The Truth about Weight Loss: What Works!

The Truth about Weight Loss: What Works!

In my last blog I punctured a lot of firmly held beliefs about weight loss. Don’t blame me: I was just sharing the results of a recent special article in the New England Journal of Medicine that dug into the research on the topic. If it makes you feel any better, I was surprised by some of the journal’s findings, too -- it turns out that some very reasonable, widely shared notions about losing weight just aren’t backed up by research, either because studies show the ideas to be wrong or because studies just haven’t been done.

Now for the good news. Here are eight approaches to losing weight that are supported by scientific evidence. These have the seal of approval, folks. They work!

1. You’re more likely to lose weight with a program that provides you with meals or meal replacements than with one that gives general advice about food choices. If you’re trying to lose weight, having more structure regarding your meals is likely to lead to greater weight loss.

2. Small environmental changes can be as powerful as the best drugs. “Environmental”changes in this sense just means differences in what people do (as opposed to differences in their genes, which also affect how easy it is to gain or lose weight). So the amount of time you spend watching TV each day, for instance, has a powerful effect on your waistline.

3. Dieting does work – but trying to diet and actually cutting calories are not necessarily the same thing. This may seem obvious, but seemingly healthy changes like adding veggies to your meals or eating breakfast every day only help if they are accompanied by a reduction in daily calorie intake.

4. Physical activity does help you lose weight. Yes, getting off the couch is a good thing for your waistline! What’s more, exercise will help reduce the harm caused by obesity even if you don’t lose weight.

5. Obesity is best thought of as a chronic condition. No matter how you lose weight, you can’t just do it and forget it. You’ll need to keep making healthy choices if you want to maintain the loss for the long haul. In this sense, a weight problem is more like diabetes than a broken bone.

6. For overweight children, the most effective weight-loss efforts involve the whole family. A child will fare best if his or her parents are on board, making helpful changes and giving support. A program at school, in camp or anywhere else just can’t compete.

7. For the appropriate patients, weight-loss surgery works. Not only are these procedures effective, they can decrease the risk of diabetes and reduce the likelihood of dying prematurely.

8. Some weight-loss medications are worth trying. If you need some extra help, these drugs can help you achieve clinically meaningful weight loss – enough to make a real difference to your health. And they’ll help you maintain the reduction as long as you continue to use them.

Medically reviewed in September 2019.

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