Best Practices From The National Weight Control Registry

Barbell and Measuring Tape

Keeping-it Off and Preventing Further Weight Gain are the Keys to Weight Maintenance

I did a blog post on this topic a few years back, but it is worth repeating the lessons learned from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR).  This registry is the largest study of individuals who have maintained their weight loss. As a dietitian who has helped people lose weight, I can tell you that despite the difficulties with losing weight, it is ten times harder to prevent yourself from gaining the weight back. That is why it is so important to learn from the participants in this registry and discover what their strategies, or best practices, are regarding successful weight loss maintenance.

There are over 10,000 people in the NWCR and they have maintained an average weight loss of 66 pounds for more that 5 years. These are significant numbers and serve as a source of inspiration. Here’s what they have in common regarding their eating and exercise habits:

  • All lost weight with a combination of diet and exercise, but many different types of diets were used
  • They stick to a low-fat, restricted-calorie diet
  • Self-monitoring is used, such as weekly weighing and recording food intake and activity
  • Many eat breakfast everyday
  • They engage in 60 minutes of physical activity everyday with walking as the most frequent activity reported

That last one is a tough one. It can be difficult to fit in an hour of exercise everyday, but it is a proven method that works to prevent the pounds from creeping back up. Basically, the results show us that you cannot maintain your weight loss by just restricting calories; daily exercise needs to become part of your new, lean lifestyle.

The good news about exercise is that studies show it can be broken-up into “chunks”, so it is not all or nothing. If you do not have time to exercise for a solid hour, you can do 20 minutes, three times a day. Also, the more you exercise the easier it becomes as you begin to enjoy the benefits of sleeping better at night and having more energy during the day. Keep in mind that greater than half of these “big maintainers” watch less than 10 hours of TV per week, so they are leading an active lifestyle. That is really the key – staying active like the successful participants of the NWCR.

Click on this link to learn more about the NWCR and to read some inspiring weight loss stories. Click on the title of this post and scroll down to leave a comment – do you have any best practices regarding weight loss and weight loss maintenance to share?



Label Reading and Diabetes: Sugar Alcohol

 Breyers Chocolate Carb Smart Ice Cream

Nutritional Info

Serving Size: 1/2 cup Servings Per Container: 12


Calories 90
Total fat 6g
Saturated fat 3.5g
Trans fat 0g
Cholesterol 15mg
Sodium 75mg
Total Carbohydrates 13g
Dietary fiber 4g
Sugars 4g
Sugar Alcohol 5g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A 4%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 8%
Iron 4%


Milk, Skim Milk, Cream, Sorbitol, Polydextrose, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Whey, Glycerine, Cellulose Gel, Propylene Glycol Monoesters, Mono And Diglycerides, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Carob Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Sucralose (Splenda ® Brand), Acesulfame Potassium, Carrageenan, Natural Flavor.

*Net Carbs Calculation: For those watching their carbs, count only 4 grams. From 13g total carbohydrate, subtract 5g of sugar alcohols and 4g of fiber, as these have minimal impact on blood sugar.

**Above information from the Breyer’s website via this link:  


For anyone with diabetes, the sugar alcohol listing on the Nutrition Facts Panel is definitely a source of confusion.  Sugar alcohol appears as a line item when food contains certain artificial sweeteners and is touted as “sugar-free” or “low-carb”.   In the ice cream example above, it is primarily the sorbitol that is contributing to the sugar alcohol content, even though there are other artificial sweeteners listed in the ingredient list.  Sugar alcohols generally have an “ol” at the end of their name and include: sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol.  They also have fewer calories and carbohydrates than natural sugars and starches.   They do not contain alcohol, by the way.

According to, a reputable website and resource for people with diabetes, you can subtract some carbohydrate from the total amount when sugar alcohol is present.  If the food contains greater than 5 gm of sugar alcohol per serving, you can subtract half of the grams of sugar alcohol from the total carbs.  The same goes for foods with greater than 5 gm of fiber per serving. 

In the example above, half of the 5 gm of sugar alcohol may be subtracted from the total carbohydrate, resulting in a new total (or “net”) carbohydrate amount of: 10 gm.  Half of 5 is 2.5, but I just rounded it to 3.  13 gm – 3 gm = 10 gm total (“net”) carbohydrate.  Since the amount of fiber per serving is less than 5 gm, no amount should be further subtracted from the total carbs. 

You can see that Breyers has done their calculation differently, subtracting the total 5 gm of sugar alcohol and 4 gm of fiber per serving with a result of 4 gm of “net” carbohydrate.  13 gm – 5 gm – 4 gm = 4 gm total (“net”) carbohydrate.

So, which calculation do you go with?  The important thing to be mindful of is that sugar alcohols certainly do effect blood sugar, although at about half of the calories and carbohydrate of natural sugar.  For this reason, it is best to go with the conservative approach suggested by  since sugar alcohols can have varying effects on blood sugar.  Also, take it slow when it comes to foods with sugar alcohols as they may have a laxative effect as well.

Foods with artificial sweeteners can be helpful to people with diabetes, or anyone who is trying to lose weight or cut back on sugar.  Reading the Nutrition Facts Panel is your first step to incorporating these foods into your healthy diet.  By looking at the total carbohydrate, and calculating a new “net” carb amount as needed, you will be on the right track to better glucose control.  Don’t forget to pay close attention to the serving size as well – how many of us really eat just 1/2 cup of ice cream?

Label Reading for Diabetes

Have you ever seen a food label that proudly touts “no sugar added”, only to turn it over and see grams of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts panel?  This can be confusing, especially for people with diabetes who are trying to avoid sugar.

Although it seems devious, the label is stating the truth, in that no sugar was added to the product.  However, many foods contain natural sugars, such as: fruits, vegetables, dairy products, legumes and grains.  The Nutrition Facts panel will list the total sugar per serving, but you will need to examine the ingredient list to see if any sugar has been added.

Things to keep in mind when label-reading:

Serving Size:  Is the serving size listed an amount you typically eat?  If you consume double the serving size, you will need to double the amounts listed on the label.

Ingredient List:  Ingredients are listed by volume, starting with the largest amounts and ending with the smallest amounts.  Some other names for sugars in the ingredients list include:  sucrose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, lactose, molasses, agave nectar and honey.

If you have diabetes, it’s important to work with a registered dietitian or diabetes educator to develop an eating plan that will keep your blood sugar in control.  To do this, the carbohydrates in foods, not just the sugars, are carefully considered and spread-out over the course of the day.  The reason is that carbohydrate, more than protein or fat, has the greatest effect on blood sugar.  Nutrient-rich foods, even though they have natural sugars, are included most often.  These foods add vitamins, minerals and fiber to the diet.  On the other hand, sugary foods with many added sugars are often low in nutrition and high in calories and fat.  So, not such a bad idea to consume these foods less often, whether you have diabetes or not!

For more information about food labels go to: