Some new research tried to figure out what might help post-menopausal women achieve long-term weight loss. And it turns out that adding produce to their diet didn’t show up as especially helpful in the short term, but in the long term it mattered.
The researchers didn’t find that eating fried chicken was just fine as long as it came with a side of broccoli. What they found was that some behaviors are hard to maintain forever, and adding produce might be easier than avoiding all fried foods for the long haul.
“People are so motivated when they start a weight-loss program. You can say, ‘I’m never going to eat another piece of pie,’ and you see the pounds coming off,” Bethany Barone Gibbs, the lead investigator, said in a statement. “Eating fruits and vegetables may not make as big a difference in your caloric intake. But that small change can build up and give you a better long-term result, because it’s not as hard to do as giving up French fries forever.”
The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, looked at overweight post-menopausal women.
Barone Gibbs, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh department of health and physical activity, said several factors work against long-term weight loss.
“Not only does motivation decrease after you start losing weight, there are physiological changes, including a decreased resting metabolic rate. Appetite-related hormones increase. Researchers studying the brain are now finding that you have enhanced rewards and increased motivation to eat when you’ve lost weight,” she says.
For older women, the additional decline in energy expenditure makes maintaining weight loss even tougher. Traditional behavioral treatments for obesity, focused on calories, have had poor long-term results.
A group of 508 women from the Pittsburgh area were divided into two, one group of which met regularly with nutritionists, exercise physiologists and psychologists to reduce fat and caloric intake, eat more produce and grains and exercise regularly. The second group was offered some general health seminars.
The researchers looked at what happened after six months and after four years. At four years, most of the intervention group had lost some weight, compared with about a third of the other group. Barone Gibbs noted that the women all had wanted to lose weight and sought help.
For the six-month mark, the researchers found that weight loss was associated with eating fewer desserts and fried foods, drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, eating more fish and eating out less.
At the four-year mark, some of those things still mattered. But eating more produce and less meat and cheese emerged as important predictors of long-term weight loss.
“If the goal is to decrease the burden of obesity, the focus must be on long-term strategies because changes in eating behaviors only associated with short-term weight loss are likely ineffective and/or not sustainable,” the researchers wrote.
Restaurant visits went down for women who lost weight and those who did not; the researchers speculated the economy – not the study – was the cause.