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Weight Loss vs. Weight Maintenance

Losing weight is the (relatively) easy part, saysJames O. Hill, PhD, a professor of pediatrics and medicine and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado at Denver. Hill and colleagues are keeping track of those who can maintain their weight loss via the National Weight Control Registry.

The new study "reinforces what we have been saying about differences between losing weight and keeping it off," he tells WebMD.

It is a three-phase process: weight loss, transition to maintenance, and maintaining the weight loss, Hill says.

"Getting the weight off is only one task, which is followed by switching your mind-set to a more permanent way of living so you keep it off," he says.

The second part of the battle can be an uphill one, and it's one of the reasons that so many high-profile celebrities lose weight only to regain it. "People still want to concentrate on losing weight, but the harder part is keeping it off," he says.

Hill says that increasing physical activity is essential to maintaining any weight loss.

"Unless you are able to ramp up your physical activity in a pretty major way, you won't keep the weight off," he says. Another key ingredient is a strong social support system. "You need to create the right kind of social network to reinforce the routine of both diet and exercise."

Timothy Harlan, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine, a former restaurateur known as "Dr. Gourmet," and author of Just Tell Me What to Eat!, says that the key to maintaining weight loss involves changing our mind-set.

"If you want to be healthy, lose weight, and keep it off, you need to change the way you eat," he says.

The word diet implies a beginning and an end and sets you up for failure, Harlan says,

"Eating healthy and being healthy is a lifelong prescription," he says. "If you want to lose weight and you want to keep it off, you have to completely change your relationship with food forever."

"Planning is the single most important thing people can do to lose weight and maintain that loss," Harlan says. This means planning what you are going to eat and when you are going to eat it -- same as you plan your children's schedule and your workday. This may involve packing your own lunch and not skipping breakfast.

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