Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
Among those who have lost a significant amount of weight, dieters who gain the weight back and those who maintain their weight loss actually have a lot in common. A study published in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reported feedback from focus groups of people from both camps who had lost at least 10 percent of their body weight. Members of both groups experienced setbacks, measured weight by the way their clothes fit, wanted more support, and eventually decreased how intensely they monitored their caloric intake and eating habits. So what are the crucial differences between those who keep the weight off and those who put it back on? The study found four key behaviors that separated the maintainers. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD, offers some tips on how to make those good habits your own.
Step Up! On the scale, that is. While both maintainers and gainers used clothing fit as a gauge of their weight, the maintainers were more likely to continue weighing themselves on a scale regularly. "I am a big proponent of weighing yourself regularly," says Giancoli. "That’s something that’s found in The National Weight Control Registry about people who have maintained their weight loss for years." So how often should you step on the scale? Giancoli advises, "If you weigh yourself every morning, that can really nip in the bud any weight gain, or start to show you some weight loss." When it comes to checking weight, Giancoli believes timing is everything. Do your weigh-in at the same time each day, preferably first thing in the morning.
Keep it Going. The study participants who continued with the behaviors that made them successful losers kept the weight off, while those who went back to old habits typically re-gained. Weighing regularly is one of those good behaviors; Giancoli lists eating breakfast, journaling to keep track of food intake and exercise habits, and practicing portion control as other key actions for success. "Practicing portion control is a really big deal," Giancoli says. "That seems to work better than calorie counting."
Be a Problem Solver. Maintainers more often used productive problem solving skills. "Planning ahead is important, but being able to catch yourself in the moment is important as well," says Giancoli, giving the example of one study participant who stopped with a spoon mid-air, and decided against eating a fatty food that wasn’t planned for. Building exercise into your daily routine is another solution Giancoli is a fan of. She urges clients to think beyond their workout for physical activity, and do things like park far away from the grocery store, and bring your cart back after loading up your car.
Talk to Yourself. Those who maintained weight loss were more likely to engage in positive self-talk. And that doesn't necessarily mean chatting to the mirror. Journaling can be a form of positive verbal reinforcement. Giancoli says that journal keepers should be honest, and consider their journals a judgment-free zone. How to dip below a plateau if you’re still trying to lose—or if you do start to regain? Try shaking up your exercise routine rather than slashing calories drastically. "Do a different type of activity that your muscles aren’t used to doing, and you’ll be burning calories again," Giancoli assures.