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As a Nutritionist, people regularly tell me, they have lost count of the number of times they have gone on a gruelling diet, only to regain the lost weight within a few weeks of stopping the diet. To make matters worse, some people then go on to get stuck in repeating this pattern over and over again, ending in the same result.

We all know that calorie restriction is effective for weight loss but we also know that it’s not an effective strategy for maintaining weight loss. After all, remaining in a calorie deficit long term is a challenge for even very conscious eaters.

A recent study by the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center (AHWC) at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus sought to shed more light on this and answer the question of why so many people struggle to keep weight off over a long period.

The study involved 106 adults and was conducted between October 2009 and August 2012.

3 groups of participants were recruited:
Group 1: individuals who had maintained weight loss of >13.6kg for >1 year
Group 2: normal weight controls with a BMI similar to group 1
Group 3: controls who were overweight or obese (BMI similar to pre-weight loss maximum of group 1)

The study measured the participants total daily energy expenditure, resting energy expenditure and physical activity energy expenditure over 2 weeks.

The main findings of the study showed:

Total daily expenditure (number of calories burned) between group 1 and 3 were very similar and significantly more than group 2:
Group 1: 2,495kcal
Group 2: 2,195kcal
Group 3: 2,573kcal

There was a slight difference in energy expenditure from physical activity per day with group 1 expending the most:
Group 1: 812kcal
Group 2: 621kcal
Group 3: 637kcal

The total daily number of steps by group 1 was significantly higher than group 2 and 3
Group 1: recorded approx. 12,100 steps per day
Group 2: recorded approx. 8,900 steps per day
Group 3: recorded approx. 6,500 steps per day

Overall the results suggested that despite weight loss maintainers burning a similar number of calories per day as individuals who were overweight and obese, they tended to avoid weight regain by expending more energy from physical activity.

As a Nutritionist, I often see many people neglect their physical activity and focus solely on diet when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance post weight loss. Many people jump from diet to diet informed by trends and the promise of quick fixes when in fact, the evidence suggests, consuming a healthy balanced diet and paying attention to getting in a good level of physical activity is key to achieving weight goals.