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Use the new science of weight maintenance to keep your new waistline right where it is.
You’ve probably heard that 95% of all diets fail. In other words, almost everyone who loses weight fast 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. Dr Christopher Sciamanna discovered this the hard way. After losing almost 14kg, he described his new, lower weight as “shockingly challenging” to maintain. Luckily for him – and for the rest of us – Sciamanna had the perfect job for learning how to deal with this challenge. He’s a physician and research scientist. 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 lost at least 13kg and managed to keep the weight off for at least a year. And when experts studied these participants, their efforts reveal this 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-kilojoule diet.
3. Eat more or less the same stuff all the time.
4. Minimise TV watching.
5. Eat breakfast.
Ugh (mostly). You can understand why dieters continue searching for alternatives, and why dieters (and non-dieters) believe permanent weight loss is virtually impossible. But it’s not. Sciamanna’s team found that more than a third of those who lost at least five percent of their initial body weight kept it off. About a sixth of those who lost at least 10% 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 five to 10% 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 lose the kilos in the first place.
“Maintenance requires a specific focus,” 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.” Keep lost kilos off for good with these tricks.
Find your new normal
When you begin a weight-loss programme, says Sciamanna, you’re willing to make enormous changes. A drive-through addict might quit cold turkey. A careless devourer of snacks might start weighing his food and tracking his kilojoule 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.
Weigh yourself regularlySounds too simple, but Sciamanna’s research confirms that people who weigh themselves most often and most consistently are best at catching and releasing new kilos before those interlopers acquire residency status.
Plan your mealsYou can maintain your weight with a low-fat, low-carb or well-balanced diet; just pick one and stick with it. That takes planning. Sciamanna’s team confirmed that people who successfully maintain their weight tend to eat the same things most of the time, but they vary what goes with these foods. A grilled-chicken salad will taste different if you use mixed greens with mustard vinaigrette instead of spinach with raspberry vinaigrette. A standard meal that you can modify allows you to be consistent without being boring.
Make a list before you shop The “plan your meals” bit works only if you also write down everything you need before you shop. Again, it’s common sense, but it’s uncommonly used.
Focus on process, not outcome
When you’re losing weight, you think of an outcome and then find a process that takes you there. For weight maintenance, it helps to start with the process. Read on and then try these sustainable habits.
Drink a lot of water The water itself may or may not be important for weight control, but the practice of drinking it throughout the day serves as a gentle between-meals reminder.
Eat the same number of meals a day It doesn’t matter if you have three, four or six. You just can’t skip a meal or planned snack. It disrupts your hunger cues and puts you at risk of eating stuff you’d typically avoid, or of overeating when you finally do eat. Include fruits, vegetables, and/or lean protein in every meal A large body of research, including Sciamanna’s, shows the importance of eating protein and fresh, fibre-rich foods among those who successfully manage their weight.
Follow a consistent exercise routine You don’t have to crush it every time, but you do have to show up. Strength and conditioning coach Alwyn Cosgrove suggests setting a monthly goal for workouts. Tell yourself you’ll go 20 times and you’ll force yourself to do four or five workouts a week.
Think like a winner
The latest research shows a major attitude adjustment among people who win at permanent weight loss. Want to join their ranks?
Reward yourself Weight loss is about deprivation. Weight maintenance works best when you occasionally give in to temptation.
Remind yourself why you need to stay vigilant.You may be thinner on the outside, but inside you still have billions of depleted fat cells longing to return to their days of greasy glory. It helps to keep mementos of your inflated past. A photo on the fridge seems to work well.
But don’t forget your accomplishment When you need a confidence boost, go to the nearest mall to observe the well-fed fauna. Isn’t it nice to know you’re no longer a member of that herd?