Common Themes in Weight Loss
That does not mean that making some generalizations is out of the question. A number of approaches to weight loss are shared among many. For instance, people who are successful at keeping off lost weight do not appear to follow regimens that eliminate whole food groups or advise unusual combinations of food.
Many people who lost weight came to the realization that the only way it was going to work was for them to eat less food. Yes, it is possible to eat a greater volume of food than you have been eating and still lose weight. Whole books have been written about it, but it entails eating
of vegetables and fruits and what many would consider painfully small portions of protein-rich foods like meat and starch-rich items like bread and pasta. Most people, it appears, worked it out by eating less food all around—not huge amounts of one thing and tiny portions of another.
Other generalities about losing weight:
You have to be able to deal with at least a little hunger—at least at first. Most weight-loss books sell themselves on the notion that you do not have to endure any hunger to shed pounds, but that does not describe people's experiences.
Marion Nestle, someone who lost 10 pounds when her physician told her she had
, recalls that the first weekend was "really rough." I, too, struggled at first with the hunger from meal to meal. It took a little while for my body to adjust.
Anne Fletcher, a dietitian who surveyed more than 200 people who lost weight and kept it off for her
Thin for Life
book series, concludes that dealing with hunger is a matter of "learning to trade off momentary pleasure for long-term satisfaction." She says people learn to tell themselves, "'I can wait another hour until supper time."
It helps to feel psyched. Many successful weight losers seem to devote a great deal of mental energy to staying with the program. I remember when I was losing weight that there was no budging me from my plan; I was really "pumped."
Mary Lou Klem, a project director for the Weight Control Registry, says the registry's enrollees were not asked specifically about how psyched they felt. But the registry does say they reported that they were "more committed to make changes, more committed to losing weight."
It is important to keep on top of it. Losing weight is not something people can do without devoting considerable attention to it. It does not just happen. Rather, it takes a certain mindfulness, or even hypervigilance. Weight Control Registry members report having used "more intensive approaches…on the successful attempt," note the registry keepers in an article in a study. Specifically, more than 60% said they incorporated a stricter dietary approach, while more than 80% noted that they exercised more.
The Marine-like toughness does not necessarily have to last forever. I suspect that what happens with a lot of people who lose weight is what happened with me. At first, you have got to be super-vigilant and firm with yourself. But then, as you lose weight and your body requires fewer calories to support its smaller size—and you get back in better touch with your physiologic appetite—you can go a little easier on yourself.
Weight Control Registrants corroborate my experience by reporting that they find keeping off their weight easier than losing it in the first place.
That said, however, it should be noted that not everybody's body responds to strict dieting. It is in part for that reason, in fact, that my sister-in-law, Tricia, a large woman who comes from a family where people put on weight easily, decided
to try to slim down. "If I were a size 12," she comments, "I would be thrilled. But I'm not, and that's okay. My priority is to stay healthy."
And she does. At her last physical, her cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and other vital signs were all within the normal range.
Eating regular meals is the way to go. Eating patterns reported by Weight Control Registrants suggest a habit of having regular meals. That is not to say they do not snack; they eat an average of about five times a day. But very few eat less than, say, twice a day. An average of three meals a week are eaten at restaurants.
Exercising will help—up to a point. Exercise is an important piece to weight loss, but it takes more than exercising. Consider that when a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Task Force set guidelines for losing weight a few of years ago, it said that people wanting to shed pounds should create a calorie deficit of 500-1,000 calories a day. Walking
with moderately intensity for 30-45 minutes can expend about 100-200 calories. However, the bulk of the calorie deficit comes from eating less food.
While exercise alone does not just melt off the pounds the way many people assume, it is important to note that vigorous physical activity is a great motivator in a weight-control effort. It is also great at helping to keep the weight off after you have lost it.
During the first six months after my weight loss, I gained back nine pounds—twice. It was very hard losing them both times. I had to go into that super-mindful small-portions, no-sweets mode again, and knew I didn't want to sustain that kind of vigilance for the rest of my life.
Then, my brother got me into jogging. I felt ridiculous running around outside in a pair of gym shorts, but I soon became hooked. I had never been active in my life, and I found I
challenging my body. Today, I jog three miles several days a week, take a brisk, hour-long walk at lunchtime, and play an occasional game of tennis with my neighbor Tom. Because I've become active, I can enjoy some cake without having to worry too much about the needle inching up on the scale.
Those in the Weight Control Registry maintain their losses by exercising, too.
It pays to monitor yourself. I weigh myself once a week. Apparently, so do many in the Weight Control Registry. Doing so helps keep them stay true to their weight loss goals.