If you’re like most people, you’ve tried many times to lose weight through diet and exercise. You succeed at first, but after a while your determination slumps and you start spending more time on the couch and slipping back into your old eating habits. But that doesn’t mean you are destined to fail. A variety of strategies can help you stay motivated and boost your chances of success with your weight-loss plan.
Interviews with people who lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least one year reveal a number of practices most of them follow. These tips are from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), which was created as a way to learn more about the habits and behaviors of successful dieters. It includes more than 10,000 adults. Besides counting calories and watching their fat intake, dieters say they eat breakfast every day, weigh themselves at least once a week, exercise, on average, an hour each day, and watch less than 10 hours of television each week.
Here are eight more strategies that can help you stick with your weight loss plan for the long term:
1. Make a list. Write down all the benefits of exercise, healthy eating and weight loss that you can think of, and reread it often. Some things you may want to include are how you’ll reduce your risk of disease, sleep more soundly, gain self-confidence, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels and be in better shape for other activities such as playing with your grandchildren or doing yardwork or housework. You may even want to write a motivational letter to yourself to read when you’re tempted to fall back into your old, unhealthy habits.
2. Choose what you enjoy. Engage in activities and eat healthy foods that you like. If you’re not fond of swimming, you probably won’t stick with a plan to hit the pool three times a week. The same goes for food—if you can’t stand the taste of blueberries, you’ll be unlikely to eat them with your breakfast cereal every morning, no matter how healthy they are.
3. Step onto the scale regularly. Although most of the successful NWCR participants report weighing themselves weekly, there’s ample evidence to suggest that more frequent weigh-ins are a good idea, too. A recent example comes from a six-month study of 91 adults reported in 2015 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The researchers found that participants who weighed themselves daily lost significantly more than those who weighed themselves one to five days a week—13 pounds and 6 pounds, respectively.
Not only do daily weigh-ins offer positive reinforcement when behavioral changes lead to weight loss, but they also can help you detect small increases in weight early. That way, you can adjust your eating and physical activity immediately to keep the pounds from adding up.
4. Don’t tempt yourself. It may be easier to resist sweets and other tempting snacks if they’re not in plain sight, according to a 2015 study in the International Journal of Obesity. Researchers conducted a two-hour home visit with 100 people between ages 20 and 78, half of whom were obese. During the home visit, investigators asked the participants about their food consumption habits. They also assessed layout and food storage in the homes, including the distance between favorite places in the house and where food was stored. The investigators found that compared to people who were not obese, those who were generally ate more sweets and other less healthy foods. And, while the amount of food in the homes was similar, people who were obese kept more food visible and in easily accessible locations outside the kitchen.
5. Write it down. Keeping an exercise log and a food and weight diary are proven ways to enhance your chances for long-term weight loss plan success. Although you can log your information on paper, you may want to look into the exercise tracking tools available online. Alternatively, you can download an app (many apps also have an online component).
If you choose an app, look for one that allows you to set weight loss and exercise goals and track your progress. According to a 2013 article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, other useful evidence-based weight loss plans to look for in an app include automatic physical activity tracking, online social networks, a calendar function to schedule exercise, a place to record your thoughts and stress levels, and email or phone alert prompts and reminders.
6. Get counseling. Important lessons on long-term weight loss come from the Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) investigators. This landmark study—the largest and longest randomized controlled trial of behavioral interventions for weight loss—found that people who sustained a 10 percent or greater reduction for up to eight years (dubbed “super weight maintainers”) practiced several of the key weight-control behaviors used by the NWCR participants.
In addition, they attended significantly more treatment sessions with counselors during an intensive lifestyle intervention than people who lost less weight. This finding strongly suggests that regularly working with a counselor, who can provide psychological support and assist with setting goals and other healthful behaviors, is an important key to helping you keep lost pounds from returning.
If you haven’t reached your weight loss goal and your BMI is 30 mg/kg or higher, you are eligible for free intensive behavioral counseling under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. If your primary care doctor doesn’t offer intensive counseling, he or she can refer you to another qualified provider, such as a dietitian or nutritionist.
7. Seek rewards. Set weekly goals, and pamper yourself with nonfood rewards when you meet them. For example, treat yourself to a new piece of exercise clothing or download a favorite song or book when you exercise three times a week. Long-term rewards, such as tickets to a Major League Baseball game or a weekend at a fitness-focused spa, also can help keep you on track.
Financial rewards can be an effective weight loss motivator, too, according to a 2015 study published in Obesity. Researchers found that small financial incentives significantly improved initial weight loss and increased the proportion of participants who lost at least 5 percent of their weight by the end of the six-month study. The incentives were $45 paid out over the course of the study to participants who reported their weight, calories consumed and physical activity online. In addition, participants who lost at least 5 percent of their starting weight were entered into a $50 or $100 raffle.
If there’s not a similar program in your area, consider an online option, such as stickK.com. Here you can set your weight loss goal and a length of time in which to reach it. Then you decide how much money you’re willing to bet on your ability to reach that goal. The real motivator—you keep the money only if you’re successful. If you’re not, the money automatically goes to a person or a charity you designated at sign-up. If you want an even greater incentive, choose a charity whose goals you don’t support.
Looking for a less “techie” option? Pay yourself. For example, place a dollar in a jar when you choose an apple over a slice of apple pie or when you take a walk instead of sitting on the couch watching television.
8. Redefine success. If your goal is to lose 10 percent or more of your weight but you lose 5 percent instead, you might be disappointed and go back to your old ways. But, believe it or not, “just” 5 percent could make a difference in your overall health. Data from the Look AHEAD trial suggests that maintaining a weight loss of 5 percent or more leads to changes that have the potential to help you keep your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.