Dieters are more likely to keep the fat off if they shed just one pound or even less a week, according to new research.
The secret to beating the battle of the bulge is a steady – rather than dramatic – reduction in calories, say scientists.
A study of almost 200 people found those whose weight fluctuated most during the first few weeks of a diet were less successful one and two years later.
The men and women who lost a consistent amount of weight each week fared best – even though it was a small amount.
For example a participant who lost four pounds one week, regained two and then lost one the next, tended to end up worse off than one who lost a pound each week for three weeks.
Principle investigator Psychologist Professor Michael Lowe, of Drexel University, Philadelphia, said: “Settle on a weight loss plan that you can maintain week in and week out, even if that means consistently losing three quarters of a pound each week.”
The research could lead to improvements in personalised diets based on a mathematical formula that would calculate weekly, or even daily, weight variability.
Most people maintain their weight inconsistently and fall into the vicious cycle of losing and then gaining weight.
More than six in ten British adults are overweight, with a quarter obese and experts predict four in ten people will be obese by 2025 with Type 2 diabetes continuing to soar.
Research has revealed two thirds of all dieters pile their weight back on within three years of hitting their dream targets.
In fact 40% of those who lose more than 7st put on at least that much again – known as the Fat Trap.
Women put themselves on an average of 16 diets during their lifetimes, fuelling a £2 billion diet industry in the UK alone.
Principle investigator Prof Lowe and colleagues have shown shedding consistent pounds each week is the key to overcoming the problem.
They said: “When it comes to losing weight, it is not necessarily slow, but steady, that wins the race.”
In the study published in Obesity, they enrolled 183 participants aged 18 to 65 – eight in ten of them women – in a weight loss program and followed them over a two year period.
Lead author Emily Fieg, a PhD graduate student, said: “It seems that developing stable, repeatable behaviours related to food intake and weight loss early on in a weight control program is really important for maintaining changes over the long term.”
The psychologists studied what makes some people less successful at dieting – and identifying predictors that could improve treatment outcomes in the future.
To find out they recruited overweight or obese volunteers into a year long weight loss program that used meal replacements along with behavioural goals such as self monitoring, calorie counting and increasing physical activity.
The participants attended weekly treatment groups during which they were weighed, and returned for a final weigh in two years from the start of the program.
They reported on food-related behaviours and attitudes like cravings, emotional eating, binge eating and confidence in regulating intake.