Q&A: What Works for Long-Term Weight Loss Over 10 years?

An unique long-term study of 3,000 people provided insights into what is required to keep excess weight off during maintenance over 5 to 10 years.

All the participants had lost at least 30 pounds and had maintained the weight reduction for at least 12 months to be enrolled in the National Weight Control Registry. The research team used self-reporting to assess weight changes and behavioral factors to assess what worked best.

The study found that people who kept their weight down for one year, generally were successful in keeping it off for 5 and 10 years.

Other studies have reported that 80-90% of people who diet and try to lose weight, put the weight on before the end of 12 months.

For the recent study, about 87 % of the subjects had maintained a weight loss of at least 10% of their initial body weight after both 5 and 10 years.

This article reviews the findings on what behaviors and practices were shared by the more successful subjects.

Typical Pattern of Weight Loss

The image below shows the typical pattern of weight loss experience by most dieters. Data are shown for various studies.

The lines shown are based on the assumption that a reduction of 500 kcal/day will produce an average loss rate of 1/2 kg weight loss per week, and dieting by 1000 kcal/day leads to a loss if 1 kg  per week.

Typical pattern of weight loss experience by most dieters over several years
Typical pattern of weight loss experience by most dieters over several years

Summary of Research Findings

► Mean initial weight loss was 31.3 kg

► After 5 years mean weight loss was 23.8 kg

► After 10 years mean weight loss was 23.1 kg

Behaviors that were linked to failure and partial regaining of lost weight were:

► Decreases in leisure-time physical activity

► Dietary restraint

► Frequency of self-weighing

► Increases in percentage of total energy intake derived from fat

► Dis-inhibition, and loss of resolve and control

Behaviors that were linked with greater success for maintaining weight were:

► Larger initial weight losses. Those that lost more weight initially were better at keeping it off.

► Longer duration of maintenance. Those that kept the weight off for 5 years were more likely to keep the weight off for 10 years

► Maintaining a low-fat diet and increases in leisure-time physical activity


Long-term weight-loss maintenance is possible over 10 years or more but it requires sustained and disciplined behavioral changes.