Don’t worry if you gain a few pounds after a diet, you’re still healthier

Data shows that people tended to put on about half a pound a year after a diet regimen - iStockphoto
Data shows that people tended to put on about half a pound a year after a diet regimen - iStockphoto

Many people regain a few pounds after losing weight and feel guilty that they may have undone all their hard work.

But new research from scientists at Oxford has found that dieters who struggle to maintain their target weight are still healthier than before they lost any weight, even if they gain back some pounds.

The study looked at more than 50,000 obese people who had lost around half a stone and followed them for five years.

Data shows that people tended to put on about half a pound a year after a diet regimen but, despite this, they still had lower blood pressure and cholesterol than before they lost any weight.

The findings offer reassurance that any form of weight loss is beneficial, even if there is some regression and subsequent mild weight gain.

Oxford scientists reviewed more than 100 studies on the topic and found a dearth of findings that lasted for several years.

Weight loss and regain

“Many doctors and patients recognise that weight loss is often followed by weight regain, and they fear that this renders an attempt to lose weight pointless,” said study senior author Prof Susan Jebb of the University of Oxford.

“This concept has become a barrier to offering support to people to lose weight. For people with overweight or obesity issues, losing weight is an effective way to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

In the study, the team found that people, on average, lost between five and 10 pounds, but would put on between 0.26 and 0.7 pounds a year afterwards.

The team said that people who lost weight and then put some of it back on still experienced health benefits compared to not losing any weight at all.

Systolic blood pressure, the force the heart is under when contracted, was 1.5mm Hg (millimetres of mercury) lower at one year, and 0.4mm Hg lower at five years after losing weight, the data shows.

‘Good’ cholesterol

Cholesterol also improved, with a better ratio of total cholesterol to “good” cholesterol. Participants were also found to have lower levels of a protein linked to diabetes.

The team also saw hints that losing weight but regressing a bit lowered a person’s risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

However, the Oxford team who conducted the study, with funding from the British Heart Foundation, said there is a significant lack of data to say this for sure.

‘Should provide reassurance’

“Most trials look at whether new treatments are effective and focus on weight change in the short term rather than the effect on later disease,” Prof Jebb said.

“Individual studies are often too small to detect differences between groups in the incidence of cardiovascular conditions because, fortunately, they affect only a small proportion of the whole group, and studies may not continue long enough to see the effects on ‘hard’ outcomes, such as a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or a heart attack.

“Our findings should provide reassurance that weight-loss programmes are effective in controlling cardiovascular risk factors and very likely to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease.”

The study is published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Dr Neha Pagidipati, a cardiovascular disease expert at Duke, writes in an accompanying article: “In this study, weight loss and subsequent regain are associated with favourable, although modest changes in cardiometabolic risk factors, yet long-term data are insufficient in characterising the association between weight changes and cardiovascular death, myocardial infarction, or stroke.”