Diet Success Stories: Real Life Strategies for Sustainable Weight Loss

Monday, December 18, 2006 - 3:01pm

By Katie Clark, MPH, RD

Everybody knows someone who has lost a substantial amount of weight. But how much of that weight did they actually keep off? Here are three real-life anecdotes from “successful losers” who maintained their weight loss for 6 months or more.

Weight loss strategy#1: Changing the environment

Greg* is a grade school teacher. He wanted to lose the 30 pounds he had accumulated since recently getting married. With the help of a dietitian, Greg identified his biggest barrier to weight loss: the daily lunch buffet and potluck in the faculty room at his school.

Greg decided that for one semester he would bring his own lunch from home every school day and take the last 20 minutes of his lunch break to briskly walk around the schoolyard. He packed high-fiber sandwiches, healthy salads and lots of fruits and vegetables.

Although at first he thought he would feel isolated from the other teachers, they eventually joined him in their own weight loss efforts when they saw him consistently losing 2 pounds per week. Whereas the lunchroom environment had previously been an unhealthy place, Greg’s initiative enabled him to meet his weight loss goal in one semester and promoted more healthful practices among his co-workers.

Weight loss strategy#2: Adding fiber

Terry thought her diet was pretty good. She always selected low-fat products and ate only organic or all-natural foods. She never snacked between meals and even managed to skip lunch a few days of the week. She was baffled when she couldn’t get into her faithful old cocktail dress before a friend’s wedding.

She decided it was time to make a change and find out what it was that was making her fatter. After keeping a food-diary for a week and entering her foods into an online tracker, Terry realized that her diet was excessive in calories and refined sugars and almost devoid of fiber. Although she was eating all natural and organic, it was all natural and organic junk food, with hardly any fruits and vegetables or high fiber grains.

She found out that she should be getting 25 grams of fiber per day. Some more online research showed her that fruits, vegetables and whole grain bread products are great sources of fiber. Luckily these were also lower in calories than her old standbys. And because the increasing amount of fiber in her diet sometimes resulted in gas and bloating, she began to space out the fiber over small meals and snacks and started drinking more water.

The combination of better food spacing and increased fiber and water intake left her feeling more satisfied with her food choices throughout the day and less likely to over-eat. She ended up losing an initial 25 pounds and has maintained that weight loss by keeping her fiber and water intake high.

Weight loss strategy#3: Cutting hidden calories

Lee is a recently-retired woman who also just sent her last child to college. While she missed parts of her previous working and mother life, she was excited to have more time to enjoy by herself and with friends. Unfortunately, she realized that retirement wasn’t all that kind to her waistline and she quickly gained 15 pounds in 6 months.

Lee took a community healthy cooking class and found out that every excess calorie, regardless of where it comes from in the diet, is easily stored as fat. She also learned that 3,500 excess calories result in a pound of weight gain.

After logging her foods in a three-day food record, Lee realized that when including her weekend intake, on average she was consuming 500 liquid calories daily. Grapefruit juice at breakfast, a calorie-containing vitamin water at the gym every day, a 12-ounce latte with 2% milk and a few generous glasses of wine on the weekend were all contributing to her weight gain.

Lee axed the sugar water, switched to skim and halved the milk in her coffee also cut back on the wine on the weekends. She began to eat a piece of fruit in the morning instead of drinking juice and in a few weeks began slowly losing the pounds that had crept up on her. She was able to reach her pre-retirement weight in three months.

*Names have been changed to protect each person’s privacy.