—again, if you can keep it off.
"What we need to focus on now is how we can support not only healthy approaches to losing weight but healthy approaches to helping those who are successful in losing weight maintain the weight loss," Lichtenstein says. "The latter may be the most challenging."
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction. A runner, yogi, boxer, and cycling devotee, Bass searches for the hardest workouts in New York (and the best ways to recover from them). She's debunked myths about protein, posture, and the plant-based diet, and has covered everything from the best yoga poses for chronic pain to the future of fitness, recovery, and America's obsession with the Whole30 diet.