Weight Loss :: Cutting calories, not exercise, plays bigger role in maintaining weight loss

The weight loss mantra of UAB?s (University of Alabama at Birmingham) EatRight Weight Management system is ?reduce calories and increase exercise?. But new research from EatRight suggests that for those who have been successful at losing weight, reducing calories is an effective way to keep weight off, especially when it is difficult to find time to exercise.

In findings published in the May issue of Obesity, the researchers report that 80 percent of EatRight participants maintain their weight loss during two years of follow up, and most do it primarily by sticking to a low calorie, low energy density diet.

?Our results show that individuals who successfully maintain body weight after completing EatRight consume fewer calories and have a lower energy density dietary pattern than those who do not maintain body weight,? said Jamy Ard, M.D., assistant professor of nutrition sciences and medical director of EatRight Weight Management Services. ?This calorie control led to successful weight maintenance despite the fact that these individuals did not meet recommended exercise levels.?

Ard and colleagues followed 89 former EatRight participants for two years. The 80 percent who had successfully maintained their weight loss consumed fewer calories than those who gained weight, and tended to eat a diet consisting of low energy density foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A low energy density diet means an individual can eat more yet take in fewer calories than with high energy density foods.

?While the importance of physical activity is well established, our study demonstrates that adopting a lower calorie, low energy density dietary pattern may reduce the amount of physical activity that is truly necessary for weight maintenance,? said Tiffany Cox, M.P.H., program coordinator for the EatRight follow-up study. ?This could have a positive long term effect on weight maintenance by giving individuals a more easily attainable physical activity goal, which they may be more likely to pursue.?

Ard says research indicates that failing to reach an exercise goal can cause a decrease in self-efficacy and self-satisfaction, eventually causing individuals to cease exercising altogether.

?It?s clear that exercise combined with a low energy density diet is the best approach for weight loss and overall good health,? said Ard. ?But many people report finding time to exercise is a major obstacle. It?s encouraging to report that weight loss can be maintained primarily through a low calorie diet.?

EatRight, created at UAB more than 30 years ago, is based on the concept of time-calorie displacement, which encourages a substantial intake of foods that have fewer calories by volume such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting consumption of foods that are calorie-dense such as meats, cheeses, sugars and fats.

The EatRight model includes increasing physical activity and incorporates behavioral intervention to reduce or remove barriers to lifestyle change and achievement of goals. Typically, it is conducted in 12 weekly small class sessions.

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