The most practical way to learn what works in losing weight and, more importantly, keeping it off, is to ask the people who have overcome the odds and successfully lost and kept off large amounts of weight. The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), a database that tracks over 5000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and maintained the loss for at least one year, has uncovered an abundance of tried and true tips to help people lose weight long-term. In addition, results from several observational research studies further highlight what works and what doesn’t when it comes to successful weight loss.
- Control portions. Research suggests portion control is the greatest predictor of successful weight loss. Twenty years ago a standard cup of coffee with whole milk and sugar was 8oz and 45 calories. Today a 16oz grande Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks adds up to 380 calories. To burn the extra calories, you would have to walk for an hour. Back then, a typical muffin was 1.5 ounces and 200 calories. Today it is 5 ounces and 500 calories – the difference equates to 90 minutes of vacuuming. Here are a few tips to help you control your portion sizes: read nutrition labels; measure out servings; eat only one helping; use smaller serving dishes; and resist the urge to “clean your plate.”
- Be mindful. Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full. It seems simple, but too often we eat for a lot of other reasons (for example, when we’re bored, stressed, sad, tired, etc). Before you eat, ask yourself- am I hungry? Emotional eating can wreak havoc on a well-planned weight management program.
- Exercise. Over 94% of participants in the National Weight Control Registry increased physical activity in order to lose weight. In fact, many reported walking for at least one hour per day. And for those who kept the weight off, exercise was crucial.
- Check the scale. While it’s not advisable to become obsessive about weight to the nearest 0.01 pounds, people who maintain their weight loss keep tabs on the scale, weighing themselves at least once per week. Doing so enables individuals to identify small weight increases in time to take appropriate corrective action.
- Monitor intake. One of the strongest predictors of successful and maintained lifestyle change is monitoring dietary intake. While tedious, keeping a food log is a highly effective and proven strategy
- Turn off the TV. Time spent watching TV is time spent: (1.) being completely sedentary and thus expending minimal amounts of calories; and (2.) eating. Most people mindlessly consume snacks while mesmerized in front of the television, not noticing the rapidly multiplying calorie intake. Successful NWCR “losers” watch less than 10 hours of television per week.
- Don’t put it off until tomorrow – and avoid “cheating”. It’s easy to put off starting a serious lifestyle change until a later date. Likewise, it’s also easy to “cheat” and eat an extra piece of cake here, a pizza buffet there, however people who do not consistently give themselves a day or two off to cheat are 150% more likely to maintain their weight loss.
- Move slow. Aim to lose no more than 1-2 pounds per week. A realistic weight loss goal for someone who is overweight or obese is to aim to lose 7-10% of starting weight over a six month to one year period and then to keep the weight off for at least six months before trying to lose more. It may feel like it is taking forever to get to your goal weight, but when you lose it slowly, you’re more likely to keep it off long-term.
Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian and recent graduate of the UNC School of Medicine. She is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, and holds additional certifications with the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. She has made several appearances as a nutrition expert on CW's San Diego 6, been quoted as a fitness expert in the New York Times and other newspapers and is an ACE Master Trainer and award-winning author. She is currently a pediatrics intern at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.