We all know that weight loss is challenging. Even more challenging is keeping the weight off after we have worked so hard to lose it. The sobering reality is that most dieters regain everything they lost — and then some — within three years.
The reasons for this are complex, but they have little to do with the failure of dieters to stick to their diet. It has more to do with evolution than with will power. We are fortunate to live in a time when food is abundant. Most of us do not need to worry about where our next meal is coming from. However, food supplies haven’t always been so predictable: throughout human history and until the relatively recent past we simply couldn’t count on having enough to eat every day. Therefore, we have evolved to survive periods of food scarcity. When we start to lose weight, our body’s assumption is that that there is a food shortage and its response is to fight the weight loss. It does this primarily by establishing a weight “set point” and by slowing our basal metabolic rate so that we need fewer calories to maintain our current weight. Each of us has a weight set point. As we gain weight we ratchet the set point up, but when we try and lose weight the ratchet stays at the highest point. The depressing fact is that our bodies always want to return to our highest weight.
The good news is that long term weight loss is possible. Thanks to the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR, http://www.nwcr.ws) we now know how to “fool” our bodies into establishing a new, lower set point. Since 1994, the NWCR has been collecting data from individuals who have been successful with long-term weight loss. By analyzing the data from more than 10,000 individuals, the NWCR has learned what works to trick our bodies into maintaining a lower weight. This data provides the foundation of the Health Plus Program.
Here are some of the things that people who have been successful with long term weight loss have in common.
1. They do not skip breakfast.
2. They keep a food log at least some of the time.
3. They eat a plant-based, low-fat, high-fiber diet.
4. They have a strategy for dealing with stressful times.
5. They focus on changing specific behaviors, such as cutting back on desserts or alcohol, rather than trying to stick to a rigid diet.
6. They avoid drinks with calories.
7. They maintain a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends.
8. They eat frequent small meals and snacks.
9. They are physically active every day.
10. They weigh themselves at least once a week and take immediate “corrective action” if they have a small weight regain.
The best news of all is that there is evidence that, with time, maintaining weight loss becomes easier. And the longer you keep your weight off the more likely you will be able to maintain a lower set point.