Before meeting me, many of my clients say they’ve lost weight, then gained it back over and over again. Some even wonder whether keeping weight off is possible, or if ups and downs are an inherent part of ‘weight control.’ I do believe that weight maintenance is possible, but in my experience there are three key steps to ensuring long-term success:
Find a lasting strategy
In order to keep weight off, you have to continue doing whatever allowed you to lose those pounds. Whether it’s managing your money or your weight, any approach that works but isn’t sustainable is bound to re-bound. So if the scale is moving, but you can’t possibly imagine keeping up what you’re doing, the chances are high that six months from now, you'll be right back where you started. I ask many of my clients to make two lists, one that includes the reasons why they abandoned past approaches (for example, they were too limiting or too complicated), and must-haves they know they need in order for a new approach to work (such as being able to go out to eat or knowing how to splurge without falling off track). When people invest in houses and cars they typically have a distinct list of must-haves and must-not-haves. The same should be true of a weight loss approach. After all, it’s one of the most important long-term investments you could ever make.
Identify new coping strategies
In my opinion, changing your relationship with food is the true foundation of successful weight control. You could have a personal live-in chef who prepares deliciously slimming meals, but if you tend to eat for emotional reasons you’ll keep turning to food unless you find alternatives. In my newest book, I dedicated an entire chapter to overcoming emotional eating, and I often recommend that my clients read it first. It contains written exercises to learn more about how and why you eat emotionally and how to find other ways to cope with sadness, anger, anxiety and even happiness. When I’m sad, instead of reaching for the coconut milk ice cream in the freezer I jump on Netflix and watch part of a sad movie guaranteed to make me cry, so I can let it out (for me Steel Magnolias, Beaches or Million Dollar Baby open up the floodgates of tears), and when I’m angry, I clean to let out some aggression instead of tearing into chewy candy or crunchy chips, which are common ‘anger foods.’ What works for one person might not work for another, so it’s all about understanding your triggers and finding non-food alternatives that work for you.
When you’re in it for the long haul it’s important to find people who really get what you’re doing and are there to cheer you on or lend an ear. A lot of my clients find that their friends or family members are supportive early on, but after they’ve reached their goal, the support can wane. In that case, turning to an online community may be key to staying on track. Even when you feel confident in what you’re doing, you’re bound to have a bad day now and then. Having at least one person you can turn to for encouragement can prevent you from slipping back into the old patterns that led to the weight gain.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.