Losing weight is a topic that’s everywhere. Talk shows and news programs regularly fill their time slots with folks sharing heroic weight-loss stories. Some TV shows, like The Biggest Loser, even allow viewers to follow along with the progress of the contestants. Despite these efforts, obesity and overweight rates continue to climb. In reality, weight loss is very difficult and maintenance can be even more challenging.
The most commonly cited statistic about maintaining weight loss states that only about 5% of the population is successful, but there’s quite a bit of debate about how accurate this is. One meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that those able to lose at least 10% of their bodyweight actually have a 20% success rate. Still, a one-out-of-five chance isn’t all that promising.
The few who manage to shed excess pounds for good almost always say their success is due to a complete lifestyle change. No diets. No quick fixes. Weight maintenance is all about making conscious choices for the rest of your life. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also doable. These seven tips can help you get there.
1. Make working out a priority
In 1994, the National Weight Control Registry was founded to identify individuals who have successfully maintained significant weight loss and to study the behaviors that help them stay in shape. Currently, it tracks more than 10,000 people. Of all the strategies these individuals use, exercise is the most common. According to the website, 90% of members exercise for at least one hour every day. It should be as habitual as brushing your teeth.
Most Americans fall far short of this amount, struggling to meet the minimum requirements spelled out by the CDC’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Many don’t enjoy their sweat sessions, so the real key to success is finding something you like. If that’s impossible, at least find a way to hold yourself accountable or give yourself small rewards. Another strategy is to make your treadmill or bike workout the only time you allow yourself to watch a favorite show. Your sweat session will suddenly seem a lot less horrible.
2. Weigh yourself on a regular basis
Though some people cringe at the thought of stepping on the scale, it’s one of the best ways to keep yourself honest. One study from the Journal of Obesity found that those who weighed themselves daily were more likely to lose weight and maintain their slimmer figures. You don’t want to become obsessed with numbers, though. Keep in mind that occasional indulgences may leave you a few pounds higher than you’d like.
If weighing yourself every day seems too stressful, try a once-a-week strategy. A study published in PLOS ONE found that this method was enough to ward off weight gain, but anything less frequent was associated with additional pounds.
3. Limit screen time
Watching TV, surfing the web, and texting friends all count as screen time. The more time you spend engaging with these devices, the less time you’re moving around. Not surprisingly, this can easily add pounds to your frame. Many studies have focused on the link between children’s screen time and obesity, and some have taken a closer look at adults. One review published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that sedentary TV-viewing and other sedentary activities contribute to a number of health problems for adults, including weight gain, regardless of physical activity. This means your hour-long run isn’t enough to combat a day of sitting.
4. Drink up
Staying properly hydrated is a smart strategy for preventing fatigue and keeping your skin vibrant and healthy. It could also keep you from eating when you don’t need to. CNN explains that it’s often difficult to tell if you’re hungry or just thirsty, and sugar is usually the food you crave most when dehydrated.
Unless you’re consistently hitting the drinking fountain or carrying around a water bottle, the empty void in your stomach is likely because you aren’t drinking enough water throughout the day. Before hitting the vending machine, guzzle a glass of water and wait for a bit. You may find your desire to eat has vanished. If hydrating is a struggle because of the relative lack of flavor, try adding some sliced lemons or cucumbers to your H2O.
5. Find your smartest snacking strategy
Prepare to get really confused. Snacking throughout the day as opposed to a standard three-meal-a-day plan has been touted as one of the best ways to keep hunger at bay and prevent overeating for years — and some studies agree. This one from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found adolescents who regularly snacked were less likely to be overweight. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
A study published in the August 2015 issue of Eating Behaviors showed that too much snacking can lead to weight gain. For many, figuring out the appropriate foods and amounts to eat between meals is difficult, so you have to experiment a little. If eating mini-meals throughout the day has you munching handful after handful, then it may not be the best strategy. However, those who find munching throughout the day helpful need to make sure they’re sticking with healthy foods. Try popcorn, trail mix, or rice chips. Find what works for you and stick with it.
6. Sleep more
Americans are constantly told to get more sleep because it benefits everything from productivity to their overall longevity. It’s also crucial for those looking to keep excess pounds off their frame. A 2010 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine reported insufficient sleep can make it more difficult to lose weight.
The other problem with spending so many hours awake is that you’re going to get hungry sooner or later. Not surprisingly, most people reach for unhealthy food late at night. One study highlighted the effect by recording how sleep-deprived individuals responded to images of various foods. The researchers found these subjects were more likely to crave high-calorie foods typically associated with weight gain.
7. Shop the way you want to eat
Your regular trips to the grocery store can help or hurt your weight loss, so it’s up to you to make smart choices. One of the simplest and most effective ways to do this is to make a list and stick to it. You’ll get all the essentials without loading up on cookies, chips, or other high-calorie eats. If you don’t have these types of junk food in your house, you won’t be able to eat them — and it’s unlikely you’ll be willing to head to the store specifically to buy something sinful when a craving strikes.