Keeping the Weight Off

Losing weight isn't the toughest part of the diet wars; keeping the weight off permanently is. Here's how to do it.

By Kristyn Kusek Lewis
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A few years ago, Lewis and her husband left rural Minnesota for a high-rise in Baltimore, where a harbor promenade starts right outside their front door. The unintended but much welcomed side effect was a 14-pound loss. "In the country, I could just let the dog out the back door," Lewis says. "Now I have to walk her, so we do two-and-a-half miles every morning." Being less dependent on a car also makes a big difference: "Now we walk to dinner instead of driving everywhere -- why bother dealing with parking?" she says.

The neighborhood-waistline link is an emerging area of obesity research. A 2003 study found that people who live in the most walkable communities are on average six pounds lighter than those in the most sprawling suburbs. Another survey of nearly 11,000 Atlanta residents found that those who spent the most time in cars were more likely to be obese than those who walked to shops and offices. "Traveling by foot is a painless way to keep weight off," Hensrud says.

"I plan ahead."

Lisa Skiles, 44, Evansville, Indiana

Lost: 102 pounds

Maintained for: Six years

For most of her adult life, Skiles struggled against what people called her big-boned frame. Since losing weight with the help of a diet program, she has maintained her impressive loss through careful planning. Rule one: She decides what she'll eat that day when she gets up in the morning. "Lunch with a friend means I'll eat more than normal, so I'll plan on a light dinner," Skiles says.

Skiles also knows her order before she walks into a restaurant, so the menu doesn't tempt her. And she fits in a few higher-calorie choices too: "If I want dessert, I skip the refined carbs at my main meal."

Judith Beck, PhD, author of The Beck Diet Solution, says spontaneous eating may mean you'll choose foods based on cravings, which usually means higher-calorie foods. Eating small portions of favorite foods is also key, according to Beck, 53, who has maintained a 15-pound weight loss for 10 years: "I like a treat at night, so I allow myself up to 250 calories of whatever I want. The trick is limiting it to after dinner, which motivates me to eat healthy the rest of the day."

"I hired a weight-loss coach."

Debbie Chabot, 48, West Dover, Vermont

Lost: 11 pounds

Maintained for: One year

Chabot tried every weight-loss scheme imaginable, and then she found a diet coaching service online. During weekly 30-minute phone calls, her coach helped her identify unhealthy eating patterns and gave her a safe place to talk about her insecurities regarding her weight. Before that, "I never had a person who cheered on my successes or guided me if I got off track," says Chabot, who still checks in with her coach every week or so.

Having a cheerleader can be a big asset for weight maintenance. A new study found that dieters who had social support from family and friends lost more weight over an 18-month period than those who didn't.

"I slowly ramped up my exercise routine."

Leslie Adler, 42, Jericho, New York

Lost: 20 pounds

Maintained for: 10 years

"I'm not a salad-every-day person. I live to eat," Adler says, who lost weight by focusing on exercise instead of diet. "I was a jock growing up, so after I had kids and attempted to start exercising again, I thought I could go from zero to 60. I'd get so frustrated with how out of shape I was that I'd quit. What worked for me was starting out just two days a week and moving steadily from there."

Adler began by jogging with her husband, graduating from around the block to five-mile runs. Then she joined a gym and worked with a trainer. Now she combines twice-a-week weight training with a cardio free-for-all the rest of the week: "We're big on two-on-two basketball in the driveway," she says.

Daily activity is essential: 91 percent of NWCR participants exercise for an hour a day, usually walking. If you don't exercise, start with 10-minute walking sessions until you've built up to 30 minutes every other day. Once you're in the habit, revamp every six weeks by varying the routine: work out at a more intense pace, or try a new activity.

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