It’s a depressing statistic: Most people who lose weight don’t keep it off long-term. But instead, let’s focus on the people who do succeed at maintaining their weight loss over the long haul. According to Brown Medical School research that analyzed data from the National Weight Control Registry, a group that was established to follow the habits and behaviors of successful weight loss maintainers, weight loss maintenance may get easier over time. And those who keep the weight off for two to five years greatly increase the likelihood that they will to continue to do so.
This research and other similar findings point to a cluster of healthy behaviors that help people stay slim for good—and all of them happen to be baked into The Digest Diet, our break-through new healthy-eating plan designed to help you release fat and lose weight.
Here’s what weight loss “losers” know:
They Are Physically Active Every Day
This takes the top spot for a very good reason: because one of the biggest predictors of long-term weight-loss success is physical activity. Exercise alone isn’t that helpful for weight loss, but it is a great way to prevent weight gain and to preserve lean body mass. The more leisure activities you take up that aren’t sedentary—the more you move each day—and the more fit you become, the better your success will be in keeping the pounds and fat off.
But as with everything in the journey, be realistic. Add in activity and exercise gradually, and mix it up. Don’t try to do it all at once. Gently shift your habits until they take hold. Then you can layer in new ones. Aim to progressively increase exercise to five hours per week, as it has been shown to make lifetime maintenance easier. Remember, this can be broken up into different intervals and different types of activity, which might be more effective than big chunks of activity anyway.
They Eat Breakfast
Who’d have thought that something so simple could be so powerful? Skipping breakfast can derail your weight-loss efforts, and the same is true for keeping weight off. Italian researchers found that skipping breakfast leads to increased appetite, poorer food choices, and poor diet quality over all, resulting in a heightened risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And a study from the University of Nottingham in England found that people who ate high-fiber carbs for breakfast doubled the amount of fat they burned in a subsequent walk or workout.
Even if all you have time for is a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit, even if you’re not particularly hungry in the morning, eat something. Give your body the much-needed fuel it requires to power you through the first part of your day. It can cause a positive ripple effect in the rest of your behaviors throughout the day.
They Control Portions
Whether it’s winter comfort food, summer picnics and barbecues or fall and holiday feasts, it seems like you’re always surrounded by tempting and fattening foods, plus activities that are centered on food. This doesn’t mean you should decline all treats and desserts and fun opportunities to socialize, but you can and should pay attention to how much food you plop on your plate. You’re in control, and you know which foods you can load up on if you’re feeling hungry (hint: plants) and which ones require more moderate portions.
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They Make Healthy Food Choices
You know how to make good food choices: by eating fresh, whole foods (especially those that comprise The Digest Diet). And those who maintain lost weight generally stick to a diet low in unhealthy fats, while high in fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Set yourself up to succeed by preparing a weekly shopping list and making sure to stock up on fat releasers, not increasers. Remember, the real foods tend to be found on the perimeters of the supermarket, so start there, stay there, and spend limited time with all the packaged goods.
They Keep Track
Those who succeed self-monitor their food intake and keep track of their weight. They pay attention to their daily behaviors and activities and steer themselves toward healthy ones. Some get on the scale each week. Some track inches lost. Some track steps taken, literally, by wearing a pedometer and writing down how many steps they take each day.
How you decide to keep track is entirely up to you, but write it down. If your device of choice is a pen, a laptop, or a mobile phone, take advantage of the wealth of tools available (from calorie counters, exercise apps, and streaming videos to healthy cooking and humor websites). Consider focusing on an issue or area that you feel hasn’t been in your control before: whether that’s what you’re eating or what you’re feeling. You can journal about your hopes and dreams. You can jot down all the things you’ve done that make you laugh, give you joy, or make you happy.
Keep a calendar of how long you’ve succeeded and applaud every day that’s passed where you’ve taken any small measure to take good care of yourself.
They Find Food-Free Ways to Deal With Stress
We can all afford to take more time away from being a “grown-up” and seek out things that delight us, ignite us, and make us sparkle inside. Give yourself the permission to make doing these things a priority. If you’ve been a stress eater in the past, now is the time to explore your personal triggers and defuse them, replacing them with more proactive and caring behaviors. When you’re stressed, redouble your commitment to getting seven to eight hours of sleep. Being sleep deprived makes you more sensitive to stress and increases hunger.
When you feel the urge to do something unhealthy, remember to pause to examine the cause. Instead of reaching for a cookie, reach for a friend. Instead of sitting on the couch when you’re feeling blue, head outside and yank some weeds out of the garden. If you’re angry, talk it out or walk it off or do damage to the pile of laundry that’s accumulating. This simple switching of behaviors can teach you marvelous new ways to cope.
Sometimes, though, we need additional help with managing our emotions and moods. We can’t find the simple switches or turn them off, and we continue to over-rely on food to comfort us. There’s no shame in seeking professional help from a doctor or therapist if you are struggling with any issues that may be weighing you down emotionally.
They Surround Themselves With Support
Don’t go it alone. And support can’t just come from others: You need to set up your household, your day, and your work environment to support you, too. That means not bringing junk food into the house if that’s a trigger for you. It means planning ahead when it comes to snacking and traveling. It means not letting yourself go so long between meals that you find yourself famished. It means deciding each day to take care of you.
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They Believe They Can Do It
We have faith in so many things, so why is it that we neglect to believe in the best of ourselves? We see our failings, not our victories. We note what we can’t do, not what we have accomplished. We seek out flaws, not our strengths.
But don’t waste the gift that you’re given simply for being here, the miracle that is your body and your life. Don’t hide from good health and a great life. If you’re still struggling with faith in yourself, the best way to change a false belief is to look unblinkingly at reality. And the reality is that you are so much more than what you weigh.
What all this does, as time passes and your success cements, is create a new mental reality and a set of behaviors that are natural and automatic. This new mind-set puts you—and your enjoyment of a healthy life—first.