Although some scientists studying weight cycling have measured glucose and insulin levels, few studies have focused on people with diabetes. A study in Health Psychology in 1990 was an exception. This study looked at medical records of 327 male veterans with type 2 diabetes. The records spanned an average of 3 1/2 years.
The researchers found that about a fifth of the men stayed at a roughly constant weight. They did not gain or lose more than 10% of their starting weight at any time during the study. Some other men gained or lost more than 10% of their weight and stayed there. The rest of the men – about two-thirds of the subjects – weight cycled. At the end of the study, they were within 10% of their starting weight, even though they had gained or lost more than 10% some time in between.
When the researchers compared men who didn’t cycle with men who lost and then regained weight and with men who gained and then lost weight, they could find no effect of cycling on diabetes control. All three groups of men had similar fasting glucose and HbAlc (glycated hemoglobin, a measure of long-term glucose control) levels. On average, men in the three groups were taking similar doses of diabetes drugs. In this study, at least, weight cycling had no bad effects on diabetes.
An interesting study of the value of exercise in keeping weight off appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1989. It focused on Boston policemen. All 184 men (no policewomen were included) were overweight and between 26 and 52 years old. All went to weekly sessions to learn about food choices and exercise. And all went on a reduced-calorie diet. Four diets were used, ranging from 420 to 1,000 calories a day. In addition, half the men were put in a supervised exercise program. These men had to exercise for 90 minutes three times a week. This amount of exercise burned an estimated extra 1,500 calories a week.
After the study was over (after 12 weeks in the pilot program and after 8 weeks in the main study), men in non-exercising groups had lost various amounts of weight, depending on which of the four diets they were on. But the men who exercised tended to lose more weight – about 32 pounds in the 12-week pilot program and roughly 27 pounds in the 8-week main study. The amount of weight lost did not depend on which diet the exercisers were assigned to.
The researchers followed the men for 3 years. By then, policemen who’d been in the non-exercising groups and continued not to exercise weighed almost as much as they had to start. But men in the exercise groups who continued to exercise kept all their weight off. Non-exercisers who had begun exercising kept off more weight, and exercisers who stopped gained back weight.
This study shows that exercising allowed men on moderate reduced-calorie diets to lose as much weight as men on very strict diets. Being policemen, the subjects may have had more self-discipline than average, and they probably benefited on the job from being lighter on their feet. So they may have had extra motivation to keep exercising. Whatever the reason, many of them did keep exercising, and these men were able to keep off all their lost weight.
In a study in the Journal of The American Dietetic Association in 1994, researchers interviewed 12 adults with type 1 diabetes and 14 adults with type 2 diabetes and found that there were 12 kinds of situations in which they had a hard time sticking to a meal plan:
- Negative emotions. You get passed over for a promotion. Or your car breaks down, and you can’t afford to get it fixed.
- Resisting temptation. You go to play cards with your friends, and the host puts out bowls of chips, dips, nuts, and pork rinds. Or you have a craving for french fries that won’t go away.
- Eating out. You go to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Or you go to a classic French restaurant where rich sauces adorn the specialties.
- Feeling deprived. You look at the people waiting in line at a bakery and feel left out. Or it’s your birthday, and having only one piece of cake just doesn’t feel like a celebration.
- Time pressure. Keeping your job depends on working double shifts at some times of the year. Or taking care of your house and four kids devours so much time that you get only 4 hours of sleep a night.
- Tempted to relapse. You’re tired of measuring portions and feel like giving up. Or you’re bored with the 10 healthy recipes you know how to make.
- You often have to work late without warning. Or your children’s soccer practices, trumpet lessons, and dance classes play havoc with your dinner schedule.
- Competing priorities. Caring for an aging mother with Alzheimer’s may consume your every waking minute. Or you’re head of the synagogue’s committee on building an addition, and you need to meet with the zoning board, interview architects and contractors, and fill out piles of paperwork.
- Social events. Your family has a Christmas Eve tradition of sharing fancy desserts. Or for years, your circle of friends has met once a month at a barbecue place.
- Family support. Your husband doesn’t want you to lose weight because he’s afraid another man will then steal you away. Or your children refuse to eat anything green unless it got that way with the help of FD & C Green Dye No. 3.
- Food refusal. A friend whose feelings are easily hurt offers you a huge piece of her special fruitcake. Or you go to a winter party, and the host makes each guest a fancy hot chocolate topped with fluffy mounds of whipped cream.
- Friends’ support. Your best friend has her own ideas about what people with diabetes should eat, and she criticizes every food choice you make. Or a friend who weighs more than you constantly tell you your weight is fine.
Although these risky situations are specifically for sticking with a food plan, many apply to sticking with an exercise plan as well.
Why and for whom are you trying to lose weight? Some people embark on a self-improvement program to please other people. Maybe they’re tired of a husband’s or wife’s nagging. Or maybe their doctor told them to lose weight.
Other people start a weight-loss program because it’s what they want to do. They want to improve their health or have more stamina for daily life.
Not surprisingly, people who set their own course in life instead of letting other people pressure them into things tend to be more creative in finding solutions for their problems and happier with the results.
Your reason for wanting to lose weight may affect your chances of success. Some psychologists believe that people are more likely to stick to behavioral changes when they themselves want the change.