Congratulations! You stuck with a healthy diet and have lost weight. Now comes what may be the hardest part: Keeping it off.
That's what many weight loss groups tell Brown University psychologist and weight loss expert Kathryn Marie Ross with the university's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center in Providence, RI.
Ross helps these groups find simple strategies for losing weight as well as keeping it off. The weight loss plan, for example, starts with cutting 500 calories a day, she tells AARP. Even cutting 500 calories a week typically leads to losing a pound per week, she notes.
Increasing activity is another goal, but in baby steps: "We ask individuals to work up slowly" starting with just a 10-minute walk five days a week. Once they accomplish that, they're encouraged to add a little more time, say two 15-minute walks and three 10-minute ones, aiming for a goal of 60 minutes for the week. Eventually, they aim for 30 minutes of activity daily, which can be broken up into 10-minute segments or done all at once, she says.
The benefits of losing weight can be compelling both for lifestyle and for health. In 2013 research Ross and colleagues at the University of Florida conducted on 200 middle-aged (ages 50 to 59) and older (ages 65 to 74) obese women who lost an average 20 pounds and kept it off for 18 months, the benefits included significant reductions in blood pressure and the type of inflammation that has been linked to arthritis and heart disease.
But what about keeping the weight off long-term? For those who have successfully maintained their weight loss, what is their secret?
Ross points to the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), set up by researchers with Brown's Alpert Medical School and University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center. Data from the registry are used by researchers across the country studying successful weight-loss maintenance.
To be part of the registry, individuals had to have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. But the more than 10,000 women and men who have registered have lost an average 66 pounds and kept it off an average six years. About 45 percent lost the weight on their own, while 55 percent used some type of program.
Here are the five things NWCR members say they have done to maintain their weight loss:
They eat breakfast. Nearly 80 percent eat breakfast daily; less than five percent skipped it. Eating breakfast, some studies show, can help reduce hunger throughout the day, keeping people from overeating at other meals.
They weigh themselves regularly. More than 44 percent report weighing themselves daily, while 31 percent weighed themselves weekly. Regular weigh-ins are also supported by a new two-year Cornell University study that found that people who weighed themselves daily lost weight and kept it off — contrary to what has been the traditional advice not to step on the scale every day.
They stay active. Ninety per cent report they exercise an hour a day and for 94 percent that means brisk walking.
They limit television. Some 62 percent say they watch less than 10 hours of television a week — perhaps because they're worried it can lead to unhealthy snacking and weight gain, as some research shows.
They are careful about what they eat. Nearly all (98 percent) say they have modified what they eat, following a reduced-calorie, reduced-fat diet even after they lost weight. They are also careful about not splurging on the weekends, reporting they consistently eat the same amount throughout the week.
And one more thing: Those who successfully kept their weight off long-term said that keeping it off gets easier with time, becoming more of a habit and requiring less time and attention, Ross says.
"It can be helpful to know that things will get easier. Try building in small, non-food rewards, like a sticker in your planner for each day you take a walk or a new pair of shoes after you meet your walk goal for a week, to help keep your motivation up. Sticking with these habits can help you be successful long-term," she adds.
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