Anyone can lose weight. The billion-dollar question is, how do you shed those pounds AND lose them forever? Is it luck, or is it something we all can do, too?
If the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) can't answer that question, no one can. The NWCR has been tracking 3,000 "successful losers" who have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for 5.5 years. So what have they learned? Obviously, when family members are supportive, you stand a better chance of losing weight permanently. The NWCR also identified at least 5 habits in people who maintained their weight loss for years.
Habit No. 1: Eat a low-fat, high-carb diet
Less than 1% of the NWCR successful losers ate low-carb diets for weight maintenance. Most ate the low-fat, high-carb way to maintain their weight loss, including higher fiber carbs, such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies even if they lost the weight with a different type of diet. Generally, successful losers eat about 56% of their calories from carbs, 19% from protein, and 25% from fat. With around 25% calories from fat, you eat enough fat (the healthier monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and canola oil, omega-3 fatty acids from fish, and some helpful polyunsaturated fats found in nuts and other plant foods) to be satisfied without eating too much fat.
Habit No. 2: Eat breakfast every day
Successful losers never skip breakfast. Skipping meals in general isn't a good idea because that means you'll be starving later. When you get that hungry, you are more likely to overeat.
Habit No. 3: Eat five small meals throughout the day
Habit No. 4: Weigh yourself about once a week
Nearly all of the people tracked by NWCR -- 75% -- weigh themselves once a week.
Habit No. 5: Exercise, exercise, exercise
Many NWCR participants exercise for about an hour a day -- burning about 2,700 calories a week. Don't let the "hour a day" scare you. Many successful losers exercise a few minutes at a time throughout the day, and walking is their primary exercise. And according to a Consumer Reports survey of 32,000 dieters, 80% of successful dieters who tried exercising at least 3 times a week ranked it as their No. 1 dieting strategy. Though walking was the most popular form of exercise, nearly 30% also lifted weights to increase calorie-burning muscle mass.
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Habit No. 6: Don't restrict foods
Being too strict can make it hard to stick to a healthy eating plan. Forcing yourself to give up certain foods completely can lead to bingeing, which triggers guilty feelings and an array of potential disordered eating habits.
Habit No. 7: Shy away from sugar and bring on the fiber
Avoid refined and processed carbs such as white bread, cookies, and chips, and eat plenty of whole grains and fiber-filled fruits and veggies to help you feel fuller on fewer calories. Don't forget to drink lots of water, too!
Habit No. 8: Stay away from gimmicks
The Consumer Reports survey found that the majority of people who had kept the extra pounds off for more than a year (83%) did it without any gimmicks, supplements, or fad diets. They just ate a better diet.
Habit No. 9: Change your lifestyle
The NWCR identified two habits that can put those pounds back on your hips: A decrease in physical activity and an increase in fat intake. Essentially, not dieting anymore. If you have to change habits to lose weight, it makes sense that you have to maintain those new habits to keep the weight off for good.
Habit No. 10: Take advantage of the Internet
Online weight-loss programs can offer valuable, round-the-clock support. People who supplemented a weight-loss program with Internet tools, such as food journals and message boards, lost 3 times as much weight in a 6-month period as those who didn't, according to Brown University researcher Deborah Tate, PhD. And dieters who combined an Internet weight-loss program with regular email consultations with a dietitian lost twice as much weight as those who simply logged on to a diet site to track their daily food and exercise.
Habit No. 11: Recover from relapses quickly
Even successful losers fall off the diet wagon. The trick is to not dwell on it. Get back to eating sensibly and exercising as soon as possible, says Arthur Frank, MD, medical director of George Washington University Weight Management Program, Washington, DC.
Habit No. 12: Keep a food journal
Finally, recording what you eat and drink in a food journal will help you learn about your eating habits and identify bad eating patterns.
Of course, weight-loss success depends on whom you ask. A report in the International Journal of Obesity found that successful maintainers also had these characteristics in common:
- They dieted for longer periods.
- They were originally motivated to lose weight for psychological reasons (improving self-esteem or overcoming depression).
- They reported eating healthy food more often than the less successful dieters.
Final words of advice: Hang in there, baby, it really does get easier. The longer you maintain weight loss, the easier that maintenance becomes. How long are we talking about? Keep the weight off for 2 years, says Frank, and you'll be fairly stable thereafter.
It's not easy, but you can lose weight permanently. Make a commitment to gradually adopt healthier eating habits for the rest of your life. It may sound impossible, but if this new way of living entails eating great tasting food (many of which are healthier versions of your favorite foods) and getting an hour a day of exercise you actually enjoy, it can be -- dare I say it -- pleasurable.