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Tips on keeping pesky pounds at bay after losing them

Imagine this common scenario: Your doctor has suggested you lose a few pounds, perhaps to reduce your risk of developing diabetes or to help manage your diabetes, and you have accomplished this feat. Now you are faced with the task of keeping off those unwanted pounds.

We often hear that losing weight and keeping it off are next to impossible. However, the National Weight Control Registry, a database of “successful losers,” has identified more than 10,000 people who have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least a year. In fact, registry members on average have lost 70 pounds and kept it off for nearly six years.

The NWCR has identified several important, common characteristics of people who are able to win at losing. Maintainers most often share the following seven health habits:

• Regular exercise: The No. 1 predictor of weight loss maintenance is regular physical activity. Most people average 60 minutes each day of moderately intense physical activity, usually walking.

• Lower calorie, reduced fat diet: In terms of diet, most maintainers report watching their intake of fat as the way they control their calorie intake. They report eating approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of their calories from fat, which is a realistic intake of fat for most people.

• Healthy breakfast: Eating breakfast tends to stave off hunger later in the day, making it easier to choose healthy foods throughout the day. Successful maintainers include regular meals and snacks, eating an average of five times daily.

• Weigh regularly: Seventy-five percent of the maintainers weigh themselves daily or at least once a week. This helps them keep a more conscious control over their weight, and most have a plan in place for when they start to see the numbers on the scale creep up. In this way, they can catch small slips before they turn into large-scale weight gains.

• Avoid fast food and eat out less: People in the NWCR eat fast foods less than once a week and eat out no more than three times a week. On average, Americans eat out six times a week, including takeout.

• Limit time watching TV: The majority of maintainers watch less than 10 hours of TV per week, which is one-third of what the typical American watches.

• Maintain consistency: Successful losers maintain a consistent eating pattern throughout the year. Those who “throw caution to the wind” on weekends, holidays and vacations have a more difficult time staying at their new weight.

Other common indicators of weight loss maintenance include self-monitoring (keeping food and activity records), meal planning and consuming more than five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Although losing weight and maintaining weight loss involve many of the same health habits, they are actually different processes. This is because weight loss is time limited, whereas maintaining weight loss is forever. This is where the need for ongoing weight loss support becomes more critical but often is less readily available. In addition to ongoing hospital- or community-based support programs, many people have found helpful support on the using websites such as SparkPeople.com or MyFitnessPal.com. The good news is the risk of regaining lost weight declines with time; two to five years is the benchmark for successful weight loss maintenance.

Shirley Schneiter is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, and coordinator of the diabetes and heart disease prevention program and diabetes education program at Community Medical Center.