Weight loss technique focuses on overweight black women maintaining their current weight, instead of losing pounds, to reduce their risk of disease.

Losing weight is tough. And whether the effort is for vanity or for health reasons, some people have a particularly difficult time losing a few extra pounds.

But new research shows that women in personalized programs with the mantra “maintain, don’t gain” are likelier to lower their risks of common, preventable diseases than women who receive standard weight-loss counseling

Duke researchers studied 194 black women between the ages of 25 and 44 in a randomized clinical trial. Half received general weight-loss counseling from their doctors, while the others were put into a program called Shape, a tailored intervention program.

Each woman in the Shape program received personalized goals for diet and physical activity, was given a personal health coach who acted as a cheerleader over the phone, and began a gym membership. Their goal wasn’t to lose weight, but rather to maintain their current weight.

After a year, 62 percent of the Shape program participants maintained their weight or lost some of it, while only 45 percent in the other group did the same. After 18 months, the Shapers continued to prevent weight gain.

“By maintaining their current weight, these patients can reduce their likelihood of experiencing health problems later on in life,” lead study author Gary Bennett, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and global health at Duke, said in a statement.

Prior research shows that younger overweight black women face far lower risks for many chronic diseases than other racial groups, and typically face less social pressure to lose weight.

But by age 40 and after, black women are more than three times as likely to develop extreme obesity, raising their risks of preventable disease such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

“It’s true that there are some health risks for these overweight and slightly obese women,” Bennett said. “However, these health risks increase dramatically as women continue to gain weight, usually 2 to 4 pounds, year after year.”

The research, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, shows that “maintain, don’t gain” can help women at a disproportionately high risk group, especially with proper intervention.

“We could reduce these health risks if women simply maintained their current weight,” Bennett said. “Fortunately, it’s much easier to maintain weight than it is to lose it. We think this ‘maintain, don’t gain’ approach can help some women reduce their risk of obesity-related chronic disease.”