So you want to lose weight- join the club. I feel like most people I chat with either professionally or casually want to lose some "x lbs" amount of weight. There are A LOT of options out there, and many health and fitness influencers whispering in your ears (via social media feeds) about what works best and how to get the most out of particular eating plans/diets. I've touched on this topic before but I think it's worth revisiting.
How about we start by reframing how we think about losing weight. Here is a startling statistic that might help guide your thinking.
As humans we are very good at losing weight, however keeping it off is where we struggle. Of those people who lose weight successfully, within 1 year 80% have gained the weight back, within 2 years 85% gained it all back, and within 3 years 95% of those people gained all the weight they successfully lost 3 years ago back. So only 5% of the people who lose weight can successfully keep it off after 3 years- those are not very good odds. AND of those that gain it back, two thirds of them gain back more than they lost originally, so they are heavier than when they tried to lose weight the first time. Yikes is right!
What is going wrong? Why do we humans suck so bad at keeping it off? There are a host of reasons and excuses we can point to, but I'd rather focus on what we can do to insure we are in the 5% that make it stick.
The successful people follow these protocols to keep the weight off.
Cognitive Restraint in Some Form: Meaning in some way you are limiting or sacrificing things. This can be limiting portions, counting calories, monitoring macros, etc. If you keep everything the same you will end up back where you started, so you do have to sacrifice something. But the beauty of this is that you get to choose. Maybe you just really watch portions, or perhaps you eat a certain way and limit types of macros (think paleo or keto), or maybe counting calories is easy for you and you enjoy the sense of control that gives you. Everyone is different and you choose what works for you, that's exactly why one diet (say keto) works really well for one person, but not all for someone else. You can choose what this looks like for you and you will usually figure it out while you are on your weight loss journey and just keep doing what works best and easiest for you long term.
Self-Monitoring: Being able to measure your intake in some way. This does not limit you to counting calories. There are food templates, hand measuring techniques, and different apps that track food.
Regular Exercise: Duh, but seriously, it's maybe the most important. Here are a few reasons why: It helps your body defend the lower body fat set point that you reached by losing weight. If we can maintain and build muscle it improves our metabolism. It also influences multiple health factors from insulin sensitivity to blood lipid levels and mood, depression, and cognitive function. All of these things affect how we feel and then in turn what we eat- if we are stressed and depressed we tend to eat differently then when our mood is regulated by exercise.
Structured Programs: We have more information now than ever, yet obesity rates are still skyrocketing so information alone may not be enough. Having a solid program to follow and a coach and community to drive your success is key. This builds confidence and leads to you feeling good about your success and the positive atmosphere of a community of others reaching for similar goals is massively helpful as well.
Ability to Focus on the Long Term: Don't let short term feelings and desires dictate your behavior. This is a big one and is often the hardest to quantify. For example, if your goal is to stay fit and healthy to be able to play with your grandkids, but all your friends are going out to eat greasy food and drink the night away, you have to make a decision that aligns with your goals/values. This requires sacrificing short term hedonistic activities in order to achieve your long term meaningful goals. The successful people don't focus on quick fixes, instead they are driven to make changes that can fit into their lifestyle for the long term.
Social Support: When you have a support system- whether it's a coach, a team, your family, or your gym community you will do better. When you get complimented on your success and feel supported, that will continue to drive results. Having people to keep you accountable to the things you said you wanted to do is extremely important. This support must be non-judgmental; these cheerleaders are supporting you through your successes but also aren't beating you down when you slip up.
Here are a few other misc traits all the successful 5% have in common.
Eat lower calorie foods (less processed/more whole foods)
Consume higher protein and fiber
Flexible, less rigid control
Don't eat through stressful emotions
Don't stay up late- manage sleep
High level of emotional intelligence and mindfulness
So there is your blueprint to be in the 5% successful weight loss management group. It takes a lot of work to lose the weight, but I would wager it takes more work to keep it off.