Weight Maintenance: Keep Your Summer Body (cont.)

"When it becomes a habit, it is an excellent tool for managing daily activities and food intake," he says.

Weighing regularly can be an excellent motivator. But if you become overly emotional and discouraged by the numbers on the scale, it can do more harm than good.

"Do what works best for you, but don't let the scale control you or make you crazy," says Pat Baird, RD, a member of the National Weight Control Registry who lost over 80 pounds and has kept it off for over a decade.

"I tell my clients to weigh in at least every couple days so when you see you are gaining weight, you can nip it in the bud immediately, before it becomes a problem," she says.

Figure out how frequently you need to weigh yourself to best guide your food choices and activity level, Fletcher advises. "And have a concrete plan on how you are going to handle it when you regain 3-5 pounds."

Celebrate the Benefits

Another secret to keeping weight off, experts say, is never to forget why you lost it in the first place.

"A great way to stay motivated is to keep a journal of the pros and cons of how you felt in mind, body, and spirit before the weight loss, and how you feel now at a healthier weight," says Fletcher.

This technique keeps the focus on the benefits of weight loss -- from improved health to more energy, from better sleep to a smaller clothing size.

"The 'masters' find ... vivid pictures in their minds of the pain or struggles they experienced when they were heavier -- such as the intimidation of not fitting into an airline seat -- and contrast that to how great their life is now," Fletcher says.

Baird has her clients reward themselves with tangible items that serve as constant reminders of their success.

"Buy yourself a paperweight or key chain or something that every time you see it, you feel a sense of accomplishment," she suggests.

Write It Down

All the experts who spoke to WebMD agree that the act of writing down the foods you eat, your physical activity, and your weigh-in results is an excellent tool for weight maintenance.

The simple act of writing it down helps you monitor your eating and exercise habits.

"You don't have to do it every day, especially if you are maintaining your weight, but when you start gaining, this technique is very useful because it creates awareness," says Hill.

3 Weight Control Strategies

When it comes to weight control, one size does not fit all. The experts who spoke to WebMD suggested three different diet strategies:

1. Make it personal.

"Over the years, I have become much more flexible about weight control guidelines," says Baird.

The best predictor of success is to do whatever works for you and let it become a part of your lifestyle -- as long as it is sensible, she says.

"A sensible plan allows you to enjoy your favorite foods and is not a starvation or crazy fad diet," Baird says. "Years ago, I would have never thought some dietary patterns could be successful, but my personal experience and failures, along with my clients', have taught me that sensible, personalized plans work best."

2. Balance protein, fats, and carbs.

Another school of thought from the research camp suggests a more defined pattern of nutrients. Having a little more protein and less fat can keep you feeling satisfied and thus help with weight control, some experts say.

"Our research has shown that the folks that control their weights best follow a pattern of 24% fat, 56% carbohydrates, and 20% protein," says Foreyt.

3. Focus on fitness and portion control.

A third recommendation focuses on exercise and portion control.

"Diet alone does not work, and if you make physical activity your primary focus, you can be more flexible with your food choices and portions," says Hill. "Members of the Registry who have successfully lost and maintained sizeable amounts of weight average 60 minutes of exercise a day, and that gives them more freedom and diet leeway."

It may be more important to evaluate how much you're eating than what you're eating, he says.

"When you start gaining weight, go back and look at your portion sizes," says Hill. "Just reducing portion sizes alone is usually all you need to do to get back on track."

He also recommends eating breakfast every day, to help manage calories and hunger throughout the day.

Eternal Vigilance

It's important to expect slip-ups, and not to be too hard on yourself when they happen, the experts say. If you have a bad day, just get back on track as soon as you can, and do your best to learn from your mistakes.

Some experts suggest it is harder to maintain a weight loss than to lose it in the first place.

"The compliments and the excitement of losing weight are gone, yet the need to control your food intake and exercise daily is a never-ending commitment," says Foreyt.

His mantra is that it requires "eternal vigilance" to maintain weight.

"You must always be mindful of what you put into your mouth and stay vigilant in your commitment to healthy behaviors, so when you slip, you can rely on all these tools to help get you back on track," he says.

Published September 01, 2006.

SOURCES: James Hill, PhD, director, Center of Human Nutrition, University of Colorado; co-founder, National Weight Control Registry; co-founder, America on the Move. John Foreyt, PhD, director, Behavioral Medicine Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine. Anne Fletcher, MS, RD, author, Thin for Life book series. Pat Baird, MA, RD, nutrition consultant and speaker.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Last Editorial Review: 8/31/2006