Rapid weight loss the best: Study

Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Rapid weight loss over gradual dieting

Researchers have now shown that the best way to lose weight is to lose a lot of it at once contrary to popular belief even among doctors that weight should be lost slowly. The findings of the study were presented at the Stockholm's 11th International Congress on Obesity by Katrina Purcell of the University of Melbourne. She and her team compared a rapid diet to lose around 1.5 kilos (three pounds) a week over 12 weeks, to a gradual 36-week diet to lose 0.5 kilos per week in subjects weighing over 100 kilos. She said, “Surprisingly, and against current beliefs, this study shows rapid weight loss appears to be superior to gradual weight loss in achieving target weight.”

Her findings show that 78 percent of those on the rapid diet achieved the target of losing 15 percent of their body weight within the determined period, while only 48 percent of those on the gradual diet met that target. She explained that the reasons could be entirely related to motivation and psychological stimulation. When on a rapid weight loss diet she explained that the 1.5kg weight loss per week “keeps them going”. On a gradual diet program the occasional 0.5kg weight loss makes it difficult to keep trying. It was also seen that four in the gradual and one in the rapid diet quit before the end of the study. Purcell however warned against self dieting in this manner. She said, “Don't do it by yourself; do it with a dietician.”

The drawback of the study was that there was no follow up of the subjects. It is a belief that rapid weight loss is often related to more weight gain thereafter, and therefore less weight maintenance. At present the subjects are being followed up for maintenance of the weight for at least the next three years.

Weight maintenance

Netherlands' National Institute for Public Health and the Environment has independently studied the association between weight loss and maintenance thereafter. This study was also presented at the Stockholm conference. It showed that 54 percent of those who lost any amount of weight during a weight loss programme kept the new weight. The study also showed that net weight loss one year after the intervention was higher for those with a higher initial weight loss. Researcher Jeroen Barte said that “weight loss of 10 percent or more should be encouraged and favored above lower weight losses.” Although he acquiesced that “more research is need to determine optimal weight loss targets, and to establish best practices for optimal maintenance of weight losses.” Both studies emphasize on long term gradual diets irrespective of findings. Purcell says that this would mean a healthy diet and lifestyle for life.

Support groups for effective weight loss

Scientists say that support groups that promote messages like regular exercise, consumption of healthy diets and avoidance of high calorie diets could help many women lose weight. The motivation provided by these groups could be much better than weight loss supplements available over the counter. Scientists say that these supplements are merely dummies that do not really work.

In one study conducted in Australia including 250 women, just four group sessions over a year, plus telephone reminders, helped women avoid putting on weight. These women, most of them mothers, lost an average of 0.2 kilograms (0.4 pounds) over the year if they took part in group sessions. Women who didn't take part put on an average of 0.8 kilograms (1.8 pounds).

In yet another trial called the Weight Watchers program meetings and a calorie-controlled diet were tried on half of 772 people (mostly women) from UK, Australia, and Germany. The average weight loss of people taking part was 4 kilograms (8.9 pounds), compared with 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds) for people who got standard care from a GP..

Do supplements really make you lose weight?

There were two other studies that looked into common weight loss supplements and their efficacies. These were also presented at the Stockholm Congress. One study checked up guar gum, chromium picolinate, Ephedra spp. (known in Chinese medicine as ma huang, and sometimes called Mormon tea), Citrus aurantium (bitter orange), conjugated linoleic acid, calcium, glucomannan, chitosan, and Camellia sinensis (green tea). No real effect on weight was found on consumption of these preparations. The second study analyzed nine weight loss products from pharmacies in Germany including polyglucosamine, cabbage powder, konjak extract, sodium alginate- complex, bean concentrate, selected plant extracts, L-carnitine, fibre supplements, and guarana seed powder. No efficacy was noted here too. Judith Stern, a professor in the Departments of Nutrition and Internal Medicine at the University of California Davis said, slimming supplements do not work and so “save your money, the only thing you are going to lose is your money.”

At the congress there was a unanimous agreement that healthy and nutrition diet, small portions, appropriate labeling of foods regarding calorie counts, restricted salt, sugars and tans fats in foods could be the actual ways to curb obesity. Bruce Silverglade of the International Association of Consumer food organizations (IACFO), an association of non-governmental organizations summed up the proceedings effectively saying, “We need a cultural change.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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