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Which commercial diet books, programs, or plans really work? continued...

If you want to lose weight, I don’t think it matters how you do it or what plan you use. But to keep it off, you will probably have to use different strategies.

I co-founded the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks about 6,000 people who have, on average, lost 70 pounds and kept it off for seven years. What we’re doing is trying to learn how these people manage to do it. What strategies really work? We’ve found some common factors. People in the Registry tend to do a lot of physical activity. They tend to eat a low-fat diet and pay attention to overall calories. They self-monitor: they weigh themselves and keep periodic food diaries. And they eat breakfast every day.

Do I really need to exercise to lose weight?

No. If you cut way back on your calories, you can lose a lot of weight without doing a lick of exercise. But you absolutely need to exercise to keep the weight off. I tell people that if they’re not prepared to substantially increase their physical activity, they shouldn’t even bother trying to lose weight. It won’t have any lasting benefit. Exercise is the key.

How much exercise should I be doing?

My recommendation is to shoot for about an hour a day. We’ve found that people who successfully keep off lost weight tend to exercise for 60 to 90 minutes daily.

Now, people will say, “60 to 90 minutes a day? That’s terrible!” But the people in the National Weight Control Registry have maintained an average weight loss of 70 pounds. I think a lot of people would say that giving up an hour a day to keep off 70 pounds is not a bad deal.

The good news is that you can spread out the exercise throughout the entire day. You don’t have to do it all at once. Most people still have some planned exercise at a specific time each day. For instance, they take a walk or a bike ride right after work every day.

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