Losing unwanted weight -- from counting calories to moving muscles -- is one tough battle. Should you relax once you hit your mark on the scale? Not exactly. The work it takes to keep pounds off is often shortchanged by the focus on trimming down in the first place.
"Maintenance is even harder than losing weight," says Molly Gee, M.Ed., R.D., a behavioral interventionist with the National Institutes of Health's Action for Health in Diabetes (Look AHEAD) study at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Gee and other leading weight control experts say, however, there are proven strategies for success.
Why pounds return
Research shows that packing on extra pounds can set off a chain of events that leads to insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes. These metabolic changes can't totally be reversed by weight loss because the body's preservation instinct kicks in and holds on to the extra pounds.
"The biologic systems that regulate weight are complex, and we've still got a lot to learn," says Karen Miller-Kovach, R.D., chief scientific officer with Weight Watchers International. On a positive note, she says, people who successfully lose and keep off weight report that staying slim takes less effort over time.
Weight maintenance is possible
Miller-Kovach dispels the notion that weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) wrecks a person's metabolism. It's not a good idea, however, from a psychological perspective. Repeated weight loss-and-gain cycles can undermine your self-efficacy -- the belief that you can control your weight. Strong self-efficacy promotes weight loss.
And what about the idea that it's harder for people with type 2 diabetes and/or insulin resistance to lose and keep off weight? Though this observation is made by clinicians, the Look AHEAD study in people with type 2 diabetes (for six years, on average) shows that with intensive lifestyle changes (consuming fewer calories and fat grams, and engaging in 175 minutes of physical activity each week), people with diabetes can take and keep off medically significant amounts of weight, Miller-Kovach says.
Food and physical activity
The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), online at nwcr.ws, was initiated 15 years ago by two leading obesity researchers, Rena Wing, Ph.D., and James Hill, Ph.D. They have tracked information from more than 5,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for one year or longer. On the food front, their conclusions are to watch your calories, trim fat grams, and eat breakfast daily. When it comes to activity, do it regularly and a lot of it -- 60 to 90 minutes a day -- and minimize sedentary activities such as watching TV.