Losing weight is tough, but keeping off the weight over time is even harder. The vast majority of people who lose weight gain it back, which is why weight loss maintenance is an area scientists and doctors are always looking into. Now, in a new study, researchers suggest that special programs designed for weight loss maintenance are critical for helping people reach and sustain their weight goals.
After people lose a substantial amount of weight, they tend to regain it at a rate of about 2 to four 4 lbs. a year, say researchers of a new study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. To assess whether a post-weight loss program could help people prevent the weight from creeping back, the researchers split 222 people into two groups. All together, they’d lost an average of 16 lbs. during a 16-week weight loss program. Then, about half were assigned to a program that focused on helping them maintain the weight they lost—they had frequent phone calls with experts who talked to them about how to stick to their diet in social situations where temptation may be strong, told them to weigh themselves frequently and asked them about the good things that have happened to them as a result of their weight loss, and so forth. The other group went about their usual routines.
After a little over a year, the researchers checked in with the two groups and found that people who took part in the weight loss maintenance program regained about 1.5 pounds, and the people who did not partake in the program gained back an average of 5 lbs.
“I hope that people will take away that maintenance of weight loss requires effort and skills that must be practiced and engaged over time,” said study author Corrine Voils, a research career scientist at William S. Middleton Veterans Memorial Hospital in an email to TIME.
Voils and her fellow authors conclude that having a maintenance component to weight loss programs can lead to more sustained weight loss over the long term.