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Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D. Headshot

The Real Weight Loss Battle: Keeping It Off

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You did it! You lost the weight and now you're looking and feeling like a million bucks. Unfortunately, you may soon learn that losing the weight, though difficult, may end up being a much more attainable task compared to the uphill battle that now awaits you in the quest to keep it off. Although recent studies demonstrate that we are getting better at keeping weight off, the statistics are still against you and the chances of you putting the weight back on are high.

How can you win at refusing to regain when so many others have failed? It won't be easy, but with hard work -- and a few tactics you may not have thought of -- you may just beat the odds.

Fat Cells, Diet and Exercise
Old habits may die hard, but you really have to put them in the grave to succeed. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that individuals were most likely to gain small amounts of weight over the years by incorporating three main lifestyle habits: increased consumption of potato chips and sugar sweetened beverages (high in starches); decreased physical activity (associated with increased television viewing time) and getting either too much or too little sleep. Most alarming, researchers found that individuals could start seeing changes in weight within only months of adopting these harmful behaviors. Vegetables, nuts, fruits and whole grains (all foods high in fiber) were associated with less weight gain -- even after consumption of these foods increased. Bottom line: You gave it your all to lose the weight and now is not the time to slack. Going back to some of your old habits is a sure fire way to fit back into your old fat clothes.

Three things are certain in life; death, taxes -- and the never ending battle of the mystifying fat cell. We are all born with a specific amount of fat cells, and we gradually gain more up until our early 20s. After that, the number of fat cells may, in fact, remain consistent throughout life.

Researchers reported their findings in a 2008 study in the journal Nature. If you think that you have "burned" away fat cells through your weight loss endeavors and can take it easy now, think again. The fat cell is tricky and always two steps ahead of you. Losing weight by traditional means shrinking, not losing, the fat cells you have. The fat cell, however, has its own idea -- it wants to be big, it wants to be filled and it's just waiting for you give it some fuel to achieve that.

The next time you wonder why it's so hard to maintain weight loss, remember the fat cells that you've got sitting inside you. You'll need to work harder to keep them tame. Perhaps this is why several researchers and studies have found that individuals who wanted to maintain weight loss had to work out much longer than previously predicted. The old "30 minutes a day" motto may not work once you're in the maintenance phase. You should also keep your exercise routing consistent as studies have found that staying with a routine that you like -- and are used to -- will be more likely to lead to success.

Additionally, you'll need to really watch what you eat as well. A recent study in the journal Cell Metabolism found that insulin, a hormone that regulates the absorption of sugar, stimulated fat cells to take in glucose. Insulin is secreted anytime we eat foods with carbohydrates and acts as a chaperon to take sugar to our cells for use. Any remaining glucose that is not used for energy is stored as fat. Consuming low-fat proteins is a must for weight loss maintenance. Further, although all carbohydrates increase blood sugar and insulin levels, complex carbohydrates -- which have abundant amounts of fiber and nutrients -- help you to stay fuller for longer and avoid the rapid increase of blood sugar that results with consumption of simple carbohydrates.

Chew More
A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that obese individuals had a higher ingestion rate and a lower number of chews when eating compared to their lean counterparts. Why does this matter? The obvious reason is that you'll ingest fewer calories, but the less obvious explanation for this has to do with how it affects the hormone ghrelin. Referred to as the "hunger hormone," ghrelin is a hormone secreted by the gut that communicates with your brain that you are hungry. In this particular study, blood tests taken 90 minutes after eating showed that individuals that chewed 40 times (as opposed to 15) had much lower levels of ghrelin and thus, ate less due to decreased appetite. I often ask my patients how they know when to stop eating and the most common answer is "when the food on my plate is gone." Try this: Eat until you are no longer hungry, not when you are full. You may be shocked at how this tactic can affect your weight. Chewing more will help you achieve this.

Become A Yogi
Chewing more has a lot to do with overall mindfulness. Judi Bar, lead yoga therapist for the Cleveland Clinic Lifestyle 180® program has helped many of our participants lose weight, and keep it off, through yoga. How does yoga do this? It evokes breath work and a slowing down of the mind. According to Bar, "Mindfulness and breath is what enable us to make conscious choices about what we eat, what our portion sizes are and when we are satisfied. If we are busy talking, or our mind in on anything else but our food, we can just keep eating."

Ask yourself this next time you want to pick up a food you know is not good for you: Are you body hungry or emotionally hungry? Further, Bar suggests taking three deep breaths before you eat to slow you and your digestive system down. In addition to helping you be more mindful, yoga also builds muscle. Resistance training is key in maintaining weight loss since muscle burns more calories at rest than fat.


Never Underestimate The Power Of The Pen -- Or Keyboard
All the self-monitoring that you did to lose the weight (food diaries, weighing yourself weekly, logging steps or exercise) shouldn't stop now that you're back into your skinny jeans. Over the years, several studies have demonstrated the importance of continued self-monitoring when it comes to weight maintenance.

One particular study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that 50 percent of individuals that were able to maintain weight loss continued to engage in calorie counting, tracking of fat intake -- or both. Many of the participants in the study even reported that maintaining weight loss was easier than losing the weight. A recent review of 22 weight maintenance studies, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, also found a positive relationships between weight maintenance and self-monitoring of diet, physical activity and weight (although the optimal frequency and duration of such monitoring of habits was not covered).

Finally, it's important to remind yourself of all the reasons you lost the weight in the first place and reward yourself for your accomplishments. A recent study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine examined weight loss vs. weight maintenance techniques and found that rewarding yourself for a job well done helped in the overall success of weight loss maintenance.

After all is said and done, the choices you make will determine how likely you are to keep the weight off. Keep advancing in your quest towards optimal health and hopefully, with continued hard work, you'll stay lean, strong -- and above all else -- healthy.

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