In fact, half of registry participants have lost weight without formal dieting aids or programs, which she attributes to their ability to stick to healthy eating and exercise habits.
For years, Rudy Termini, a 65-year-old retiree, struggled to lose an extra 20 pounds. An avid tennis player, he hit the courts three times a week and went to the gym regularly. Still, he couldn’t shake the excess weight.
In hindsight, he blames a 3,000-calorie-a-day diet, which included generous pats of butter, large bowls of ice cream, T-bone steaks and a glass of wine and a beer at dinner.
“I’d eat whatever I felt like eating, whenever I felt like eating it,” he admits.
But in 2004, Termini, a Cambridge, Mass., resident, signed up to participate in a two-year clinical trial conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The randomized study assigned more than 800 participants to four different diet types that shared one common feature: Each had 750 fewer calories than the individual’s normal diet.
Termini’s weight dropped from 195 to 172 pounds. Among those who completed the trial, the average weight loss was about nine pounds, or roughly 4% of body weight, according to the study results published in February in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Termini, who is now 70 years old and weighs 175 pounds, attributes his continued success to the habits he learned during the study, including calorie reduction, vigorous physical activity, nutrition education and closely monitoring both caloric intake and weight fluctuation. Average dieters shouldn’t be discouraged from adopting these and other strategies, since they’re relatively simple.
Dr. Donald Hensrud, a nutrition and weight-loss specialist at the Mayo Clinic, says most dieters know calorie reduction is essential to a successful diet, but they just don’t know how to put the theory into practice. Hensrud says the confusion is partly due to the complexity of balancing caloric intake against weight-loss goals.
Though participants in the clinical trial were given access to nutritionists who helped determine a baseline diet from which calories could be subtracted, a typical dieter can get similar assistance from his or her physician or by consulting resources like the dietary guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For example, a moderately active 30-year-old male should consume between 2,400 and 2,600 calories daily, whereas a sedentary 50-year-old male should aim for 2,000 calories, according to the guidelines. Determining daily intake can also be done online at Web sites like Nutrition.gov and Fitday.com (a favorite of Termini’s).
Slashing calories should be the focus of any diet, but Hensrud recommends finding a program that’s tailored for each individual. “They need to find something that not only works for them,” he says, “but is also a lifestyle change that is practical and sustainable.”
Suzanne Phelan, a co-investigator of the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks the weight-loss efforts of 6,000 participants, has a short list of such life-changing strategies.
The average participant, she says, has lost 66 pounds and kept it off for five years. One of the most reliable techniques, says Phelan, has been close monitoring of calories and weight. This requires keeping a daily food diary and committing to daily weigh-ins, both tools that help thwart a common tendency to overestimate physical activity and under-report calorie counts by as much as 30%. By keeping consistent metrics of performance and matching them against long-term weight-loss goals, dieters can adjust their routines accordingly.
It’s also unsurprising to learn that the registry participants spend little time on the couch. Sixty-two percent of them watch less than 10 hours of television a week, and many average 11,000 steps–the equivalent of five miles–of walking per day.
Phelan says dieters not involved in projects like the registry or the clinical study shouldn’t be intimidated by the participants’ achievements. In fact, half of registry participants have lost weight without formal dieting aids or programs, which she attributes to their ability to stick to healthy eating and exercise habits.
Rudy Termini can attest to that. Since adopting new habits five years ago, he’s traded in sandwiches stuffed with meat for hummus with pita bread, enjoys smaller servings of ice cream, and has just one light beer at dinner.
Now when he’s on the tennis court, his opponent often remarks on how much quicker he is to the ball.