Fitness, Health & Wellness
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(photo: Ketut Ubiyanto)

Summer is upon us, and for many, that means we have vacations, weddings, and many occasions requiring a little less clothing than we’re comfortable wearing. There’s one common question I get around this time of year: What’s the best way to lose weight?

Honestly, the answer is quite simple, but you would never know it given the mountain of conflicting information slung at you every minute of the day. Count your calories. Calories don’t count. Don’t eat meat. Eat only meat and butter for ketosis. Don’t eat carbs. Go high fat. Go low fat. Eat four to six small meals a day. Eat one meal a day. Eat breakfast. Skip breakfast. Not confusing at all, right?

We know more about health, fitness, and the human body than at any other point in history, and yet, obesity prevalence has climbed from 30 percent in 2000 to 42 percent in 2020. Severe obesity has gone from 4.2 percent to 9.2 percent in the same period (source: CDC).

As we enter the age of internet sleuthing, where we can all become our own researchers, there’s no end to how deep the information rabbit hole goes. But at the end of all this digging, the obesity trends prove undoubtedly that more information does not mean more solutions.

With all the confusion, how does one sift through digital mountains of information to find the best way to lose weight? Well, it’s not by trusting social media, documentaries, or celebrity endorsements. Success leaves clues, and the key to achieving success is identifying what’s been proven to work for ordinary people and modeling them. And in the realm of weight loss, you can observe thousands of people who’ve lost weight over the span of decades and steal the exact strategies they used. All with a few clicks of your mouse. How? By learning about a little-known research process known as meta-analysis.

In the field of statistical analysis, meta-analysis combines the data from all the available studies around a given topic and studies them to see what patterns emerge. Concerning your health and fitness, the good news is that weight loss is one of the most rigorously studied topics in the field of scientific research. It’s like going to the back of the book and getting all the answers to the test.

One such source of findings can be found in the National Weight Control Registry. Founded in 1994 by Rena Wing Ph.D. and James Hill Ph.D., it’s the largest database into the investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance. The NWCR tracks over 10,000 individuals who’ve lost significant weight and kept it off for long periods. Through their registry, they’re able to extract the strategies they use to maintain their weight loss and publish them for all to see, and it is here and among many other meta-analyses where the weight loss secrets are hiding in plain sight. I wanted to share some of these lessons with you so that you can see past the fads to understand what matters in the weight loss quest. Here are a few:

With diets, there is no silver bullet. A meta-analysis of 12 popular fad diets showed participants experienced no significant difference in weight loss after one year. They all worked, provided there was a reduction in overall calories and adequate protein.

Eat as often as you want, whenever you want. The same was found with meal frequency; assuming calories are equal, the number of meals per day — whether one meal, three, or six — was irrelevant and yielded no significant difference in weight loss. Breakfast, no breakfast, fasting, grazing, cheat days, etc. — none of it mattered when calories were kept consistent. 

Compliance is most important. Through observing subjects, one overwhelming trend emerges as the number one predictor of successful weight loss: Compliance equals results. The individuals who started a plan and consistently followed it, regardless of the plan, were the most successful.

Meal prep is the key to compliance. The secret weapon of dietary compliance, and ultimately weight loss success across all successful subjects, was the individual’s ability to meal prep, having a refrigerator of pre-portioned meals, regardless of whether home-cooked, store-bought, or delivered.

Have a goal and a way to track progress. And lastly, individuals who reported long-term weight loss tend to have a specific goal and a method of measuring their progress towards that goal, most commonly by weighing themselves regularly.

The 10,000 participants in the NWCR have lost an average of 66 pounds and have kept it off for 5.5 years, so it’s safe to say they know what works. The rest is just noise. spt

photo of san pedro today author Ricky Magana

Ricky Magana

Ricky Magana is co-owner of Heyday Elite Fitness. Heyday offers a two-minute scan that provides a full one-page body fat analysis to help you tailor your fitness goals. For more info, email