Don't underestimate the role of exercise in weight maintenance, the experts advise.
"The biggest mistake people make is not emphasizing physical activity enough," says John Foreyt, PhD, director of Baylor College of Medicine's behavioral research center. "It is the No. 1 predictor of successful weight maintenance."
To keep the weight off, you need to do something physical every day -- such as brisk walking -- for 60 minutes, Foreyt says.
And don't be intimidated by the 60-minute recommendation. It works just as well to exercise in shorter increments throughout the day.
Healthy eating habits are important, but diet alone won't do the trick, says James Hill, PhD, co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry.
"Start with exercise you can live with," suggests Hill, director of the Center of Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado. "Most people walk, but you may prefer other kinds of fitness.
"Walking is a baseline," he adds. "To get additional benefits, notch it up to moderate or vigorous aerobic activity and add in resistance training on occasion,"
The bottom line is that the longer and more vigorously you exercise, the better. And the benefits of regular activity go beyond weight control.
"Regular physical activity reduces stress, strengthens muscles and bones, energizes, reduces the risk of chronic disease, and makes you feel good," says Hill.
Weigh In Regularly
Weight can fluctuate on a daily basis. But if you are committed to weighing yourself regularly, you will know when you're gaining.
There's some controversy over just how frequently you should weigh yourself, but experts agree it's important to weigh in at least once a week.
Research suggests that regular weighing is the second most important behavior for maintaining weight loss (after exercise), Foreyt says. He recommends doing it every day.
"When it becomes a habit, it is an excellent tool for managing daily activities and food intake," he says.
Weighing regularly can be an excellent motivator. But if you become overly emotional and discouraged by the numbers on the scale, it can do more harm than good.
"Do what works best for you, but don't let the scale control you or make you crazy," says Pat Baird, RD, a member of the National Weight Control Registry who lost over 80 pounds and has kept it off for over a decade.
"I tell my clients to weigh in at least every couple days so when you see you are gaining weight, you can nip it in the bud immediately, before it becomes a problem," she says.
Figure out how frequently you need to weigh yourself to best guide your food choices and activity level, Fletcher advises. "And have a concrete plan on how you are going to handle it when you regain 3-5 pounds."