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5 Things People Who Maintain Weight Loss Have in Common

5 Things People Who Maintain Weight Loss Have in Common

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

You've heard the rumors: cutting carbs is the only way to lose weight. It's all about pH balance. This fat fighting food is all you need.

But now, a large-scale study out of California Polytechnic State University has asked people who have lost weight—and kept it off—to share their secrets. And according to them, perseverance in the face of setbacks is key. Not surprising, it's also critical to adopt long-term healthy eating habits.

"Weight-loss maintainers saw setbacks as part of their successful journey. Setbacks were not described as failures," said Suzanne Phelan, a professor who led the research, in a Cal Poly News report. "They were seen as a temporary interruption in their path. Many weight-loss maintainers described getting back on track at the next meal or the next day and measuring overall success based on long-term goals."

5 behaviors linked to long-term healthy weight management

Few people are successful in long-term weight maintenance. So researchers looked at more than 4,700 Weight Watchers participants who had lost over 20% body weight and maintained it long-term (defined as at least 3 years) along with a control group.

The results? As reported in Obesity: The Journal of The Obesity Society, those who maintained their weight loss followed a weight management strategy that included the following behaviors:

  1. Keeping low-calorie, healthy foods accessible
  2. Measuring and recording daily intake of calories (self-monitoring)
  3. Thinking about past weight loss successes to stay motivated, including keeping a graph of their weight progress
  4. Staying positive rather than feeling defeated when they gained weight
  5. Willingness to ignore food cravings rather than give in to them

And guess what: it gets easier! Long-term weight loss success increases among those who kept the weight off for two years or more.

Why is it so hard to lose weight?

Weight loss is tough because it means changing how you behave and the ways you think or feel about food—after all, there is a reason you got to the weight you are now.

Sometimes, issues such as thyroid function or your gut microbiome can contribute to weight gain and present challenges to losing those extra pounds. Sometimes your weakness is emotional eating. Additionally, certain medications and medical conditions can cause weight gain and fat accumulation.

There are a host of diets out there: keto, paleo, vegan, flexitarian, Mediterranean and many more. Thankfully, almost any diet will work if it helps you to be aware of your food choices and intake fewer calories.

Weight loss success happens in two main ways:

  1. When you eat healthy foods and avoid unhealthy ones; this automatically will limit your food intake and therefore is a calorie-restricted approach to weight loss, whether the diet claims to be about calories or not.
  2. When you make lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity, drinking more water, and limiting the time when you eat (such as intermittent fasting).

Will I lose more weight counting calories or carbs?

The best diet for losing weight—and keeping it off—is one that you can live with long-term. So look for a weight loss program that offers plenty of good-tasting, healthy food choices and doesn't require too many expensive groceries or supplements.

Low-carbohydrate diets have gotten their reputation for weight loss because the pounds will come off as soon as you stop eating carbs. But they can be very difficult to stick with for the long-term, especially if you have a weakness for fresh garlic bread and pasta. Diets like keto are also impractical for vegetarian and vegan eaters because of the high-protein, high-fat requirements.

If you prefer to keep starchy vegetables and whole grains in your diet plans, the Mediterranean diet is a popular choice. It is significantly less restrictive than keto, although sugars are still on the naughty list. This strategy also shows strong evidence for other health benefits, such as heart health, brain health and overall longevity.

Before you start any weight management plan, be sure you are up to the task, and talk with a doctor about the best strategy for you. Being overweight might not be good for you, but your weight-loss efforts should be good for all parts of your body, from your brain to your toes, and not just for your waistline. And yes, that includes your mental wellbeing as well. A diet that makes you feel deprived, restricted, and in a perpetual cycle of critical self-talk isn't a healthy one.

Can you lose weight without exercising?

Well, you could, but you shouldn't. It's important to get enough physical activity. Non-exercise weight loss is possible, but you don't want to lose muscle mass along with those pounds. Healthy weight loss includes maintaining your muscles with physical activity, be it moderate-intensity cardio work or strength training.

Besides keeping your muscular and skeletal systems in shape, physical activity is good for boosting your metabolism. This increases your energy expenditure and helps you achieve the calorie deficit you are aiming for.

Does water help you to lose weight?

Pure water is the liquid of life, and that makes it a fantastic stand-in for those sugary drinks that contribute to weight gain and derail your weight management plans. There is also strong evidence that drinking water helps boost your metabolism. So switching from sodas to H2O could make your drinks work for you instead of against you, especially in the long-term.

As a bonus, drinking water before meals acts as a natural appetite suppressant, which can help you not to overeat or make unhealthy choices that you might regret later.

What is the most scientifically proven way to lose weight?

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for weight loss, although many controlled trials have attempted to discover it. Some people shed pounds by eating a low-carb diet that's high in fat. Some stick with a low-fat diet, high-fiber foods and whole grains. Others rely on intuitive eating or focus on the intake of nutrient-dense, healthy foods. For others, the best approach is intermittent fasting. There are many ways to fight weight gain, and the best one for you might not be the best one for another.

The most important aspect is to be consistent and realistic. Pick a strategy of healthy eating habits that you can stick to and then do it. If you fall off the wagon, be kind to yourself and reframe your setback as a temporary slip on your journey. After all, it is your daily food choices and eating habits that matter, not a few "off" days.

Remember to incorporate physical activity. Not only is it good for your metabolic rate and physical health, it helps with your mental health as well. And staying upbeat and positive helps to keep your body weight goals on track.

Top 3 foods to avoid when losing weight

Ready to start your fat-burning journey? No matter what plan you choose, these foods are good ones to steer clear of:

  1. Foods with added sugar.

    It's probably obvious that high-sugar foods like cupcakes, ice cream, and candy aren't the best choices for weight loss. What may be less obvious is that almost every processed food is sugar-sweetened nowadays, even salty and non-sweet foods like bread and pretzels. By the way—this includes lower-calorie foods that may be labeled as "diet-friendly." Sugar isn't just a factor in being overweight. It is also a major culprit in inflammation. So go for whole foods and avoid this sneaky diet-buster.
  2. Processed meats.

    Even if you are following a high-fat keto diet, most nutritionists recommend against eating processed meats because of the salt and chemical preservatives found in them. Some even have hidden added sugar.
  3. Late-night snacks.

    Want to get off that weight-loss plateau? Indulging those late-night cravings isn't the way to do it. Instead, drink some water or try eating a raw carrot or celery stick to curb your desire to snack late at night.

Weight loss tips

Want to enjoy the health benefits that losing weight can deliver? Try these strategies for healthy weight control that's long-lasting:

  1. Have a plan.

    We've all heard the saying, "When you aim at nothing, you achieve it." Set calorie and dietary goals before you begin. Some find meal planning for a week at a time to be helpful for avoiding unnecessary surprises and temptations.
  2. Track your progress.

    The recent research presented strong evidence for the importance of monitoring and recording your calorie intake in maintaining long-term weight loss.
  3. Consider nutrients.

    Limiting your food intake could result in nutritional deficiencies. Make an effort to get a broad range of healthy foods onto your plate, and consider adding nutrients that you might be lacking.
  4. Stay positive.

    Don't let occasional overindulgences derail your plans. Keep your goals in mind and focus on the physical and mental health benefits you have enjoyed as you shed those pounds.



About Our Story Sources

The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.