Realistic expectations: A key to dieting success

Sixty-six percent of our respondents, all subscribers to Consumer Reports, were overweight as assessed by their body mass index; that's the same percentage as the population as a whole. One-third of the overweight group, or 22 percent of the overall sample, qualified as obese.

Although that might seem discouraging, the survey actually contains good news for would-be dieters. Our respondents did much better at losing weight than published clinical studies would predict. Though such studies are deemed successful if participants are 5 percent lighter after a year, our successful losers had managed to shed an average of 16 percent of their peak weight, an average of almost 34 pounds. They had an impressive average BMI of 25.7, meaning they were just barely overweight.

One key to weight-loss success is having realistic goals, and our subscribers' responses proved encouraging. A staggering 70 percent of them said they currently wanted to lose weight. But when we asked how many pounds they hoped to take off, we found that their goals were modest: The vast majority reported wanting to lose 15 percent or less of their overall body weight; 65 percent sought to lose between 1 and 10 percent. Keeping expectations in check might help dieters from becoming discouraged when they don't achieve, say, a 70-pound weight loss or drop from a size 20 to a size 6—a common problem in behavioral weight-loss studies.

Posted: January 2009 — Consumer Reports Magazine issue: February 2009