New research from Cal Poly discovered three strategies for success when it comes to keeping off the weight you've worked so hard to lose.

Lauren Wicks
January 28, 2020
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It's a huge feat to lose 30, 20 or even 10 pounds, but it's a whole other venture to be able to keep it off. About 70% of people losing a low to modest amount of weight gain it all back or at least some in the next two years, according to a 2016 study supported by The Endocrine Society. Yo-yo dieters (those who have lost and regained 10 pounds at least once) have an even tougher time keeping off lost weight. So how is one supposed to beat the odds and keep the weight off for good? Researchers from California Polytechnic State University sought to find out.

This study, published in Obesity this week, surveyed nearly 5,000 members of WW—formerly Weight Watchers—who reported losing at least 50 pounds and have kept it off for three or more years. The researchers compared this group to a second group of 500 participants with obesity who reported not gaining or losing more than five pounds for at least five years. (It's important to note this study was supported by a grant from WW International, Inc.) All participants were analyzed for 54 weight management-related behaviors.

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The researchers found that compared to the group of weight-stable individuals, the WW members who had maintained their weight loss, on average, were more likely to make healthy eating choices, self-monitor their intake and practice psychological coping strategies—meaning they were able to stay positive even if they experienced a little weight gain along the way. These behaviors also became more a part of their lives over time compared to the second group.

"Making healthy eating choices" was defined as keeping more low-calorie, nourishing foods and fewer high-calorie, highly processed foods in their homes and consuming healthy foods regularly, for the purposes of this study. "Self-monitoring" represented setting daily calorie goals, tracking their dietary intake and measuring foods. "Psychological coping strategies" included practicing self-compassion, mindfulness and being able to stay positive even if one's weight crept back up for a time.

"People who maintained their successful weight loss the longest reported greater frequency and repetition in healthy eating choices," said lead author Suzanne Phelan in a press release. "Healthier choices also became more automatic the longer people continued to make those choices. These findings are encouraging for those working at weight loss maintenance. Over time, weight loss maintenance may become easier, requiring less intentional effort."

Phelan also noted that since successful weight loss is associated with a variety of health benefits, the improved quality of life the participants in the first group may feel likely keeps them motivated to maintain their weight and health.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, if you can't make your diet a lifestyle, then your weight loss is going to be just as temporary as your diet. Studies actually show that faster weight loss is no better than losing it slowly—so you shouldn't opt for a "quick-fix" crash diet, because it will likely just cause you to crash and burn.

Check out our Healthy Habits Checklist for more gentle ways to care for your body and turn your health goals into a lifestyle, or consider checking out the Mediterranean Diet for healthy eating inspiration—without following a restrictive eating regiment at all.