Success Leaves Clues - Lessons from the National Weight Control Registry

"Success Leaves Clues"

I'm borrowing a quote this week, from personal development speaker Jim Rohn. The long version is “Success leaves clues. Be a better observer of the winners and the losers, those who are doing well and those who are falling behind. Take mental notes and say: ‘I’m going to adjust what I’m doing based on what I see.'"

By studying those who have already gone where you desire to go, you can "shortcut" the process and learn from their success (and their mistakes) so as to speed up your progress.

You may have heard that losing weight and keeping it off is difficult. In fact, there is a whole movement called Health at Every Size that states that we should stop encouraging folks to lose weight and instead focus on health. I do agree with the sentiment that we should not stigmatize overweight, and that people of any size can get healthier through nutrition, movement, and sleep, even if they do not actually lose weight. However, I am not ready to say we should throw in the towel and say we should not pursue weight loss. Some people are clearly successful in this process.

What if we asked, are there people who have lost weight and kept it off that we can study?

The National Weight Control Registry

Started in 1994 by Dr. James Hill and Dr. Rena Wing, the National Weight Control Registry does just that. The registry has tracked over 10,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year.

Here are some of the main points and lessons uncovered by the NWCR (which I have pilfered from their website for your convenience):

  • The "average" woman on the registry is 45 years of age and currently weighs 145 lbs, the "average" man is 49 years of age and currently weighs 190 lbs.
  • Registry members have lost an average of 66 lbs and kept it off for 5.5 years
  • Weight losses have ranged from 30 to 300 lbs
  • Some have lost the weight rapidly, while others have lost weight slowly--over as many as 14 years.
  • 45% of registry participants lost the weight on their own and the other 55% lost weight with the help of some type of program
  • 98% of Registry participants report that they modified their food intake in some way to lose weight
  • 94% increased their physical activity
    • the most frequently reported form of activity was walking
  • Once they had lost weight, strategies used to help maintain loss included:
    • 78% eat breakfast every day
    • 75% weigh themselves at least once a week
    • 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week
    • 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day

While this research does not specify a "magic formula" for weight loss (you'll still want to learn how your body responds best), it does offer useful insights into how others have succeeded, and perhaps strategies you might find useful to try. You can see from the list that their is room for variation, but also some strong signals for success - especially those last 4 bullet points regarding maintaining weight loss.

This week

What strategies listed above do you already do? Make a mental note to keep those as a priority. Do any of the other lessons feel worthy of your attention currently? What will you do intentionally to use this in your life? Have a great week!


Dr. Topher Fox


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