Weight is difficult to lose, but often even trickier to keep off. According to a study published in the journal Obesity, after six years, most contestants on “The Biggest Loser” regained much of the weight they had shed during the competition.
There are two big reasons it’s difficult to keep weight off. First, studies show that most people have trouble sticking with lifestyle behavior changes for more than about six months.
“When a person first adopts a weight-loss regimen, they tend to be highly motivated and often make major diet and lifestyle changes,” says Stephan Guyenet, PhD, author of “The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat.” “As time goes on, the restrictions and inconveniences of these changes start to wear them down, and they feel increasingly tempted by old habits.”
Second, the brain’s starvation response can thwart our best efforts.“Our bodies are programmed to try to hold onto every pound they can,” explains Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, and author of “Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer,” “so our biology fights weight loss.”
How can you avoid this fate? Here are 10 tips that address both issues.
1. EMBRACE A SUSTAINABLE EATING PLAN
“A diet is something most people go on and go off,” Ansel says. “If you want to keep that weight off for good, that means you have to stick with new eating habits for the long haul.” Keri Glassman, RD, agrees. “Excess weight comes when you fall completely off the track because you dieted too hard, without creating healthy habits,” she says. “This is the downward spiral of yo-yo dieting.”
2. EAT WHOLE FOODS, LOW IN CALORIES AND FAT
“Simply prepared whole foods, like fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, meats, yogurt, eggs, potatoes and whole grains — with few added fats, sugars or other flavorings — appear to dampen the starvation response,” says Guyenet. He also recommends integrating lots of protein, since protein “helps to control appetite and sustain metabolic rate in the face of fat loss.”
3. MAKE HEALTHY EATING THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
“The human brain is highly reactive to its surroundings, and particularly to food cues, so controlling your food environment is critical in this regard,” says Guyenet. “Get rid of most visible foods in your home and workplace, and make sure that any foods that are visible are consistent with your goals. Banish the worst offenders — such as ice cream and chips — from your house completely. If these foods aren’t available, not only is it difficult to eat them, but you’ll actually crave them less.”
4. SLOWLY MAKE SMALL TWEAKS
Sweeping changes can be difficult to maintain over the long run. For many people it’s easier to make an incremental change, solidify that habit, then make another change. Possible tweaks include eating smaller portions, limiting alcohol, switching to whole grains and eating more fruits and vegetables, says Ansel.
5. EAT BREAKFAST
A large majority of successful dieters eat breakfast, such as cereal and fruit, says Michael W. Smith, MD, medical director and chief medical editor at WebMD.
6. ACCEPT THAT YOU NEED FEWER CALORIES
“Our metabolisms are largely a function of our body weight, so if you lose weight, your metabolism will naturally slow down,” Ansel says. “That means that your new thinner self will require fewer calories than it used to, so you won’t be able to eat as much as you did before you slimmed down.”
7. DROP THE IDEA OF A “CHEAT” DAY
Keep your nutrition consistent, even on the weekends, says Smith. “You can splurge a little then, but consistency in this area pays off.”
8. USE THE SCALE
The scale can help keep you in check, says Smith. Weigh in at least weekly, and know that the number will fluctuate by 1–2 pounds from day to day. But, if it changes more than that, you need to dial it back. “Once you get in the 2–4-pound and above range,” he counsels, “it gets harder to reel yourself back in.”
9. GET RESTORATIVE SLEEP
“Insufficient sleep impacts the brain circuits that regulate body fatness, favoring higher appetite and fat gain,” says Guyenet. “Conversely, getting enough high-quality sleep supports lower appetite and leanness.”
10. EMBRACE THE POWER OF EXERCISE
“In addition to the fact that physical activity burns calories, it also helps to maintain the brain circuits that regulate appetite and body fatness, leading to easier weight loss maintenance in most people,” Guyenet explains.