Maintaining Weight Loss: 6 Habits “Losers” Have in Common

Weight management, demystified.

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If losing weight is one of the most challenging things a person can do, then keeping the weight off deserves even more accolades. A study of 500 people who lost at least 10 percent of their maximum weight found that only 20 percent successfully maintained it for at least a year. Yikes—not the most promising statistic.

So what can we learn from those who actually maintain their weight loss? To track this, researchers created the National Weight Control Registry in 1994, where members who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year can enroll and periodically participate in surveys.

On average, members have maintained their weight loss for 5.7 years—and 13 percent of them have actually kept the weight off for over a decade. Here’s what these weight loss pros have in common.

  1. They stay active. Individuals in the study reported doing around an hour of moderate-intensity exercise each day. Brisk walking, weight lifting, and bicycling were the most common activities. (Hate exercise? Here are other low-effort activities to burn calories.)

  2. They follow a low-cal, low-fat diet of about 1,800 calories a day. Keep in mind that this is self-reported, so it’s tricky to know exactly what participants are eating to maintain long-term results. According to the survey, the most common strategies were avoiding certain foods, being mindful of portion sizes, counting calories, and counting fat grams. Oh, and take note: About 55 percent of weight loss maintainers got help with their diet, either through a nutritionist or commercial program.

  3. They cook at home. Making your own meals gives you more control over ingredients, especially when it comes to salt and oils. Members ate an average of 2.5 meals per week from a restaurant, which means they’re packing lunches for the work week. Oh, and fast food restaurants? A rare treat. Members ate fast food less than once a week.

  4. They eat breakfast daily. Research regularly supports eating a healthy breakfast for weight management, and these participants are living proof. Seriously: 78 percent report eating breakfast every single day, and only 4 percent skipped the morning meal. But don’t think it has to be fancy, as the most common breakfast among registry members was simply cereal and fruit. (Here are 4 rules for buying a healthier breakfast cereal.)

  5. They avoid cheat days. “Splurging” on weekends may be common among the general population, but it likely doesn’t lead to long-term weight-loss success. These participants reported following a consistent diet (seven days a week, including holidays). Compared to those who allowed themselves cheat days, participants following a consistent diet were 1.5 times more likely to keep the weight off.

  6. Checking weight often. Just under half of participants weighed themselves daily, and another 31 percent reported weighing themselves at least once a week. According to the study, this allows them to “catch small weight gains” early and make the necessary lifestyle tweaks.

For more weight-loss advice, here are 5 unconventional weight-loss tips that actually work.