Losing weight is one thing, but keeping it off is the true challenge. That's why researchers from Brown Medical School and the University of Colorado started a database called the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks more than 5,000 people who have lost an average of 66 lbs and kept it off for more than five years— without gastric bypass surgery. Through communicating with this group of successful weight-loss losers, they've identified four things people who keep the weight off have in common:
Eating breakfast: Seventy eight percent fit it in daily. Other research has shown that people who regularly skip breakfast are statistically 4.5 times more likely to be overweight, and people who eat breakfast tend to eat fewer calories all day. And it just makes sense with how our bodies work: We tend to be more active during the day and meals and snack are meant to fuel the hours after the meal. In other words, when you eat the bulk of your food in the evening when your activity level is low, you don't need all that fuel, and you can't retroactively burn it, which means the surplus gets sent straight to your fat cells. My favorite breakfast lately? I mince a fresh apple or pear (skin on), place it in a bowl and top with a dash of apple pie spice, a quarter cup of toasted rolled oats and 2 tablespoons of sliced almonds. It's delicious with my soy latte, which I spruce up with a pinch of ground vanilla bean.
Weighing in: Seventy five percent of this group weigh themselves at least once a week. Some research shows that daily weighing can be beneficial for long-term weight control, but it's important to know that it's normal for your body weight to fluctuate from day to day or hour to hour. For example, if you have a meal that's saltier than usual, you'll retain more water, which can cause your weight to creep up until your body can flush out the excess sodium and fluid (16 ounces of water weighs one pound). But weekly weigh-ins can give you a sense of your body's usual pattern, and that's important because if you see a change from what's typical, you can make the connection about what's happening and address it right away. You may realize you're eating out more often, or not paying as much attention to portion sizes. That kind of detection system may be an important key to keeping the weight off. If you don't like weighing yourself because you get too caught up in the numbers, choose a pair of pants or jeans to serve as your "measuring stick." If they start to feel too tight, take a closer look at your habits.
Turning off the TV: Sixty two percent watch less than 10 hours of TV per week. This is a big one. We tend to burn fewer calories while watching TV than we do reading or even sleeping. I call it the "TV trance." And of course there are numerous ads for food, which is probably why studies show that people eat between 30 and 70 percent more while watching TV. I have friends who don't own TVs, but to me certain shows serve as stress relievers that make me laugh, or feel like a mini-escape from deadlines and bills. But I do watch far less than 10 hours a week, and I try to do something active while I'm enjoying The Walking Dead or Psych, even if it's just folding laundry or ironing.
Exercise: Ninety percent of this group exercises on average about one hour per day. That sounds like a lot, especially because according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 60 percent of American adults are not regularly active, and 25 percent aren't active at all. But that 60 minutes doesn't have to be all at once. It can be 15 minutes before work, 15 minutes carved out of your lunch break, and 30 minutes in the evening after dinner. And it doesn't have to involve going to the gym. It can be walking (my preference), riding a bike, or even dancing.
Have you ever lost weight but gained it all (or even more) back again? If so, did you struggle with any of the habits above? Or have you lose weight and kept it off? Please share your thoughts here or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine!
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.