Weight loss: Will you succeed?

Every day literally millions of people all over the world decide that the time has come for them to lose weight and start a diet and/or exercise programme. If this applies to you today, then it may be a good idea to determine what your chances of success are going to be.

There are many different factors at play, but the following are probably the most important:

1) Past performance
If you tried to lose weight in the past and succeeded, but regained all the weight you lost or even put on a few extra kilos, or if you failed, then it's less likely that you will succeed this time around.

This could be due to a number of influences such as the "yo-yo diet effect", increased production of the gastric hormone called ghrelin, which counteracts weight loss, depressed or disturbed metabolism caused by slimming pills, or loss of lean muscle mass after using starvation diets.

Don’t despair. You need to be aware of the fact that the second, third and tenth time around, it's going to be more difficult to lose weight, but it can be done. Here’s how:

  • Choose a sensible, balanced slimming diet, i.e. a low-fat, high-fibre diet, or join Weigh-Less or Weight Watchers (both these organisations advocate the use of balanced, low-fat diets).
  • Lose weight slowly and steadily to make sure it stays off this time.
  • Do plenty of exercise to stimulate your metabolism and keep you motivated.
  • Buy motivational CDs or DVDs to help you persevere.
  • Be gentle with yourself and give your body time to adjust to the changes you're subjecting it to.

2) Amount of weight you need to lose
People who have to lose 20kg stand a better chance of succeeding than those who only have to lose 5kg. It sounds weird, but this is a fact. If you only have to lose a small amount of weight and are close to your normal or even ideal body weight, your body is going to resist losing those last few kilos. The human body is very complex, but delicately balanced, and one of its prime ‘duties’ is to maintain equilibrium.

3) Gender
Men have the edge over women in the weight-loss contest. Most men have a higher basal metabolic rate (BMR = the amount of energy required to just keep your body ticking over without you doing anything physical) than women, so they use up more energy (even when they're resting) than their female counterparts.

Thanks to testosterone, males also have a greater proportion of lean muscle mass than women whose bodies contain more fat. Biologically, it’s important that women should be padded and have an extra store of available energy to fall back on if they should fall pregnant and have to breastfeed. For this reason, even lean women have a greater percentage of body fat than lean men.

Men also have a higher exercise capacity. This means that they burn more kilojoules per session than women. They can run faster (bigger lungs), lift heavier weights (bigger muscles) and exercise longer. Blame the first two million years of human evolution for this discrepancy!

Ladies, don’t despair. Women generally have patience on their side, which means that you're more likely to stick to your diet and exercise routine conscientiously. So, in the long run, you can achieve the same results as the men, even if it takes a bit longer.

4) Type of diet
One of the most important factors that will determine how successfully you shed kilograms and keep them off, is the type of diet you decide to use.

Low-fat, high-fibre, balanced diets with moderate energy restriction (fewer calories or kilojoules) are by far the most successful. You won’t lose masses of weight in a few days, but you'll lose weight steadily at the rate of 1-2kg per week, which is the ideal rate that prevents you from regaining weight.

High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets cause rapid weight loss, but as soon as you stop, there's a good chance that you'll pick up all that weight again. These diets are also unbalanced, high in fat and potentially dangerous.

Starvation diets are also counterproductive because they make the body switch off its metabolism to conserve its energy stores. Research indicates that the anti-weight-loss hormone ghrelin is also triggered by starvation or very-low-energy diets.

Use of meal replacements, protein shakes and fillers are successful up to a point. If you're capable of drinking a milk shake instead of one or two meals every day for weeks and months on end without getting bored, you'll probably lose weight successfully. But most slimmers find that they either get bored and start snacking on high-fat foods, or that they tend to overeat at the one ‘normal meal’ they're allowed each day.

Meal replacements that contain dietary fibre (which swells up and makes you feel full) may also help, provided you don’t get bored or develop stomach ache and winds. In general, most people soon lose interest and go back to eating three meals a day, so you might as well start with a balanced slimming diet from the word go.

5) Exercise
Dieting on its own is not enough to achieve significant and permanent weight loss. You need to combine reduced energy intake with an increase in energy expenditure to reach your goal weight. Prepare yourself mentally to diet and exercise if you want to achieve your dream of a slim, trim body.

Slimming Success Quiz
Answer the following questions and then add up your score to determine if your attempt to lose weight will be successful.

No cheating!

  • Have you tried dieting and/or exercising in the past? Yes (1) No (0)
  • Did you regain weight you lost in the past? Yes (1), No (0)
  • Do you need to lose more than 5kg? Yes (0), No (1)
  • What sex are you? Male (0), Female (1)
  • Are you going to use a balanced, low-fat diet? Yes (0), No (1)
  • Are you going to use a crash or fad diet? Yes (1), No (0)
  • Are you going to use a starvation diet? Yes (1), No (0)
  • Are you going to use shakes and meal replacements? Yes (1), No (0)
  • Are you going to combine your diet with exercise? Yes (0), No (1)
  • Are you going to exercise regularly? Yes (0), No (1)


  • 0-3: You will lose weight successfully and keep it off.
  • 3-6: You may lose weight, but you may not maintain your weight loss.
  • 6-10: Your chances of success are limited. Tackle some of your obstacles if you don’t want all the effort to be in vain.

- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated April 2011)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

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