How to maintain weight loss

What the evidence suggests about keeping pounds away once they come off

The best evidence

As reported in the Harvard Special Health Report Health Solutions to Lose Weight and Keep It Off, much of the original research on how to maintain weight loss comes from a long-term project known as the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). - The project has been tracking some 10,000 people who have lost weight and successfully kept it off for many years. While evidence can't prove that the approaches these people use are the key to upholding weight loss success, their habits jibe with many recognized strategies to maintain weight.

NWCR participants were able to maintain weight loss of at least 30 pounds for at least one year. Some of their strategies included:

  • getting lots of exercise
  • eating breakfast
  • watching little television
  • keeping a food diary
  • weighing themselves

Most participants reported weighing themselves at least once a week, and just over a third make weighing a daily practice. Over time, people who weighed themselves less often tended to regain more weight than those who increased their weight-monitoring frequency. Researchers speculate that this habit allows people to detect a small weight gain and take action before the problem escalates.

Other ways to maintain weight

Research has also shown that the more freedom people have in planning their weight-loss programs, the greater their prospects for weight loss success. One study suggested that people who followed a calorie-restricted diet regained an average of nine pounds, but those who ate what they wanted—within healthy eating guidelines—regained less than half that amount.

Another study compared two groups of people: those who had lost at least 10% of their weight and kept it off for five years and who were now at a normal weight, and those who were overweight and who had a history of dieting. Researchers found that people in the first group had fewer televisions and fewer high-fat foods at home compared with the second group. The weight-loss maintainers also exercised more, perhaps because they were more likely to have exercise equipment in their homes.

Don't go it alone

There are many types of professionals who can help you maintain weight loss. Start with your primary care provider for referrals to experts in your area. Your doctor may direct you to engage the services of

  • a personal trainer, who can design an exercise program that's right for your abilities
  • a dietitian, who can tailor an eating plan for your calorie needs, take you grocery shopping, and even organize your meal schedule and your pantry
  • a therapist, who can help if you feel your weight issues are related to emotional eating or eating disorders
  • a yoga or meditation instructor, who can help if you feel your weight issues are related to stress-related eating

Remember, it's already an accomplishment if you've had some weight loss success. Now keep your momentum going by either employing strategies to maintain weight loss, or enlisting people to help you do it.

By Heidi Godman
Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

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