Weight Loss Groups Help You Stay the Course

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
February 03, 2017

Support from others can make all the difference. 

Maybe you’ve tried more than once to lose weight, or made drastic changes in your diet — no gluten, no carbs, no meat, no sugar. Often we get results in the beginning, but end up back to our old habits. 

Join a group, and stick with it for three months, and you’ll improve your chances of staying with your new program, according to a report commissioned by the Community Preventive Services Task Force.  If your doctor said you are prediabetic and need to get your blood sugar numbers down to avoid diabetes, you’ll need to lose weight and exercise more. After reviewing 53 studies of 66 programs that offer support for people at risk for diabetes, the Task Force concluded that they boosted weight loss and led to lower blood sugar and better cholesterol markers. Don’t let cost stop you. Half of the participants paid less than $653 to take part in their program. Check at YMCAs, community health centers, or local private gyms. 


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What doesn’t work? A doctor simply telling somebody to “eat better and exercise,” says Patrick L. Remington, MD, MPH, coauthor of the Task Force’s recommendation statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps a registry of diet (or diet-and-exercise) programs you can look up by state, as well as a list of virtual or online programs. Both Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers passed muster in one study (the scientists noted that there wasn’t much information about other commercial programs). After 12 months, people in a Jenny Craig program had lost 4.9 percent more than people who had just received education about dieting; Weight Watchers’ participants did about half as well, but still better than those who only received education. In a separate study, the same team found that participants in Jenny Craig were able to bring down their blood sugar slightly more than people who only received education. 

If your goal is losing weight, evidence strongly suggests that more intensive programs work best — look for lots of contact with other dieters and supporters. If your primary goal is to avoid diabetes, you may need less contact with the group, but your program should last at least a year. 


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One of the most rigorous programs has had the most success. Launched in 1970 by a formerly obese person and an obesity researcher, the Trevose Behavior Modification Program is available near Philadelphia and in central New Jersey. Run by volunteers, it works like other programs — you meet for weigh-ins, discussions about your eating habits, and support. The critical difference may be tough rules.  During a trial period, you must attend all the weekly meetings, and lose 15 percent of all the weight you intend to lose during that time. After that, you can miss a meeting only with two weeks’ notice. You must also meet attendance and weight loss goals over the next four months, or get kicked out. 

Sound like the Marines? In one study, participants lost an average of 19 percent of their body weight in two years — much better than the 7 to 10 percent typical for participants in weight-control groups. However, about half of the enrollees were gone by then. After five years, the people who had stuck out two years were on average still down 17 percent from their initial weight. The program also has built-in features to get graduates back on track when they‘re regaining. Interestingly, many of the participants still have episodes of binging, but meet the weight-loss goal anyway, researchers found.  

You’ll hear lots of debate about whether low-fat or low-carb diets work best. The short answer: Pick an approach that you can stick to. An overview of 48 randomized trials (including 7,286 participants in all), concluded that either type of diet led to a loss of nearly 18 pounds, on average, over six months, and people typically had regained 2 to 5 pounds by the end of the year. 

If you’d rather not try a formal group, line up support from friends and family. It’s much harder to diet when your home is full of temptations. 


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April 09, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN