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How To Lose Weight So It Stays Off, 10 Simple Steps Based on Science

How To Lose Weight So It Stays Off, 10 Simple Steps Based on Science

  • The best ways to lose weight and keep it off, according to science. Follow simple steps to stay realistic, flexible, & focused to keep the weight off for good.

Are you tired of losing and regaining the same weight?

Instead of finding the “right” diet, build your skills with these simple steps.

They will guide you in making your plan realistic for the long-term so you will lose weight for the last time.

Step 1: Redefine How You Diet

Dieters lose weight while they are dieting and regain weight long-term [1].

Diet plans are not meant to be lifetime plans. They restrict food to create an energy deficit[2] which slows metabolism.

When you just can’t stay on the diet any longer, you gain weight more easily due to a slower metabolism.

Redefine dieting from “eating as little as possible” to “eating the right amount.” You can stick to a plan that creates an energy deficit when it doesn’t leave you hungry or deprived. Eat when you’re hungry, stop before you’re stuffed, fill up on high-volume, low-calorie foods – yes, those non-starchy vegetables – and include foods you love.

Step 2: Manage Your Expectations

We expect fast weight loss because of diet advertising. Fast loss requires drastic changes, which are difficult to maintain.

Don’t use weight loss calculators. They over-predict loss. A sustainable rate of weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week. When you start a new plan or if you have more weight to lose, you will lose more during the first few weeks. The less weight you have to lose, the slower you will lose it[2].

Accept that you won’t lose weight every week. In fact, your weight may go up first as your metabolism resets if you have been following restrictive diets. Weigh in less often if your weight affects your mood or behaviors.

Step 3: Create your Own Nutrition Plan or Find One That Matches Your Preferences

You must change the way you eat if you want to change your weight[3]. There is no best diet plan[2]; but there is a plan that is best for you.

Your best plan is the one that includes foods you like, doesn’t make you eat food you don’t like, and fits with how often you like to eat, your schedule, your cooking skills, and your budget.

Step 4: Add Daily Purposeful Activity

Exercise is important for keeping off the weight you lose[3] and it can help with weight loss. It can increase muscle mass, which increases metabolism slightly, and you will burn calories during and after exercising[4].

Build up to 60 minutes a day of exercise to keep weight off. Don’t worry about which exercise is best. You can keep it as simple as brisk walking[3]. The most important thing is to find an activity you enjoy so you continue to do it.

Step 5: Set Two Types of Goals

Goal setting is critical for weight loss[2]. First, set a product goal. This is the long-term outcome that you want. For example, I will lose 25 pounds.

Next, set process goals to get you there. Process goals are things you do to reach your product goal. Make short-term goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed[5].

For example, to lose 25 pounds, I will drink 80 ounces of water, fill half my plate with vegetables, and exercise for 30 minutes. These goals become your focus instead of watching the scale.

Step 6: Monitor your Efforts

Tracking increases your chances of success[1][2]. Writing things down keeps you consistent and you won’t forget what you decided to do. It also helps you see patterns, so you know what works well. Or see what doesn’t work well, so you can figure out how to work through those challenging times.

Track your product goal, your weight, while you are losing and afterwards. People who continue weighing in after reaching their weight loss goal are more likely to keep the weight off[1].

Also track your process goals as these are the daily behaviors that get you to your product goal. You can track many things when you are trying to lose weight including food, exercise, water, mood, or self-talk[6].

Step 7: Set Your Environment Up to Make the Healthy Choice Easier

Willpower runs out and we default to our typical habits. This is why 3-5pm can be such a difficult time to get through.

Scan your environment. Look around at home, at work, in your car, any place where you spend a fair amount of time. Identify your triggers, such as people, events, feelings, or time of day. Then reduce the triggers or replace your typical choice with a healthier choice[2][6].

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Step 8: Find Support

People are more successful when their partner supports their efforts[1][2]. If people close to you do not support your goals, find accountability partners.

These are people that you can reach out to for help and offer to give help. You can find support in-person or in online communities[6].

Step 9: Manage your Lapses

Lapses are times when you struggle to reach your goals and may temporarily stop your efforts. It is not a matter of if this will happen, but when.

Accept that lapses are a natural part of the process[2]. Shift your focus so that you learn from these experiences instead of feeling bad. You only fail when you stop trying.

Step 10: Increase Variety

Boredom is one of the main reasons people stop following their plans. Ask yourself if you will get bored eating these same meals or doing the same exercises forever. Chances are good your answer will be yes.

Plan to increase variety by trying new recipes or new types of exercises. This will keep your interest and make it easier to follow your plan long-term.

The Bottom Line

Did you notice these steps are more focused on lifestyle change strategies than on food and exercise plans?

To keep weight off long-term, you must follow nutrition and exercise plans that fit your lifestyle and preferences.

Then use these simple steps to stay realistic, flexible, and focused to keep the weight off for good.


[1] Middleton, KR, Anton SD, Perri MG. Long-Term Adherence to Health Behavior Change. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2013 Nov; 7(6): 395-404. doi: 10.1177/1559827613488867
[2] Muth, ND. Practical Applications in Nutrition for Weight Management. (n.d.) American Council on Exercise, Certified Weight Management Specialist Program.
[3] The National Weight Control Registry. Accessed December 23, 2019.
[4] Milanovic, Z, Sporis G, Weston M. Effectiveness of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) and Continuous Endurance Training for VO2max Improvements: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials. Sports Med. 2015 Oct; 45(10): 1469-81. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0365-0.
[5] Ross, J. Programming: Small Wins! (n.d.) American Council on Exercise, Certified Weight Management Specialist Program.
[6] U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Healthy Habits for Weight Loss. Accessed 12/24/2019.
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