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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How to Keep the Weight Off -- for Good

We've all been there: You lose weight for a personal resolution or special occasion, and you feel empowered and encouraged. But before you know it, diet and exercise become the balls you can't keep in the air during your daily juggle, and the scale creeps back up to that number you thought you'd seen the last of.

Study after study finds that the majority of dieters regain everything they've lost -- and often more. Unfortunately, this struggle only proves harder as time goes by. "As we age, we start to lose our muscle mass, which slows metabolism," says Donald Hensrud, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "In women, weight maintenance can be especially difficult after 40 because the estrogen loss associated with menopause leads to a tendency to gain more weight around the middle."

So what does it take to lose weight and keep it off? That's what researchers for the National Weight Control Registry have been investigating for more than a decade. Its database includes 6,000 people who've lost at least 30 pounds and kept them off for a year or more. We talked to 10 women, ranging in age from 42 to over 60, who've used NWCR's successful techniques (along with creative approaches of their own) to slim down for good.

"I limit the variety of foods I eat."

Cynthia McKay, 53, Parker, Colorado

Lost: 25 pounds

Maintained for: 19 months

As CEO of a gourmet foods company, McKay is surrounded by temptation. Her solution is to eat several small meals of the same few satiating combinations of protein and healthy carbs every day. Breakfast is fruit and yogurt or whole-grain Cheerios and skim milk. Daytime meals include canned tuna on a whole wheat roll, small portions of cheese and fruit, or a low-fat cookie and skim milk. Dinner is a sensible portion of whatever she wants -- even two slices of pizza.

Call it the Groundhog Day approach: A University of Buffalo review of 58 studies concluded that eating fewer foods or flavors bores the taste buds, leading to satisfaction with less. The reverse is also true: When offered several flavors or a new flavor, we overeat, which is why it's so easy to make room for dessert even on a full stomach.

One NWCR study found maintainers also restrict the variety of high-fat treats they consume. If you limit your junk food quotient to just a couple of foods (say, nacho chips and mint chocolate chip ice cream), the lures aren't endless.

"I weigh myself every day."

Jennefer Witter, 46, The Bronx, New York

Lost: 30 pounds

Maintained for: 16 years

"I was thin until I turned 30, when I seemed to put on 30 pounds overnight," Witter says. "I even accused my dry cleaner of shrinking my clothes!" She lost the weight by working with a nutritionist, and weigh-ins after her 30-minute cardio and weight-training sessions have kept her trim since. "I get on the scale virtually every morning," she says. NWCR members say regular self-weighing is crucial: 75 percent climb on the scale at least once a week, and half weigh in daily. "People try to track their weight by how their clothes feel, but by the time your pants are tight, you may have gained 10 pounds," says NWCR cofounder Rena Wing.

The key to daily weighing is not to overreact. Your weight can fluctuate by up to four pounds on any given day. Instead, notice patterns: "I don't freak out if I'm suddenly two pounds up. But if the number steadily climbs, I add 10 extra minutes of cardio to my workout until the weight comes back down," Witter says.

"I moved to the city."

Anne Lewis, 58, Baltimore, Maryland

Lost: 14 pounds

Maintained for: Three years

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