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9 Science-Based Strategies for Long-Term Weight Loss Success

06/04/2015 01:30 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016
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"I remember the exact moment I fell off plan," a friend recently confessed. "The compliments had faded away, I felt super stressed after a brutal workday, and so I assuaged my grief with a gargantuan slice of turtle cheesecake that triggered a downward spiral into eventually regaining everything I worked so hard for."

If you've lost weight, you likely know the blissful exhilaration of sliding into your skinny jeans, having a "you look slimmer" compliment boost your day, and discovering a newfound confidence -- dare I say, sexiness.

Don't shoot the messenger: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers analyzed 31 long-term studies and found people who lose weight often rebound.

The report, published in American Psychologist (the journal of the American Psychological Association), concluded many losers regain their original weight plus more, whereas sustained weight loss only occurred with a few participants. (1)

Losing weight can be fun; maintaining that loss often becomes a tedious, never-ending obstacle. Sustaining fat loss demands determination, big-picture focus, and uncomfortably saying "no" to your carb-pushing aunt's chunky cheesecake brownies.

Over time, as compliments fade, your skinny jeans become the new normal (you can always blame the dryer if they feel a little tight, right?), and you struggle saying no to that second piece of cheesecake, you perhaps resign that regain becomes inevitable.

You needn't succumb. Fat loss can become lasting, and the right long-term strategies can bolster that success. Science confirms what I've learned over nearly three decades in my own practice: People who maintain their fat loss frequently employ these nine strategies.

1. They measure to improve. Simply put, tracking keeps you on track. One study found a calorie-counting mobile app combined with health education classes help improve fat loss in 70 overweight men. (2) Another found 84 obese women who used a pedometer for three months lost more body fat and improved body composition compared to the control group. (3) The scales can also keep you honest. One study with 47 overweight people found those who weighed themselves daily lost significantly more weight and adopted significantly more weight control behaviors compared with those who weighed themselves less than daily. (4)

2. They journal. Successful losers write everything down, from food intake to body measurements. A study from Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research, one of the largest and longest weight-loss maintenance trials ever conducted, found those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. (5) Their journal also includes lofty goals. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, conducted a study about goal setting with 267 participants and found they were 42 percent more likely to achieve their goals by writing them down. (6)

3. They eat mindfully. Successful losers remain present while they're eating, savor every bite, put their forks down to chew, (7) and avoid the urge to Instagram their meal while they eat. They know even a few moments of mindless eating -- such as a perilous 11 p.m. cookie dough fridge raid -- will derail their best efforts. They wouldn't be surprised one study found people who ate slowly consumed fewer calories but sustained better satiety. (8)

4. They downsize. Portion control needn't become difficult or abstemious. Simply shrinking your plate and glasses can help you consume less food. One review with several studies found buffet diners with large plates served 52 percent more, ate 45 percent more, and wasted 135 percent more food than those with smaller plates. (9)

5. They simplify breakfast. Successful people know how important breakfast is, and they make the time for it even if they don't have the time. Studies show a high-protein breakfast decreases postprandial ghrelin concentrations better than high-carbohydrate breakfasts, keeping people fuller longer. (10) A shake becomes the fast, filling answer to sustain fat loss. One systematic evaluation of randomized controlled trials that looked at meal replacement shakes found they could safely and effectively produce significant sustainable weight loss and improve weight-related risk factors of disease. (11)

6. They add before they take away. Deprivation practically guarantees you will eventually nose dive into those oatmeal raisin cookies you baked for your daughter's soccer team. Rather than prohibit a particular food, successful people shift focus to healthier choices. They might load up on nutrient-rich, filling, fibrous leafy and cruciferous veggies. Studies find even with unrestricted caloric intake, increased fiber intake can help reduce calorie intake as well as weight loss. (12)

7. They keep their enemy away. Mine's almond butter. A few tablespoons become... Well, more than a few tablespoons. Don't even let these troublemakers into your home. Even healthy food can become unhealthy when you eat too much, so if you know dark chocolate becomes your saboteur, keep it out of the cupboard, glove compartment, and any other stash-welcoming places. Studies show people eat more when food -- and unhealthy food at that -- when it remains visible or in close proximity. (13)

8. They surround themselves with like-minded people. Who we surround ourselves with shapes who we become. To maintain fat loss, studies show a person's chances of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if they had a friend who became obese in a given interval. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40 percent. If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37 percent. (14) On the other hand, another study found participants with at least one successful weight loss partner lost significantly more weight than those with no successful partners and those without partners. (15)

9. They engage in community. Whether in-person or online, maintainers find stable long-term support and encouragement to stay the course. One study found an Internet weight-loss community played a vital role in participants' weight loss efforts that clinicians, family, and friends might not be able to fill. (16)

Employing these nine strategies can create a solid foundation to make fat loss lasting. What strategy would you add here to secure weight loss success? Share yours below.

References

(1) http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Dieting-Does-Not-Work-UCLA-Researchers-7832

(2) Spring B, et al. Integrating technology into standard weight loss treatment: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Jan 28;173(2):105-11. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1221.

(3) Cayir Y, et al. The effect of pedometer use on physical activity and body weight in obese women. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015 Jun;15(4):351-6. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2014.940558. Epub 2014 Jul 28.

(4) Steinberg DM, et al. Weighing every day matters: daily weighing improves weight loss and adoption of weight control behaviors. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Apr;115(4):511-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.12.011.

(5) JF Hollis, et al. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial. Am J Prev Med. 2008 Aug;35(2):118-26. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2008.04.013.

(6) http://www.dominican.edu/academics/ahss/undergraduate-programs-1/psych/faculty/fulltime/gailmatthews/researchsummary2.pdf

(7) Li J, et al. Improvement in chewing activity reduces energy intake in one meal and modulates plasma gut hormone concentrations in obese and lean young Chinese men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):709-16. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.015164. Epub 2011 Jul 20.

(8) Andrade AM, et al. Eating slowly led to decreases in energy intake within meals in healthy women. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jul;108(7):1186-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.04.026.

(9) Wansink B, van Ittersum K. Portion size me: plate-size induced consumption norms and win-win solutions for reducing food intake and waste. J Exp Psychol Appl. 2013 Dec;19(4):320-32. doi: 10.1037/a0035053.

(10) Blom WA, et al. Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Feb;83(2):211-20.

(11) Heymsfield SB, et al. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 May;27(5):537-49.

(12) Howard NC, et al. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr Rev. 2001 May;59(5):129-39.

(13) Wansink B, et al. The office candy dish: proximity's influence on estimated and actual consumption. Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 May;30(5):871-5.

(14) Christakis NA, Fowler JH. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. N Engl J Med. 2007 Jul 26;357(4):370-9. Epub 2007 Jul 25.

(15) Gorin A, Phelan S, Tate D, Sherwood N, Jeffery R, Wing R. Involving support partners in obesity treatment. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2005 Apr;73(2):341-3.

(16) Hwang KO, et al. Social support in an Internet weight loss community. Int J Med Inform. 2010 January; 79(1): 5-13.