In the past decade, Americans have had-and used every excuse not to diet. Losing weight, they reasoned, is almost impossible unless, like Oprah, you hire your own personal chef and trainer. In an environment where snacks and sweets are constant temptations, a strict low-fat regimen will keep you hungry and miserable for the rest of your life, right?
And even if you do manage to take off all that weight, there's small hope of keeping it off, since studies have shown that 95 percent of all dieters regain their lost weight and go on to add more pounds. When you add it all up, well, praise the Lord and pass the mashed potatoes.
That picture, however, turns out to be overly bleak, according to recent consumer reports research. In the largest survey ever undertaken on the long-term maintenance of weight loss, we found that ordinary people can and do succeed without using expensive commercial diet programs, special foods, dietary supplements, or drugs. Nearly a quarter of the 32,213 dieters who answered our questionnaire lost at least 10 percent of their starting weight and kept it off for at least a year, a standard definition of weight -loss success.
While 25 percent may not be the resounding accomplishment that physicians and nutritionists would want in a nation where one in five adults is obese, it is significant enough to conclude that weight loss is not a hopeless quest. Indeed, among our "losers" were more than 4,000 super losers who maintained their loss-an average of 37 pounds and often much more than 10 percent of their starting weight-for five years or more. This news comes at an auspicious time for weight-loss research in general.
Scientists are finally addressing an obvious issue they had ignored for years-the hard-wired inability of human beings to tolerate hunger for more than a few days or weeks at a stretch. Their research shows that by following a weight-loss program with a little give in it one with lean protein and judicious quantities of healthful fats-it's possible to control calorie intake without feeling intolerably hungry. Those techniques, it turns out, were followed by many of our weight-losing successes.