After weeks of discipline, you managed to lose the 10 pounds you've wanted to shed for years, but you understand this is just the first step in your journey since the really hard part has always been keeping the lost weight off. A new study from McMaster University in Ontario may help you accomplish this difficult goal. The researchers found even a modest weight loss is more likely to be maintained with continued intervention, whether that be exercise, diet, or a lifestyle change.

Our neighbors in Canada have as much trouble keeping their waistlines trim as those of us who live in the lower 48; the prevalence of overweight and obesity there has tripled between 1985 and 2011, rising from just 6.1 percent to 18.3 percent — nearly one in five people are overweight or obese. Meanwhile, overweight and obese adults place themselves at a greater risk for type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, depression, and certain cancers, among other health risks. This comes as no surprise to most readers. These negative effects have been well-documented by scientists and as well-publicized as any of the latest fad diets. What is not well-known is how effective different treatment options are and what type of health care interventions work best for people trying to maintain a weight loss goal. These are hugely important questions, since people around the world struggle just as much to maintain their weight loss as they did to shed the pounds in the first place.

How Do You Keep the Lost Weight Off?

To find answers to their questions, a team of McMaster University researchers searched more than two decades of research literature on the subject of weight loss. Their first discovery was that only one small study conducted in the 1980s looked at programs designed to help normal-weight adults maintain their healthy status. The results proved a simple 12-month education and incentive-based program had some benefits for the normal weight participants.

A review of 68 studies that focused solely on treatments for overweight/obese adults found people who took part in a treatment program had a 7-pound greater weight loss, on average, than those who did not seek treatment. Importantly, these results held true no matter the program — whether it involved diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, or drugs (orlistat or metformin). Naturally, the drugs had side effects the other programs lacked.

Reviewing the studies, the researchers also found a weight loss of just five to 10 percent of body weight positively impacted a dieter's health. And, when it came to maintaining weight loss, a plan of continued controlled dieting, exercise, lifestyle changes, or even drugs helped at least in the short-term. That said, the researchers found no studies addressing the long-term sustainability of weight maintenance strategies. Strangely, while the combination of drugs and lifestyle changes helped dieters maintain a five percent loss, this same strategy did not improve the chances of dieters who were trying to keep off a loss of 10 percent or more.

“There are benefits to interventions for weight-loss maintenance in adults who successfully complete treatment for overweight or obesity,” wrote the authors in the conclusion to their study. Certainly, support from a friend who also is struggling to maintain weight loss would likely be the easiest (and least expensive) way to go. "Future research could benefit from longer term follow-up to observe the duration of weight loss and to study the health consequences of repeated weight cycling," noted the authors.

Source: Peirson L, Fitzpatrick-Lewis D, Ciliska D, et al. Strategies for weight maintenance in adult populations treated for overweight and obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. CMAJ. 2015.