With about one third of the US adult population categorized as obese, many people are looking to lose weight. However, compared to how many people start a weight loss program, not that many are successful for long term weight loss. Weight loss isn’t impossible but needs to be approached with a long term mentality, not a quick fix like most people want.
The National Weight Loss Registry (NWLR) (1) tracks people who have successfully kept weight off. The NWLR found people have successfully kept weight off whether they lost it fast, slow, with a program or without a program. While there are different ways to lose weight, here are some general golden rules of weight loss success.
#1 – Follow a plan you’ll stick with.
The bottom line for weight loss success is what you are going to maintain long term for overall health and weight maintenance. Eating only one food or food group is not sustainable; starving yourself is not sustainable. Taking diet pills or weight loss supplements long term is usually not advised.
Eating a healthy, nutrient dense diet is sustainable. While it may not always be easy, it’s important to look at weight loss success as something permanent. The exact diet to follow has not been clear in research.
There can be benefit for a vegetarian, Mediterranean, or other balanced diet patterns. What’s important is that after you reach your goal weight, you still need to put in discipline to keep you there.
#2 – Make a commitment for long term.
If you want to lose weight in 2 weeks, that’s fine, but how you lose the weight may mean it won’t stay off after 2 weeks. If you want sustained weight loss, you need to make a long term commitment to your health.
Don’t look at weight loss as a “quick fix” or 2 week detox program then go back to eating high calorie, low nutrient foods.
#3 – Surround yourself with a healthy environment.
While you can’t control what others around you do, it could be helpful for weight loss success to eat with others who have the same goals as you.
According to a 2014 review (2), researchers found from 15 studies that what others eat around us influences our food choices. This could be for higher calorie foods and for lower calorie foods.
If others we interact with eat healthy, chances are that will also influence us.
#4 – Feel satisfied after eating.
Depending on how much excess fat mass there is, hormone levels that regulate appetite can get off track. As weight loss happens, appetite hormone levels can shift or the body can be re-sensitized to their signal.
If there is an issue with hormone interaction from hunger and satiety cues, it could be beneficial to work with a health care team to address this. This can be helpful to re-align with healthy cues from feeling hungry and satisfied.
In general, eating until you are satisfied, not stuffed, is recommended. Slowing down when you eat can help you stop eating before the point of feeling really stuffed. On the other hand, if you are eating too little and constantly feeling hungry, it may increase risk for binging later.
Instead of focusing on how little food you can eat, focus on filling up on foods that are low in energy density. Examples include: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
#5 – Avoid excess sugar, especially sweetened beverages.
Many studies suggest drinking sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain and obesity (3), and cutting out sugary beverages is one of the first steps for many weight loss programs.
There are many diet options: paleo, low fat, vegetarian, etc. The one common advice, whatever dietary approach, is to eat a lower sugar diet.
A typical Western diet exceeds the recommended intake for sugar, is lower in the recommended fiber intake and can be lower that the recommended intake of some vital vitamins or minerals.
#6 – Fill up on fruits and vegetables.
This should be a no brainer: fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients, antioxidants and fiber. The other side is they provide little energy. This can be helpful for weight loss to fill up on fiber rich fruits and vegetables because they provide satiety without being a high source of energy.
It is recommended to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and to try to eat as many colors as possible of produce. Another bonus is fruits and vegetables are high in water content, so they can help rehydrate the body.
#7 – Get enough sleep.
According to Mayo Clinic (4), research studies suggest there is an association between how long you sleep and weight. Chronic sleep deprivation can impact food choices for higher calorie foods. Sleep patterns can affect appetite hormones and can affect activity levels.
Because of these findings, it’s important to not only eat right and exercise but to also make sure you are getting adequate rest.
#8 – Stay hydrated.
The benefits of drinking enough water are many, and drinking enough water may also be beneficial for weight loss.
If you drink sweetened beverages, replacing them with water can help lower your energy intake (5). Drinking enough water may also impact your hunger levels.
When the body is dehydrated, the brain can misconstrue this signal as a signal to eat something. Staying hydrated can help prevent this.
#9 – Continue to adjust.
As weight loss happens, you may need to modify your food intake and exercise patterns. As your body gets smaller, your metabolic rate actually can go down because your mass is smaller. The amount of energy you burn during exercise can also go down.
Because of this, you may need to increase or alter your exercise throughout your weight loss journey. You may get off track for a few days with a hectic schedule and eating more high calories foods and excess sugar. Just get back on track the next day; don’t get stuck in a rut!
#10 – Live an active lifestyle.
Successful weight losers from the NWCR continue to exercise daily. In fact, almost 100% of people in the NWCR say they exercise of an average of an hour a day for weight maintenance.
Exercise and activity throughout the day is also important for keeping muscle mass as we continue to age and can help keep metabolic rate levels higher.