Weight Loss Can Be Heart Healthy Even If Some Pounds Return

So, maybe a year or so ago, you finally shed that COVID weight for your health. Then, after a few months went by, maybe a vacation, a few indulgences here and there, you found some of that weight was creeping back on. Now, you're feeling concerned about whether this has undone all your hard work. However, according to a 2023 study in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a few extra pounds regained after a weight-loss program won't sideline your health too much.

The study assembled more than 100 trials focusing on behavioral weight management programs that reported on cardiometabolic risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Most of these programs lasted at least seven months and then followed up a little more than two years later. Participants lost 5 to 10 pounds but gained a few back by the time of the follow-up period.

During these follow-up sessions, after the weight-loss programs had ended, the total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio was 1.5 points lower. Systolic blood pressure and HbA1c (a measure of blood glucose) were also lower. The researchers determined that these effects could last up to five years, even though many studies didn't follow up for that long. However, the health benefits began to diminish after a weight gain of more than just a few pounds.

Does weight loss give us a metabolic reset?

Health experts told U.S. News & World Report that a weight loss program can allow our metabolism to reset to benefit our health. Weight loss programs that emphasize lifestyle changes also tend to reduce belly fat, which is typically more damaging to the body. The experts also said the review didn't address the yo-yo dieting that often occurs, where people will undergo many cycles of dropping weight quickly and regaining it.

Dr. Neha J. Pagidipati from Duke Clinical Research Institute told TCTMD that the longevity of these cardiometabolic changes isn't exactly clear. "So, I don't necessarily take away from this study that it's okay to lose weight and regain it," she said. Pagidipati also pointed to a 2022 study in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism that found that people taking semaglutide (Ozempic) for weight loss regained two-thirds of their lost weight after going off the drug. They also lost any metabolic improvements such as in HbA1c and blood pressure.

Extreme weight loss that occurs too quickly can take a toll on your metabolism. A 2016 study in Obesity studied 14 competitors from "The Biggest Loser," who lost on average 128 pounds but regained 90. The researchers determined that their dramatic weight loss caused their resting metabolic rate to slow as a response to the extreme intervention, but their metabolism remained slow well after the show ended.

How to keep off the weight

The American Heart Association says that people who successfully keep their weight off tend to modify their eating habits while increasing their physical activity. It also suggests setting short-term goals to keep yourself focused while gradually working towards long-term goals. Many apps these days allow you to track your daily food intake so you're aware of what types of food you're eating and why.

It's also easy to eat two servings of a particular food at a time, so pay attention to the portions of your food so you don't consume too many calories. You also don't have to stop eating cookies, but substituting a healthy snack just before that cookie might help cut your cravings and help you stay full. 

The American Heart Association also suggests at least 150 minutes of movement that increases your heart rate. Find as many opportunities as you can to move a little more during the day so you're not sitting as often.