People who have successfully lost weight share their tips and healthy habits for keeping their weight off long term – including eating healthily, exercising, and setting daily goals

Many people struggle to withhold long term success of keeping weight off, often changing back to old habits once results gradually begin to slow. A new study analyses the habits and opinions of people continue who keep weight off.

With over 6,000 study participants – who lost more than 50 pounds and kept the weight off more than three years – the study was powered by machine learning, revealing some secrets to how people lose weight and keep it off, persevering despite potential setbacks.

Participants stated they regularly looked back at what their life was like before the weight loss, and remained focused on their health.

One in five Americans who have lost weight have kept those pounds off long-term

Published in the journal Obesity: The Journal of The Obesity Societythis is the first large-scale study that allowed weight loss maintainers to identify in their own words what helped them succeed.

The majority of the weight-loss maintainers reported eating a low-calorie diet, engaging in high levels of physical activity, frequent self-monitoring, problem solving, setting daily intake goals, and limiting sitting time, as their main solutions to their weight maintenance.

By not having unhealthy food in the house, people were more likely to eat the food available – often keeping low-calorie foods accessible as the only option, to prevent binging.

Additionally, psychological strategies, including cognitive restraint and frequent practice of healthy coping skills such as “thinking about past successes” and “remaining positive in the face of weight regain”, were found to be helpful when considering food and exercise habits.

“Someone’s mindset and perspective are crucial to help them build healthy habits and drive sustainable weight loss and management”

The weight-loss maintainers also characterised “sources of tension”, such as old habits and impulses, pleasure, discomfort in new body image, which could potentially disrupt weight-maintenance success by identifying several strategies to manage this tension: like self-regulation skills, or reduce it through developing automaticity, changing beliefs and self-concept.

Essentially, pre-planning events where potential failure could happen remained effective – such as noting days where you have events like a party, where eating unhealthy could occur – as people were more likely to continue their weight-loss journey after predicting failure, rather than simply giving up.

By answering open-ended questions about their motivations, both past and present, and strategies for maintaining weight loss and the resulting lifestyle changes, the researchers used machine learning to group responses by topic.

Suzanne Phelan, a professor in Cal Poly’s Kinesiology and Public Health Department, who led the study, said: “One of the most impressive findings was how weight-loss maintainers described perseverance in the face of setbacks.

“Weight-loss maintainers saw setbacks as part of their successful journey. Setbacks were not described as failures. They were seen as a temporary interruption in their path. Many weight-loss maintainers described getting back on track at the next meal or the next day and measuring overall success based on long-term goals.”

What motivations did people have to lose weight?

Results from the open-ended study revealed additional insights into the motivations behind losing weight and keeping it off. Respondents often answered with regards to health issues like diabetes and heart conditions.

Others discussed their concerns with their mobility, appearance, suggestions from family or friends and the need for change because they often felt tired and void of energy.

Overall, respondents said that perseverance was essential in overcoming the inevitable setbacks – encouraging others to take the journey day by day, use weight-loss workshops to “mentally reset” after difficult weeks and embrace long-term – realistic – goals.

They believed that the most important changes include reduced pain, medical status, confidence, feeling more at ease and comfortable mentally and physically, fitness and body image.

Respondents described the consequences of successful weight loss as challenges mostly from the cost of buying new clothes, unexpected criticism from others, sagging skin and the effort needed to keep up a healthy lifestyle.

Additionally, weight-loss maintainers consistently described tracking food intake as an essential skill within a healthy lifestyle.

Phelan stated: “As a lifestyle interventionist and researcher, I’m excited to think about how to promote perseverance, encourage tracking of intake and make changes in medical status more salient during the weight-loss journey.”

Gary Foster, co-author of the study and chief scientific officer at WW, said: “At WW and throughout my clinical experience, I’ve seen firsthand that someone’s mindset and perspective are crucial to help them build healthy habits and drive sustainable weight loss and management.

“We hope that these findings encourage other people going through a similar journey and equip them with the tools that they need to optimize their own success.”


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