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Wed Dec 3, 2014, 02:30 AM

Good statistics on weight loss success seem hard to find. [View all]

The general impression I get (and the impression that most people seem to have) is that weight loss success is rare.

But what do we even mean by "success"?

"Success" at weight loss isn't easy to define. Here's one study:

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/82/1/222S.long

...that defines "success" as "losing at least 10% of initial body weight and maintaining the loss for at least 1 y(ear)". With that criteria, the study says roughly 20% of individuals succeed.

That to me seems like a fairly low bar for success, however, and even at that low bar only 1 out of 5 people (according to that one study) succeed.

According to this Wikipedia entry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Management_of_obesity

..."Success rates of long-term weight loss maintenance with lifestyle changes are low ranging from 2 to 20%". I'm guessing that the 2% rate is for much tougher criteria regarding duration and amount of loss.

According to this 1999 NYT article:

http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/25/health/95-regain-lost-weight-or-do-they.html

...a widely-repeated claim that "95 percent of people who lose weight regain it -- and sometimes more -- within a few months or years" isn't based on very good data or methodology. "'The true failure rate could be much better, or much worse', (Dr. Brownell) said. 'The fact is that we just don't know.'"

My admittedly cursory Googling hasn't turned up much that's been done between 1999 and now to greatly clarify the situation. There are plenty of separate studies on what supposedly works better than something else, on what doesn't work well at all, but all of that doesn't seem to coalesce into a Big Picture for weight loss success in general.

Here's a start on the kind of statistics I wish were easier to find:

http://weightology.net/weightologyweekly/?page_id=95

This gives success rates for different amounts of weight loss, but it's still only for one open-ended time range, "more than one year".

In my own life, over most of the 1990s, I previously had what would probably be categorized as "long term success" by keeping off around 65 lbs (I didn't start out with weighing myself right away, so I don't know exactly where I started, and hence don't know exactly how much I lost) for about nine years.

Long term though it may have been, it wasn't permanent. Some who are skeptical about weight loss might say, "See! It hardly ever works out!" based on that. Others would still count all of those lean and fit years as a win.

I took me over ten years to get back on the fitness wagon. I had reached a peak weight that was definitely higher than my previous peak weight, maybe as much as 20 lbs. higher. This is what some people might categorize as a weight loss failure ("See! He shouldn't have bothered trying to lose weight because he ended up putting on even more!", but it happened so very many years after my previous peak weight that I easily could have drifted up to that new peak, and even higher, if I hadn't had those lean years in between.

At this point I'm in very good physical condition again -- not just a lean, healthy weight, but good overall fitness, and actually better strength and endurance than I'd achieved before. Having abandoned the low fat diet that was all the rage when I first lost weight in the '90s, I've found a way of eating that's both healthier and less of a struggle to maintain. While I wouldn't say I enjoy all of the exercise I do now, I don't hate and dread it as much as I did before, and (this is new for me!) I even do actually enjoy some of it.

While I have an overall positive feeling about sticking to exercise and better eating this time around (I did already manage to suffer through less satisfying food and less enjoyable exercise for nine years, after all), I still worry a bit about "beating the odds". For one thing, I exercise so much now that I know it would be impractical for most people to manage what I do -- I typically burn over 1000 calories every day, six days per week. Can I really keep that up year after year? Having a very short commute and a gym at the office aren't necessarily things I can count on long term. If I lose those advantages I wonder what would give, where I'd compromise.

So far I've kept off 20% of my peak weight for over two years, and a little over 30% of my peak weight for about a year and a half. That counts as "success" by some standards, even perhaps "long term success"... but in my mind it won't feel like what I'd call long term success until I've stayed at or close to my current weight for five years or more.

I don't know whether to feel good that I'm "beating the odds" (which apparently I am, even as roughly defined as those odds are), or worried that the odds are against me.

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