Keep Your Summer Body All Year Long

Learn the secrets of weight maintenance and avoid winter weight gain.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Warm weather, skimpier clothing, and the prospect of wearing a bathing suit are often motivation enough to help get you into shape for the summer. But what happens when frolicking at the beach is only a memory? You can maintain your summer-svelte figure all winter long if you know what it takes to stay the course of weight maintenance.

It's so easy to fall back into bad habits - you eat a little more, exercise a little less, and before you know it, the weight creeps on. By the time you notice those extra pounds it's nearly holiday season, so you decide to wait until after Jan. 1 to try to lose weight. Sound familiar?

If you're tired of the annual weight-gain cycle, let this be the year you maintain your summer figure all year long. WebMD consulted four weight maintenance experts to learn what it takes to be a successful loser, once and for all.

Examine Your Habits

Successful maintainers don't make arbitrary distinctions between seasons or times of year, says Anne Fletcher, registered dietitian and author of the Thin for Life books.

"It is not about the time of year, but instead a way of thinking and a way of life that keeps the weight off," she says.

For the past 16 years, Fletcher has been researching and writing books on successful weight maintainers, whom she calls the "masters." When she asks them how they are different from other people who have lost weight and then regained it, they overwhelmingly say they could not go back to their old ways.

"They finally got to a point where they no longer wanted to look or feel the way they did, and this mindset became critical to establishing new and healthier behaviors for life," explains Fletcher.

Her advice: Look at the behaviors or habits that helped you lose weight. What were you able to do in the summer that helped you lose the weight? Be very specific about the helpful behaviors, and write them down in a journal to help you clearly define how you'll keep up the good work.

If, for example, you ate cherries instead of high-calorie desserts and started swimming laps when the weather turned warm, Fletcher suggests finding winter fruits that satisfy, and seeking out an indoor pool to continue the activity you enjoyed.

Keep Moving

Don't underestimate the role of exercise in weight maintenance, the experts advise.

"The biggest mistake people make is not emphasizing physical activity enough," says John Foreyt, PhD, director of Baylor College of Medicine's behavioral research center. "It is the No. 1 predictor of successful weight maintenance."

To keep the weight off, you need to do something physical every day -- such as brisk walking -- for 60 minutes, Foreyt says.

And don't be intimidated by the 60-minute recommendation. It works just as well to exercise in shorter increments throughout the day.

Healthy eating habits are important, but diet alone won't do the trick, says James Hill, PhD, co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry.

"Start with exercise you can live with," suggests Hill, director of the Center of Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado. "Most people walk, but you may prefer other kinds of fitness.

"Walking is a baseline," he adds. "To get additional benefits, notch it up to moderate or vigorous aerobic activity and add in resistance training on occasion,"

The bottom line is that the longer and more vigorously you exercise, the better. And the benefits of regular activity go beyond weight control.

"Regular physical activity reduces stress, strengthens muscles and bones, energizes, reduces the risk of chronic disease, and makes you feel good," says Hill.

Weigh In Regularly

Weight can fluctuate on a daily basis. But if you are committed to weighing yourself regularly, you will know when you're gaining.

There's some controversy over just how frequently you should weigh yourself, but experts agree it's important to weigh in at least once a week.

Research suggests that regular weighing is the second most important behavior for maintaining weight loss (after exercise), Foreyt says. He recommends doing it every day.