Losing weight is hard enough, but maintaining that slimmer figure can seem like mission impossible for many people.
Only about 20% of Americans who lose weight are able to maintain it over the long term, according to research. What is their secret ?
A recent study set out to find out. Researchers asked thousands of people who had lost a substantial amount of weight and kept it off for over a year to reveal their top tips.
The resulting paper – described as the first large-scale study allowing people who maintain weight loss to share what helped them succeed in their own words – was published last month in the journal Obesity.
“One of the most impressive findings was how weight loss maintainers described perseverance in the face of setbacks,” said Suzanne Phelan, lead author and professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Public Health at the California Polytechnic State University, in a statement.
“Setbacks weren’t portrayed as failures. They were seen as a temporary interruption in their path. Many weight loss proponents have described getting back on track the next meal or the day after.
Whether you’re just starting your weight loss journey or need motivation to keep going, the tips could inspire you and keep you on track.
Meet the study participants
The researchers searched and analyzed the written responses of more than 6,000 people in the WW International (formerly Weight Watchers) Success Registry – a database of WW members who maintain weight loss.
On average, study participants had lost about 53 pounds and maintained it for more than three years. The vast majority, 92%, were women.
They were asked open-ended questions such as “What advice would you give to help someone achieve long-term weight loss success?” and “What is the most important thing in your life that has changed as a result of losing weight?”
Some of their most striking responses are listed below.
Strategies for Success
The top two tips for maintaining weight loss from people who have done it successfully were perseverance in the face of failure and continue to track food intakethe study found.
Here are some of the tips they shared:
- “You just have to put one foot in front of the other and start and never stop. Just keep doing it. Know that if you persevere, you will get there. There will be peaks and valleys, plateaus, gains, vacations, bad times, but get up and do what works 80-90% of the time and you will get there. Do not stop. Never accept a small failure as a total defeat. If you really want to achieve and maintain weight loss, you can do it,” one participant wrote.
- ” Never give up. You can have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, or even a bad year, but you can always start where you are and change your own ending. I had weeks where I did everything right and the scale still didn’t reflect that hard work. But my body did. The way I felt yes. Just keep going and work hard and it will eventually pay off,” another added.
- “Go ahead and accept that it will be a lifetime of effort and attention. You wouldn’t expect to do the laundry once and be done with it. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to keep working It’s always better than being in pain and unhappy all the time,” one comment read.
When it comes to tracking food intake, weight loss advocates have advised paying attention to what’s on your plate rather than judging yourself.
- “Maintain the habits that got you to your goal, especially being mindful of what you eat,” one participant wrote.
- “You have to get up every day and make the choice to follow through and eat well,” advised another. “It’s going to be tough, and there will be days when you fall, but you can pick yourself up and keep going.”
- “Follow-up was instrumental in helping me lose weight, over 2 years later I’m still pretty much every day,” one participant added.
Another database of weight loss maintainers, the National Weight Control Registry, found similar sentiments. Most of its members continued to follow a low-calorie, low-fat diet, and 90% exercised for about an hour a day. Three quarters weighed themselves at least once a week.
Stay motivated to stay slim
A major theme was looking back and fearing a return to the current situation. The focus, therefore, was on being alert, maintaining current weight, and pursuing better health and quality of life.
- “I don’t want to go back to suffering and feeling sick all the time,” wrote one participant.
- “Being overweight is harder than working towards a healthy lifestyle,” another added.
The “deep rewards” of weight loss
There is something to expect after all this effort.
When asked how their lives have changed after losing weight, people who maintain the weight loss cited major improvements in confidence, pain, mobility, body image, and mental and physical health.
- “I had so much back and knee pain it was hard to get out of bed and now it’s not even something that matters anymore,” one person wrote.
- “Losing the fear that has defined me almost my entire life. The fear of going to a restaurant and not knowing if I will fit in the seat. The fear of flying and knowing that I will have to ask for the “elephant belt”, added another.
“My attitude has completely changed,” wrote one participant. “I’m not trying to do better for anyone but myself. For the first time in 10 years, I’m happy with who I am and where I am in life.