Weightloss: 4 Keys to Weight Loss Success (cont.)

But what about protein diets? People using protein diets can and often do lose weight. The fact is that you can probably lose weight on any of the major diet plans, and Registry members slimmed down employing all sorts of different approaches.

However, what we've found is that people who are successful at maintaining their weight loss eat a low-fat and high-carbohydrate diet. So while a protein diet may be good for losing weight, it may not be the best for long-term weight maintenance.

Exercise Every Day

Exercise is key to maintaining your weight loss and it's probably more important than diet. On average, people in the Registry exercise between an hour and an hour and a half a day. Yes, that's a lot. But before you despair, it's not as bad as it sounds.

First, many of the people break up their exercise throughout the day instead of doing a single, marathon work-out session. Second, one of the most common methods of exercise is walking, which is easy to incorporate into your day.

If you're just starting out, it's important to begin slowly. Starting too fast can cause pulled muscles and discouragement. Instead, gradually work up to a full hour. Alternatively, you can increase your number of steps. Get a pedometer, or step counter, and record the number of steps you take in an average day. Then slowly increase them.

An hour or an hour and a half every day is a lot of time. But look at it this way: if you could lose weight and keep it off for the rest of your life with just an hour or so of exercise a day, would it be worth it? A lot of people say yes.

Eat Breakfast Every Day

Although some people try to lose weight by cutting down on the number of meals they eat, that really isn't a good strategy. Skipping meals often just means that you'll be starving later and wind up overeating. Starting the day with breakfast can help prevent that, and on average, members of the Registry eat breakfast every day. A daily breakfast may also be a sign of the discipline that Registry members bring to how they eat. Being careful about when you eat may also help make you conscious of what you eat.

Keep Track of Your Weight and Eating

This is a behavior shared by weight maintainers that runs against common wisdom. Many people have argued that weighing yourself regularly can put too much emphasis on weight rather than fitness.

We don't know exactly why regular weighing is a common characteristic of people who've been successful at maintaining their weight, but we speculate that people use their scales as an early warning system. People who weigh themselves regularly will notice quickly if they have gained a few pounds and can then implement some strategies to prevent gaining more.

Checking your weight less often can mean that you might wake up one morning and discover that you gained 10 pounds. That can be pretty discouraging, and it might cause you to just give up.

The Myth of Painless Weight Loss

One thing that people in the Registry tell us again and again is that weight loss and weight maintenance is not easy: it's hard work. Diet programs that advertise easy or painless weight loss and weight maintenance tend to fail in the long run. A lot of the people in the Registry tell us that they only lost their weight after they gave up on the "painless" methods.

The problem for many people is that they work hard at losing weight but then don't have the skills to maintain that weight loss. We've found that the best way to do that is to exercise and eat carefully for the rest of your life.

That may sound tough, and it is. But when we ask people on the Registry, they say losing the weight was worth it, and that it actually got easier over time. Getting to a lower weight has made their lives better, and it can make yours better, too.

Originally published Aug. 18, 2003.
Medically updated October 2004.

James O. Hill, PhD, is director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and a professor of pediatric medicine. He and a colleague, Rena Wing, PhD, established the National Weight Control Registry in 1993.

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