How to Keep the Weight Off

Get to your goals with a lifestyle approach

Photo: Woman smiling at camera with ocean in background

Lose it, and lifestyle it. The key to successful weight-loss maintenance may be long-term healthy habits, revealed a 10-year study on 2,800 National Weight Control Registry participants. In the analysis, 87% of people shed and kept off at least 30 pounds for one year or longer. So what’s their secret? “Obviously, eating a low-calorie diet and burning calories via physical activity is the crux of weight loss and maintenance,” says J. Graham Thomas, PhD, study author, research fellow at the Weight Control & Diabetes Research Center, and associate professor of psychiatry & human behavior at Brown University, RI. “However, everyone is different and will face different types of barriers that will require special attention.”

No matter your weight loss phase or challenges you face, these tips should help you learn how to slim down and sustain it.

Habits That Help
“So far, we have evidence that self-monitoring is one of the most helpful strategies,” Thomas says. Try it: Weigh yourself at least once per week (to detect any small changes in weight, and take action), keep a food diary, and take a look at your food climate. “Our environment predisposes most of us to weight gain because of the abundance of inexpensive, highly palatable (i.e., delicious) high-calorie foods.” Prepping meals and snacks at home and stocking healthier foods may help curb the temptation, he says.

Revamping your diet will also help. Get your fill of fiber, lean proteins, and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. While empty carbs can lead to bingeing and irregular blood sugar, eating protein + complex carbs can help you feel satisfied from meals.

“Regular physical activity is one of the most important strategies for weight loss maintenance,” Thomas says. “For a long time we didn't understand why it is so effective, but research shows that exercise not only burns calories but also lessens the metabolic slow-down that occurs with weight loss.” When losing weight, the body burns fewer calories, so you may have to keep eating less to keep the pounds from coming back. Or, exercise! Exercising stokes your metabolism, allowing you to burn calories and lose weight without super-downsizing portions.

Motivation Nation
Stay inspired with tips from Thomas.

Physical activity: Start slowly, gradually build a routine of being active most days, then add duration and intensity, Thomas says. “Folks can easily push themselves too hard at first, give themselves a bad experience, and not want to try it again.”

Frequency: Consistency is important especially for eating habits and activity, but slipping up is okay. “When something goes awry, it's important to move on and get back on track rather than catastrophizing the slip, which can lead to a cycle of negative feelings and bad habits,” Thomas says.

Habits in general: Get personal! Find enjoyable ways to work positive habits into your life, Thomas says. “From basic principles of psychology we know that an individual is likely to repeat behaviors that are enjoyable and rewarding, and avoid behaviors that are perceived as punishing.” Prefer kickboxing to running? No problem.

Goal-setting: National Weight Control Registry members sometimes report that “avoiding” weight regain feels less invigorating than watching the scale go down, but it’s no less rewarding. Many members find it highly motivating to focus on the benefits of their healthy habits, Thomas says. Set a long-term goal such as running a 5k or eating less meat to help you stay engaged post-weight loss, he suggests.

The Bottom Line
No Biggest Loser saga can stress this enough: Losing any amount of weight is better than none. Plus, Thomas says you may experience feel-good consequences, such as: “I used to get winded walking from my car to my office and now I can walk briskly for over an hour and I feel great afterward.”