Exercise is more effective than diet to maintain weight loss

A study, published in the March 2019 issue of Obesity, from the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center (AHWC) at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus revealed that physical activity does more to maintain substantial weight loss than diet.

The study looked at successful weight-loss maintainers compared to two other groups: controls with normal body weight (Body Mass Index (BMI) similar to the current BMI of the weight-loss maintainers); and controls with overweight/obesity (whose current BMI was similar to the pre-weight-loss BMI of the maintainers). The weight-loss maintainers had a body weight of around 150 pounds, which was similar to the normal weight controls, while the controls with overweight and obesity had a body weight of around 213 pounds.

The findings reveal that successful weight-loss maintainers rely on physical activity to remain in energy balance (rather than chronic restriction of dietary intake) to avoid weight regain. In the study, successful weight-loss maintainers are individuals who maintain a reduced body weight of 30 pounds or more for over a year.

Key findings include:

  • The total calories burned (and consumed) each day by weight-loss maintainers was significantly higher (300 kcal/day) compared with that in individuals with normal body weight controls but was not significantly different from that in the individuals with overweight/obesity.
  • Notably, of the total calories burned, the amount burned in physical activity by weight-loss maintainers was significantly higher (180 kcal/day) compared with that in both individuals of normal body weight and individuals with overweight/obesity. Despite the higher energy cost of moving a larger body mass incurred by individuals with overweight/obesity, weight-loss maintainers were burning more energy in physical activity, suggesting they were moving more.
  • This is supported by the fact that the weight-loss maintainer group also demonstrated significantly higher levels of steps per day (12,000 steps per day) compared to participants at a normal body weight (9,000 steps per day) and participants with overweight/obesity (6,500 steps per day).

The findings from this study are consistent with results from the longitudinal study of “The Biggest Loser” contestants, where physical activity energy expenditure was strongly correlated with weight loss and weight gain after six years.

The take home lesson here is that, to stay slim, get moving.

Journal Reference:

Danielle M. Ostendorfet al. Physical Activity Energy Expenditure and Total Daily Energy Expenditure in Successful Weight Loss Maintainers, Obesity, 27(3), March 2019, Pages 496-504