Stay slim strategies

A huge US survey by our sister organisation reveals six diet and exercise secrets of the slim.
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Stay slim

Although the majority of Australians and Americans are overweight or obese by middle age, an enviable minority stay slim. Are they just genetically gifted? Or do they have to work at keeping their weight down? To find out, Consumer Reports, the magazine of our US sister organisation, Consumers Union, asked its subscribers about their lifetime weight history and eating, dieting, and exercising habits. Their responses and feedback are every bit as relevant to Australian as to US consumers. In summary, it found:

  • There are six vital stay-slim strategies that correlate most strongly with having a healthy body mass index (BMI).
  • ”Naturally” slim people don’t rest on their laurels; their eating and exercise habits are very similar to those of people who’ve successfully lost and kept off weight.

About the survey

A total of 21,632 Consumer Reports' readers completed a 2007 survey. They were separated into three main categories:

  • Always-slim are people who’ve never been overweight (16% of the sample).
  • Successful losers are people who, at the time of the survey, weighed at least 10% less than they did at their heaviest, and have kept the weight off for at least three years (15% of the sample).
  • Failed dieters are people who said they’d like to slim down, yet still weighed at or near their lifetime high (42% of the sample).

The remaining 27% of respondents (such as people who had lost weight more recently) didn’t fit into any of these categories.

Stay slim all by yourself

People who’ve never been overweight aren’t sitting in a recliner with a bowl of chips on their laps. In the group of “always-slim” respondents, just 3% said they never exercised and ate whatever they pleased. The habits of the vast majority of always-slim people are very much like those of people who’ve successfully lost weight and kept it off. Both groups:

  • eat healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains;
  • they also eschew excessive dietary fat,
  • practice portion control
  • exercise vigorously and regularly.

The only advantage the always-slim have over the successful dieters is that these habits seem to come a little more naturally. “When we compare people maintaining a weight loss with those who’ve always been a healthy weight, we find that both groups are working hard at it; the maintainers are just working a little harder,” says Suzanne Phelan, PhD, co-investigator of the US National Weight Control Registry, which tracks people who’ve successfully maintained their weight loss. For Consumer Reports’ successful losers, that meant exercising a little more and eating with a bit more restraint than an always-slim person, as well as using monitoring strategies such as weighing themselves or keeping a food diary.

Have realistic expectations

Sixty-six per cent of the survey respondents, all subscribers to Consumer Reports, were overweight as assessed by their BMI – similar to the US population as a whole. One-third of this group, or 22% of the overall sample, qualified as obese. Australia has similar levels of combined overweight and obesity at about 60%, with 20.8% of all adults qualifying as obese.

Although this may seem discouraging, the survey revealed that respondents did much better at losing weight than published clinical studies would predict. Though such studies deem success if participants are 5% lighter after a year, Consumer Reports’ successful losers had managed to shed an average of 16% – about 15kg – of their peak weight. They had an impressive average BMI of 25.7, meaning they were just barely overweight (see Are You Overweight?, below).

A key to success is keeping your expectations in check in order to avoid becoming discouraged and giving up. While 70% of respondents said they wanted to lose weight, Consumer Reports found that their goals were modest when asked how many kilos they hoped to take off. Most wanted to lose 15% or less of their overall body weight; 65% sought to lose between 1% and 10%.

Are you overweight?

  • Underweight: BMI <18.5
  • Healthy weight: BMI 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight: BMI 25 to 29
  • Obese: BMI 30+

To calculate your BMI, divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in metres) squared.



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