Most dieters committed to losing weight are successful. Yet more than 70 percent of Americans are overweight. The problem is, as hard as losing weight can be, keeping it off is even harder. Even in medically supervised programs, nearly two-thirds of participants gain back the lost weight within three years, according to the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania.
People who keep lost weight off tend to have several habits in common. The following strategies can help you be a successful long-term loser.
People in the National Weight Control Registry, a group of 5,000 Americans who have lost an average of 60 pounds and kept their weight stable for up to five years, burn an average of 2,700 calories a week in physical activity.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommends that a person get an additional 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on most (4-5) days per week. However, if a person is trying to lose weight or sustain weight loss, physical activity must be increased to 60 to 90 minutes a day. It is also important to chart your progress as activity level is increased.
To begin an exercise program:
Consult your doctor and start slowly. Beginning with 10 to 30 minutes of moderately intense activity, like walking, three days a week is a good place to start. Build up to 45 to 60 minutes on most days.
Schedule your physical activity a week in advance, and use a diary to record the actual time you exercise.
Most successful dieters make changes in what, when and how they eat. The American Heart Association recommends adopting the following healthful eating habits.
Eat reasonable portions. Studies have shown most Americans eat food portions two or three times larger than necessary for good nutrition and weight maintenance. To rein in your portion sizes, use a salad plate instead of a dinner plate when dining at home. When dining out, split an entrée with a dining companion or order appetizer plates instead of full-size meals.
Eat breakfast. People who eat breakfast eat fewer calories throughout the day and are less likely to binge because of hunger at lunch or dinner.
Shop smart. Stock up on fresh, low-fat foods. Use a shopping list, and don't shop when you're hungry.
Plan all your meals. When you're going to a party or out to eat, decide ahead of time what you can do to make it easier to eat healthfully.
Manage cravings. When you really crave a high-calorie food, eat a small amount of it, instead of resisting until you give in and gorge yourself.
Eat slowly. Taking your time and savoring each bite makes meals and the food you eat more satisfying, so you are likely to eat less.
Maintain motivation. Keeping your motivation up is an important part of making any change permanent. Try the following strategies if your effort starts to sag.
Weigh yourself regularly. Doing so is an excellent way to keep your target goal -- maintaining your weight -- in front of you. Weekly weigh-ins are best and allow you to take action by cutting calories and/or exercising more if your weight creeps up to three pounds over your maintenance target.
Cut yourself some slack. A lapse is a small mistake or return to old habits. This can happen when you have a bad day and overeat or don't exercise. A relapse is when you go back to old habits for several days or weeks. Remember, having a lapse or relapse isn't failing. Don't give up, just get back on track.
Avoid emotional eating. Try to use other ways to respond to life's stresses besides eating. Take a walk, start a new hobby or calm yourself through meditation.