Guidelines recommend gradual weight loss for the treatment of obesity, indicative of a widely held opinion that weight lost rapidly is more quickly regained. We aimed to investigate the effect of the rate of weight loss on the rate of regain in obese people.For this two phase, randomised, non-masked, dietary intervention trial in a Melbourne metropolitan hospital, we enrolled 204 participants (51 men and 153 women) aged 18–70 years with a BMI between 30 and 45 kg/m2. During phase 1, we randomly assigned (1:1) participants with a block design (block sizes of 2, 4, and 6) to account for sex, age, and BMI, to either a 12-week rapid weight loss or a 36-week gradual programme, both aimed at 15% weight loss. We placed participants who lost 12·5% or more weight during phase 1 on a weight maintenance diet for 144 weeks (phase 2). The primary outcome was mean weight loss maintained at week 144 of phase 2. We investigated the primary outcome by both completers only and intention-to-treat analyses. This study is registered with the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, number ACTRN12611000190909.200 participants were randomly assigned to the gradual weight loss (n=103) or rapid weight loss (n=97) programme between Aug 8, 2008, and March 9, 2010. After phase 1, 51 (50%) participants in the gradual weight loss group and 76 (81%) in the rapid weight loss group achieved 12·5% or more weight loss in the allocated time and started phase 2. At the end of phase 2, both gradual weight loss and rapid weight loss participants who completed the study (n=43 in gradual weight loss and n=61 in rapid weight loss) had regained most of their lost weight (gradual weight loss 71·2% regain, 95% CI 58·1–84·3 vs rapid weight loss 70·5%, 57·8–83·2). Intention-to-treat analysis showed similar results (gradual weight loss 76·3% regain, 95% CI 65·2–87·4 vs rapid weight loss 76·3%, 65·8–86·8). In phase 1, one participant in the rapid weight loss group developed cholecystitis, requiring cholecystectomy. In phase 2, two participants in the rapid weight loss group developed cancer.The rate of weight loss does not affect the proportion of weight regained within 144 weeks. These findings are not consistent with present dietary guidelines which recommend gradual over rapid weight loss, based on the belief that rapid weight loss is more quickly regained.The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Sir Edward Dunlop Medical Research Foundation.