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Losing weight isn't always easy, but keeping it off is even harder

Lifestyle changes, including dietary modifications, increased physical activity, and other behavioral strategies, can help people lose weight.  In fact, many individuals lose enough weight with lifestyle modifications to experience meaningful physical and psychological benefits.  However, preventing weight regain, or keeping the weight off for the long-term, is a significant challenge for most people. 

This is not surprising, since a number of physiological, behavioral, and environmental processes are at-work in promoting weight regain following initial weight reductions.  For example, the body commonly reduces the rate at which it burns energy after weight loss, making it harder to keep the weight off.  Also, many individuals find the vigilance and ongoing behaviors required for weight loss maintenance to become increasingly burdensome over time. In addition, easy access to high-calorie foods and environments that promote sedentary behaviors can make weight loss maintenance all the more challenging as well. 

Given these challenges, Dr. Gareth Dutton, Associate Professor of Medicine in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine and Scientist in the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC), is focused on understanding factors that can help individuals with successful weight loss maintenance. 

In one study, Dr. Dutton and his team are recruiting individuals who previously lost a clinically meaningful amount of weight.  Half of participants lost weight and have been able to keep it off, while the other half of participants lost weight but have experienced regain.  The research team is collecting a variety of information from these weight loss ‘maintainers’ and ‘regainers’ to better understand the factors that help (or hurt) weight maintenance.   

While the previous study focuses on individual factors related to weight loss maintenance, another study being completed by Dr. Dutton is focused on characteristics of the treatment program itself.  In particular, Dr. Dutton is interested in identifying strategies for delivering interventions that can keep participants engaged, motivated, and interested in maintenance, which can otherwise become boring and tedious.  In this study, the team is testing whether a non-traditional schedule of treatment visits, including brief periods with intense and frequent contact separated by extended intervals without contact, can improve weight loss maintenance.  This is a novel question, because most maintenance programs meet with participants on a standard, monthly or bi-monthly schedule. 

Future projects will examine other innovative strategies for delivering lifestyle interventions to keep things interesting and engaging for participants.  In one of these upcoming studies, researchers plan to continually shift participants’ goals for caloric intake, alternating between periods of modest and stringent energy restriction.  They hypothesize that frequent changes in one’s dietary targets may have physiological benefits (by minimizing the metabolic adjustments the body typically makes in response to a fixed energy reduction) as well as psychological benefits (by keeping individuals engaged and ‘on their toes’ with meeting behavioral goals). 

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