Researchers trying to figure out what might help post-menopausal women achieve long-term weight loss found that adding produce to their diet didn't show up as especially helpful in the short term, but in the long term it mattered.
The researchers didn't find that eating fried chicken was just fine as long as it came with a side of broccoli. What they found was that some behaviors are hard to maintain forever, but adding produce might be an easier change for the long haul than, say, avoiding all fried foods.
"People are so motivated when they start a weight-loss program. You can say, 'I'm never going to eat another piece of pie,' and you see the pounds coming off," Bethany Barone Gibbs, the lead investigator, said in a statement. "Eating fruits and vegetables may not make as big a difference in your caloric intake. But that small change can build up and give you a better long-term result, because it's not as hard to do as giving up french fries forever."
The study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, looked at overweight post-menopausal women.
Barone Gibbs, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh department of health and physical activity, said several factors work against long-term weight loss.
"Not only does motivation decrease after you start losing weight, there are physiological changes, including a decreased resting metabolic rate. Appetite-related hormones increase. Researchers studying the brain are now finding that you have enhanced rewards and increased motivation to eat when you've lost weight," she said.
For older women, the additional decline in energy expenditure makes maintaining weight loss even tougher. Traditional behavioral treatments for obesity, focused on calories, have had poor long-term results.
For the study, women from the Pittsburgh area were divided into two groups. One group met regularly with nutritionists, exercise physiologists and psychologists to reduce fat and caloric intake, eat more produce and grains and exercise regularly. The second group was offered general health seminars.
Researchers looked at what happened after six months and after four years. At four years, most of the intervention group had lost weight, compared with about a third of the other group.
For the six-month mark, the researchers found that weight loss was associated with eating fewer desserts and fried foods, drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, eating more fish and eating out less.
At the four-year mark, some of those things still mattered. But eating more produce and less meat and cheese emerged as important predictors of long-term weight loss.