This is a guest post by Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN.
If you recently lost weight—even just a few pounds, or upwards of 20 to 50 pounds or more—chances are you’re enjoying the glory many of us feel when we fit better into our clothes, can buy a smaller jeans size, see a number on the scale that seemed to have been long gone, or hear a compliment from a friend. But while it certainly takes a lot of effort and hard work to take off weight (especially stubborn body fat), it’s particularly challenging for most of us to keep it off long-term.
But there is some good news. Adopting a few simple habits and tweaking your attitude can go a long way to help you increase your chances of maintaining your new, healthier body weight for years to come. Here are five tips to help you become a successful long-term weight loser:
- Learn from the Pros. Participants in the National Weight Control Registry, a database of American adults (80 percent of whom are gals like us!) who have lost and kept off between 30 and 300 pounds for at least one year (and up to 66 years!) report several behaviors that have helped them keep weight off. These include eating breakfast on most if not all days; weighing themselves at least once a week; watching minimal amounts of television (less than about 10 hours); and exercising often (at least an hour per day).
- Be Boring. Sometimes, when people lose weight, they’re firmly committed to reducing portion sizes and increasing their physical activity for a finite period of time—for several days, weeks, and sometimes even months. But what makes some successful losers more able to keep weight off than others is being consistent with eating and fitness habits long after the weight has come off. After all, if you revert to old eating habits, you’re more than likely to regain weight. Maintaining similar behaviors that helped you lose weight long after the number has gone down can be a key strategy to help you keep it off. You don’t need to eat exactly the same foods, or do exactly the same physical activities and exercises (of course it’s always good to shake things up to prevent boredom or overcome weight plateaus), but maintaining routines, eating at similar times throughout the day, and staying on some sort of schedule can help your body and mind get used to your new, more healthful weight.
- Treat Every Day Like a Vacation Day! Having lost and kept off more than 30 pounds for several years, I’ve learned that just because it’s a weekend, just because I’m out to dinner or at a food-filled event, or just because I’m on vacation doesn’t mean I should stop paying attention to what and how much I eat or skip exercise. If you always try to make wise food choices and keep food portions relatively small, especially when you’re away on vacation, at a restaurant or event, or at someone else’s home, you’ll learn that you can still feel satisfied and enjoy yourself without feeling deprived. Finding time to incorporate fitness—even brisk walking—is also important, because you can’t expect your body that’s used to moving and being active to be happy when you’re pace slows substantially. It’s ok to take breaks—go to town at one meal, or skip exercise—but you may find that doing so makes you feel lethargic and unwell. Over time, you may see that being consistent in your food and fitness habits help you feel more in control, more relaxed, and even happier!
- Plan for Plateus. It happens to everyone; you lose some weight and are able to maintain it for a time, and then all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, the number on the scale creeps up or your pants get too tight. Keeping track of your weight, even if it’s only once a week or once a month, or using a tape measure to detect changes in your waist, hip, or thigh size, for example, are some ways you can learn to track how you’re doing. When you find the numbers go up, taking a few less bites at each meal, putting less food on your plate, and adding even 15 or 20 minutes a day to your fitness routine can make all the difference and help you keep your weight within a 2 to 5 pound range (or whatever weight range is comfortable for you). Keeping a detailed food log, tweaking your food choices, and embarking on different types of exercises or physical activities can also give you just the metabolic and psychological boost you need to get right back on a more healthful track.
- Have a Can-Do Attitude. Ultimately, although several variables and factors affect what, when, and how much you eat and drink, you are ultimately in charge of what passes your lips and moves your hips. If you envision yourself doing something—keeping weight off, or accomplishing a professional or personal goal, you’re more likely to succeed than if you surrender and tell yourself you can’t.
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN is the founder/president of Zied Health Communications, LLC, based in New York City. She’s a registered dietitian and the author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips, and coauthor of Feed Your Family Right & So What Can I Eat. Visit her at elisazied.com.