Have you shed some extra pounds? A new medical study provides tips for keeping the weight off.

People who weigh daily and meet regularly with others trying to maintain a new, lower weight are more successful, according to the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“Most dieters regain about a third of the weight lost during the next year and are typically back to baseline [their pre-diet weight] in 3 to 5 years,” write Rena Wing, PhD, and colleagues.

Her study looked at ways to prevent that.

Wing is a Brown University professor of psychiatry and human behavior. She directs the Weight Control & Diabetes Research Center at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.

Wing also co-founded the National Weight Control Registry, which includes more than 5,000 adults who have maintained a weight loss of at least 30 pounds for one year or longer.

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Preventing Weight Regain

Wing’s team studied 314 adults who had lost at least 10 percent of their body weight over the previous two years.

The researchers split the participants into three groups. Each group followed a different weight-loss maintenance program for 18 months.

One group met face-to-face every week.

Another group followed the same meeting schedule but held their meetings online, not in person. They received a laptop computer and an Internet connection, if needed.

For comparison, the third group never held meetings. Instead, those participants received quarterly newsletters about diet, exercise, and weight control.

People in the online and in-person meeting groups got other support as well.

They were encouraged to weigh themselves daily, exercise for an hour a day, and follow a healthy diet. They also reported their weight weekly and were coached on weight control.

All participants were weighed six, 12, and 18 months into the study.

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Green, Yellow, Red Zones

The researchers color-coded weight gain for participants in the online and in-person meeting groups.

Those who gained less than 3 pounds were in the “green zone.” They got green gifts, such as green tea or a one-dollar bill, as encouragement.

If they gained 3 to 5 pounds, they were in the “yellow zone” and were told to work on getting back into the green zone.

If they gained 5 or more pounds, they were in the “red zone” and were encouraged to start losing weight by exercising and following a low-calorie, low-fat diet.

Participants in the red zone were also offered individual counseling via phone or email to help them get back on track. In addition, they received books, diaries, and other products to help halt the weight gain.

Meanwhile, people in the comparison group didn’t get any color-coded messages about their weight.

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Meetings, Daily Weigh-Ins Helped

After 18 months, those in the meeting groups – both in-person and online -- were less likely than people in the comparison group to have gained five or more pounds.

About 45 percent of those in the face-to-face meeting group had gained at least five pounds. So had nearly 55 percent in the online group and more than 72 percent in the comparison group.

Average weight gain was as follows:

--In-person meeting group: 5.5 pounds

--Online meeting group: about 10 pounds

--Comparison group: nearly 11 pounds

The odds of gaining five or more pounds were similar for the in-person and online meeting groups, though average weight gain was lowest in the in-person meeting group.

“As compared with receiving quarterly newsletters, a self-regulation program based on daily weighing improved maintenance of weight loss, particularly when delivered face to face,” Wing’s team writes.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Wing, R. The New England Journal of Medicine, Oct. 12, 2006; vol 355: pp 1563-1571. National Weight Control Registry. News release, The Miriam Hospital.