You’ve probably heard that 95 percent of all diets fail. In other words, almost everyone who loses weight eventually regains it. This isn’t true, but it’s easy to understand why so many of us believe it.
The problem isn’t really with diets. It’s with a lack of guidance after your diet. Christopher Sciamanna, M.D., discovered this the hard way. After losing 30 pounds, he described his new, lower weight as “shockingly challenging” to maintain.
Luckily for him—and for the rest of us—Dr. Sciamanna had the perfect job for learning how to deal with this challenge. He’s a physician and research scientist at Penn State University’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. He and his colleagues decided to study weight-loss maintenance.
For the past two decades, this field of research has focused on a single group of people: those who choose to join the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). To qualify, they have to lose at least 30 pounds and keep the weight off for at least a year.
And when experts study NWCR participants, their efforts reveal this bleak checklist of post-diet strategies that nobody enjoys:
1. Exercise at least an hour a day, almost every day
2. Follow a low-fat, low-sugar, low-calorie diet
3. Eat more or less the same stuff all the time
4. Minimize TV watching
5. Eat breakfast
Ugh (mostly). You can understand why dieters continue searching for alternatives, and why dieters and nondieters alike believe permanent weight loss is virtually impossible.
But it’s not. Dr. Sciamanna’s team found that more than a third of those who lost at least 5 percent of their initial body weight kept it off. About a sixth of those who lost at least 10 percent were able to do the same.
These results should be encouraging. Remember, even if you fall short of your original weight-loss target, permanently downsizing 5 to 10 percent of your girth offers substantial health benefits, and almost certainly improves your appearance as well.
To keep weight off, you have to adjust. You’ll require skills and practices that are different from the ones you used to drop the pounds in the first place.
“Maintenance requires a specific focus,” Dr. Sciamanna says. “It’s like an exit strategy to a war. Once you lose weight, it’s not ‘mission accomplished.’ You need to rethink how you’re going to maintain the weight loss.” Here are three ways to keep lost pounds off for good.
Find your new normal. When you begin a weight-loss program, says Dr. Sciamanna, you’re willing to make enormous, zero-to-60 changes. A drive-thru addict might quit cold turkey. A careless chowhound might start weighing his food and tracking his calorie intake religiously.
“But at a certain point you want your old life back,” he says. “There’s a huge fatigue that sets in. How long do you want to spend on that one problem?” You can’t literally have your old life back, because that’s how you gained so much weight in the first place. But you can create a “new normal” with these three practices. Of course, sometimes you feel ravenous even though you just finished lunch; in that case, some food ingredients could be sabotaging your waistline.