Weight Loss Program, Part 8: Maintaining Weight Loss - The Long Term Plan

Friday, October 27, 2006 - 10:07am

Read the following pages/chapters in your text, Dieting For Dummies this week: Chapter 13, pages 155-161, Appendix A, pages 287-294


Maintaining lost weight can often be the most difficult part of this journey. We often look at lifestyle and diet changes as only temporary actions, and we fail to continue to apply these healthy habits after we lose the weight. This lesson focuses on the importance of continuing with the same principles you've already learned in the past seven sections -- for life. You'll learn time-tested strategies people have successfully used to lose weight permanently. You'll also learn effective tactics for coping with weight loss plateaus and those times when you have difficulty meeting your goals. Lastly, you'll be given a list of dependable weight loss information resources to help you stay motivated on your journey towards permanent weight loss.

Topic outline for Part Eight:

Maintaining lost weight

Some studies show that without a maintenance program, 75% of those people who lose weight regain it within one year, and 95% within three years. On the other hand, people who attend maintenance programs do significantly better, with a 60% success rate at three years. From this, we can conclude that having a maintenance program after you lose weight and meet your initial goals is a critical step in permanent weight loss. In the web site activity for Part 8, you'll explore some ways to get involved in outside resources that can help keep you on track. But, for now, you'll explore what clinical research and experience with clients over the years have proven to be the most important predictors of successful "maintainers." They routinely apply the following practices:

  • They practice continuous self-monitoring with a food diary.

  • They make regular and frequent contacts with an outside source of support or a fitness or weight loss group.
  • They include regular physical activity for at least 30 minutes, four to five days a week.
  • They stay focused on improving health and energy, with weight loss being a nice accompaniment. Focusing on weight loss as the primary outcome, especially rapid weight loss, usually results in a decreased chance of long-term success.
  • Their desire to lose weight and improve health is for themselves and not someone else.
  • They replace fatty and sugary foods with more healthy substitutions like fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and other high-fiber foods.
  • They frequently monitor portion sizes and hunger -- this is important in today's world of "super-size" restaurant portions.
  • They find ways to make fitness fun. For example, they join a hiking group, a soccer league, or take dance classes. They don't fear trying new activities.
  • They eat at least three meals a day and even a few snacks in between and do not skip meals.
  • They use problem solving strategies when old behaviors return to haunt them. They succeed at creating and re-assessing goals.
  • They recognize that it is a continuous, life-long journey to pursue better health, not a temporary diet.
  • They never give up on themselves and don't allow occasional slip-ups to end their progress.
  • They accept that no "miracle" weight loss diet or pill exists, and that the time-tested principles of weight loss, while not always exciting, are the only ones that work permanently.
  • They separate their body size from their self-worth. They recognize that their value is about a lot more than what they weigh. When their attitude shifts to self-acceptance at any size, weight loss and maintaining it becomes more natural, and much easier.
  • They have developed passions, interests, and hobbies to help them focus on things other than food.
  • They have found and developed creative ways to manage stress effectively.
  • They have banned the words "never" and "always" from their health vocabulary. That is, everything in moderation. It's not realistic to say you'll never eat ice cream again or that you will always exercise every day. In short, they gave up perfection, but they remain focused without it.

You must learn and relearn these tools and strategies and continually reinforce them. It takes many years to learn behaviors that lead to weight gain, yet it usually takes only a short time to lose weight. Therefore, you can expect that from time to time, destructive eating patterns will resurface. Seeking outside sources of support, developing interests, forgiving yourself, and reassessing goals greatly helps to conquer these times. Note that the overwhelming majority of successful weight maintainers don't report highly restrictive diets and Popular Diets as factors they used to achieve permanent weight loss. Despite the fact that dietary change is the most commonly reported method to lose weight, the greatest predictors of permanent weight loss have more to do with regular exercise, changing behaviors, continuous self-assessment, and seeking outside support.

Long-term strategies from successful losers

Take a look at some major weight loss maintenance strategies used by people who are enrolled in The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). The National Weight Control Registry began in 1993, and it is a database of thousands of people who have successfully maintained weight loss. It is the largest database of its kind. With so many weight loss methods available, and so few who keep the weight off, you should study the strategies used in these success stories.

To enroll in the NWCR, you must have lost at least 30 lbs. and have maintained that loss for at least one year. Of note, however, is that the actual numbers for the participants are far better. Their average weight loss is actually about 66 pounds, and most participants have maintained the loss for more than five-and-a-half years! In addition, the great majority of the subjects experienced many prior repeated failures at dieting. In fact, the average participant had previously lost and regained an average of 270 pounds during repeated attempts at dieting before discovering the real strategies that permanent weight loss entails!

These people obviously have some good ideas to share about what finally helped them to become masters at weight control. To date, the researchers have learned a few things:

  • A great majority of the participants reported that a trigger led to their final decision to take off the weight once and for all. Many reported the onset of a medical or emotional problem as the trigger. Others reported seeing themselves in the mirror or in a photograph as the trigger.

  • Compared to previous weight loss attempts, the following list contains what works for them now:
    • 82% are more committed to making behavioral changes
    • 81% exercise more
    • 63% use different dietary approaches
    • 89% changed both their eating and physical activity

  • Approximately 55% of the participants used a formal weight loss program to lose their weight, and about 45% did it on their own.
  • Most report that their average fat intake was at or below the recommended 30% of calories daily.
  • Most participants eat regular meals, including occasional meals at restaurants. On average, they eat five times a day and most meals are prepared and eaten at home.
  • They exercise regularly, moderate to high-intensity. On average, the calories they expend exercising each week equate to walking 28 miles. Most burn more than 2,000 calories a week through exercise!
  • Almost half were overweight before age 11, and another 25 percent were overweight before age 18. (This debunks the old myth that it's impossible to lose weight if you've been overweight since childhood or if you have “heavy” genes).
  • More than 70 percent of the people have at least one overweight parent. These people have genes that pre-dispose them to being overweight, but they still succeeded in losing weight.
  • Very few used Popular Diets, and only four percent used weight loss medication.
  • 42% say it's easier to maintain weight than to lose it.
  • 95% say that the overall quality of their lives has improved, and 92% report that their energy level has also improved.

Registry participants offer these weight loss/weight maintenance tips:

  • Learn to eat in a way that you can live with for the rest of your life.

  • If you watch what you eat 90% of the time, the other 10% is not a problem.
  • Take it slow if you don't want the pounds to return again.
  • Decide on what you need, and do only what works for you.
  • Continue to set small goals to work towards your big goal.
  • Find support from a friend, a group, or even create your own group.
  • Know what your food triggers are and what your alternative non-eating options are when you get cravings.
  • Make exercise a priority and a scheduled appointment, not an option.
  • Be sure the exercise you choose is something you enjoy.

The take home message is that most of these people have been highly creative and persistent about finding and applying what works for them. You must learn constantly about what works for you and develop your own personal tricks. The key to successful weight maintenance is putting these ideas into action.

Coping with weight plateaus

Many people experience plateaus while losing weight. This is a common occurrence, and you should not perceive it as a failure on your part. In fact, you should already be preparing for this occurrence. You can reach a weight plateau for many reasons. One big reason is an increase in exercise and muscle mass. Muscle weighs more than fat, but is leaner. So, while adding muscle can make you gain weight, your appearance will still be thinner. Don't be too dependent on the scale. Always be sure to assess how you feel and how your clothes fit as your primary methods of determining your success. Some plateaus can last for months. Though it's difficult, the best thing you can do is try not to be discouraged, and remember that eventually all plateaus will break. So hang in there, and be proud of all the progress you've made to get to where you are. You've been hugely successful. Don't let it get you down! The best ways to stave off a weight loss plateau generally involve boosting your metabolism, not decreasing your calories. Consider the following ideas when you reach a plateau:

  • Reassess your exercise time and intensity. If you've walked 30 minutes, three times a week for a few months, that's great! But, maybe it's time to incorporate a few minutes of jogging, or perhaps add an additional day of exercise to your weekly regimen. In short, add extra time or small bouts of extra intensity to your program.

  • Reassess your exercise activities. Our muscles and body, over time, become accustomed to the exercises we do. When you first started walking you may have burned more than 300 calories in an hour. But, if you've done the same activity for a long time, the calories you burn now have probably decreased significantly. Try a new activity to cause those muscles to be retrained and burn more calories.
  • Add more muscle. Remember, the more you have, the higher your metabolic rate and the more calories you burn. Be sure to have your body fat tested when you begin an exercise or strength-training program. Paying attention to the scale when you add muscle can be discouraging, because you might gain weight. However, you'll still be getting thinner and leaner, and your body fat percentage will likely decrease significantly over time.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than 2 or 3 large meals. Every time you eat you give your metabolism a small boost.
  • Reassess the short-term goals that you made in Exercise 4 to be sure you've selected the right strategies. Perhaps you need to re-evaluate the goals you made and come up with new solutions. To start, you'll do it in this week's self-assessment exercise.
  • Review your food and activity diary to remember how far you've come and how well you've done. This positive feedback will help you stay motivated.

Some final thoughts: celebrate success - no matter how small

As you approach the end of this program, be sure to look back and celebrate your accomplishments. Each and every effort you made, no matter how small, was a success. You have covered a lot of information in the past several weeks. Hopefully, you've learned a lot more than you knew before about losing weight and gaining health. By taking this program and making the commitment to continue on, you have made the decision that now is the last time you'll ever have to take off weight. Come back any time you need support, encouragement, motivation, or greater development of the skills you've learned. Each time you return, you'll learn more about yourself and about your journey. Adopting healthier habits and learning to create goals are meaningful, personal skills that will carry over into many aspects of your life. So keep up the great work! The rewards will continue to spill over.

Next: Dependable Weight Loss Resources

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