The National Weight Control Registry: The "Gold Standard" in the Weight Loss Field - blog post by Weight Management Expert Deena Solomon

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), which was founded in 1994, is considered the most influential “gold standard” in the weight loss field.  This registry has supplied the largest amount of research data about long-term weight loss and weight loss maintenance in the United States.  The goal of the NWCR project was to collect information in an attempt to identify, investigate the characteristics of, and profile those who succeeded at long-term weight loss.  The study was comprised of a detailed questionnaire mailed to those who claimed to fit the population that the study was looking for—dieters who attained long-term weight loss success.  Annual follow-up questionnaires were subsequently mailed to the same people.

To-date, this registry has tracked over 10,000 participants who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for at least seven years.  The self-reporting data supplied by the people who signed up for the study is quite revealing: 98% percent modified decisions about their food choices and 90% relied upon exercise for their weight management goals.  As a result of the study, two overarching rules emerged about which everyone in the weight loss industry agreed: Eat less and exercise more.


Not all people are candidates for externally imposed exercise regimes that are grafted onto their dieting programs from the beginning, and when they fall off the “exercise wagon,” they may also fall off other elements of the “diet plan wagon.”  In contrast, the Immaculate Consumption Program lets clients decide if and when they want to begin exercising, and that’s the salient point!  In my opinion, if there is a failing in the NWCR research, it is that the registry researchers didn’t study data from the modus operandi of the unsuccessful weight loss population for the purposes of comparing and identifying the point when their attempts at dieting began to fail.  In other words, they didn’t compile data from unsuccessful dieters about the juncture where the dieters’ self-control was abandoned.  Was an externally imposed dieting regime the primary culprit?  What effect did an externally imposed exercise regime have on their dieting failures?

Currently, the NWCR study has contributed to suppositions that advocate sustained weight loss success will be achieved when dieters adhere to a basic formula of Convincing Indicators.  After a 20-year analysis of the data, the registry detected five major behaviors of people with long-term weight loss maintenance—called “Convincing Indicators” (CIs)—and concluded that a person can maintain successful weight loss if the following guidelines (the five CIs) are followed:

  • Modify their food intake (98% did so.)
  • Eat breakfast every day (78% did so)
    • Weigh themselves at least once a week (75% did so)
    • Watch less than 10 hours of TV per week (62% did so)
    • Exercise, on average, 1 hour per day (90% did so)

All weight loss programs are based on the primary CI of modifying food intake and most, if not all, include the CI of exercise as part of the weight loss protocol.  Since all weight loss methods are “tarred with the same brush,” Deidre’s look of bewilderment when I told her not to begin an exercise routine was based on the precepts of the other programs she had tried.  As such, her confusion was understandable.

The insistence that an exercise program is the primary contributing factor for long-term weight loss success, while appearing reasonable, is, in reality, the result of faulty reasoning.  It will become clear why and how the results of the NWCR study can actually be detrimental to many dieters.

The fact is that exercise should never be relied upon either to lose weight or to retain weight lossTo be effective over the long-term, an exercise regime should be voluntary and not externally imposed.  After more than three decades of working with patients, it’s become clear to me that imposing an exercise routine is not a causal factor in successful and sustained weight loss.  Exercise does not help people develop new strategies and habits for making their food choices.  But when people applying the ICP protocol have a period of successful weight reduction, they begin to feel confidence in their ability to retain their weight loss.  These people often make a deliberate (and voluntary) choice to exercise as a way to initiate feelings of well being – – not as a way to lose weight or maintain their weight loss.


Dr. Deena Solomon
Follow me