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The secret to weight loss, from those who have kept it off

Posted May 9

A simple google search on “weight loss” yields over 200 million results. The word “fast” seems to be a common headliner among top hits. While the secret to fast weight loss is touted by many, what about the secret to keeping it off?

Researchers Rena Wing, Ph.D. from Brown Medical School, and James O. Hill, Ph.D. from the Univeristy of Colorado, recognized the gap between initial weight loss and sustained weight loss. Together, they created the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) as a way to learn from those with firsthand success.

Since 1994, the NWCR has grown to track over 10,000 individuals who have achieved significant long-term weight loss, which is defined as maintaining a 30 pound weight loss for at least one year. On average, members have exceeded the minimum guidelines by keeping off 66 pounds over 5.5 years.

So, what’s their secret? Here are some of the top nutrition-related characteristics of those who have maintained weight loss, and how you can implement their successes into your life.

  1. Eat breakfast: NWCR reports that 78 percent of weight-loss champions eat breakfast every day. Not a breakfast eater? Start small and focus on making it a habit first. Grab something that you’re likely to eat, such as a piece of fruit or granola bar. Once you’re in the habit of eating breakfast, focus on improving the quality of your morning meal. A balanced breakfast includes carbohydrates and protein to keep you fueled throughout the day. Try 100 percent whole grain bread with nut butter and sliced banana, or a bowl of oatmeal topped with mixed berries and nuts.
  • Be consistent: If your current weight loss plan has you counting down the days until it’s over, stop there. Poor adherence is a red flag that your plan may be too extreme to achieve long-term consistency. A 2004 study published in the International Journal of Obesity says that NWCR members follow consistent dieting behaviors rather than “yo-yo” dieting. To develop a dependable plan, try focusing on one lifestyle change at a time. For example, if you’re a nighttime eater and want to curb the habit, implement strategies such as limiting TV time after dinner. Other strategies to eliminate snacking triggers can be found on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Once your first goal becomes the new norm, you’ll have more confidence and willpower to tackle the next change. These cumulative changes over time will result in diet consistency day-to-day, which in turn will allow for sustained weight loss year-to-year.
  • Gain control: A 2012 study assessed members of NWCR to determine if internal or external discipline impacted weight outcomes. Members were asked to rate their external tendencies (such as “when I am with someone who is overeating, I usually overeat too”) versus internal tendencies (for instance “when I feel anxious, I find myself eating”). Loss of internal discipline was a significant predictor of regaining weight, while external factors were insignificant. Next time you reach for food in response to emotions such as stress or anxiety, consider why you are eating. Explore other outlets to soothe your emotions such as those recommend by Today’s Dietitian.
Although the characteristics of NWCR members cannot be generalized to the entire population, their long-term success adds a piece to the very complex puzzle of weight loss maintenance. Shift your focus away from short-term dieting and think of weight loss as a succession of lifestyle changes.

If you’ve had success with long-term weight loss and would like to share your experience, you can join the registry on the website. Note: The NWCR enrolls those who have maintained a weight loss of at least 30 pounds for a minimum of one year.

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