Habits of Successful Weight Losers
Did you know that losing weight is hard but keeping it off is even harder? Yet, there are people who actually do succeed. What is unique about those who succeed? The answer is buried deep in the archives at the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center in Providence, R.I.: the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), the largest database ever assembled on individuals successful at long-term maintenance of weight loss. Founded in 1994, the NWCR includes more than 10,000 individuals who complete annual questionnaires about their current weight, diet and exercise habits, and behavioral strategies for weight-loss maintenance.
Here are six habits gleaned from successful weight losers that can inform, inspire and motivate you who may be struggling with achieving or maintaining a desired body weight.
Habit #1: Live With Intention
Living with intention eliminates a random approach to weight-loss maintenance in favor of a systematic and methodical approach that leads to results. The NWCR has shown that, when intention is behind weight-loss maintenance, 21% of people with overweight are successful weight losers.
The longer people keep their weight off, the fewer strategies they need to continue keeping weight off. In other words, weight maintenance gets easier. The longer you persist in your intention and behave in accordance with that intention, the easier it is for that behavior to “stick” and turn into a habit.
Habit #2: Control Yourself
Being a successful weight loser requires a lot of self-control, delaying gratification now (e.g., dessert) for the more desirable reward later (e.g., a slimmer waistline, better health, enhanced self-esteem and happiness).
Compared to typical unsuccessful dieters, successful weight losers are better able to resist temptation, control themselves, and push back against the environment. They restrict certain foods, weigh themselves regularly (daily) and use digital health technology.
Habit #3: Control Caloriesv
Successful weight losers consume fewer daily calories than the general population. Table 1 shows the number of calories the NWCR members consume per day, along with the amount of weight they lost at the time they entered the NWCR.
Table 1. Caloric Intake of Successful Weight Losers
Calories Per Day
1,297 (women) 1,725 (men) 66 63 (women) 78 (men) 1,306 (women)
1,685 (men) 63 (women) 77 (men) 1,390 69 1,462 124 1,400 62 1,399 73
Average Women Men 1,406 1,302 1,705 79 63 78
Successful weight losers consume a low-calorie diet of about 1,400 calories per day, with women consuming about 1,300 and men consuming about 1,700 calories per day. By comparison, the U.S. adult population consumes an average of 2,120 calories per day (women consume about 1,820 calories per day and men consume about 2,480 calories per day).
Successful weight losers control calories several ways, including limiting how often they eat out at restaurants , rarely eating fast food and limiting how many calories they drink. They are also more likely than healthy-weight individuals to have plans to be extremely strict in maintaining their caloric intake, even during times of the year when it’s easy to consume calories, like during holidays.
Habit #4: Eat a Low-fat, High-carbohydrate Diet
Successful weight losers eat a low-fat, high-carb diet. Table 2 shows the percentages of carbohydrate, fat and protein the NWCR members consume.
Table 2. Macronutrient Consumption of Successful Weight Losers
% Fat % Carbohydrate % Protein
24 (women) 24 (men) 56 56 20 20 24 56 19 23 58 19 26 55 19 24 56 19 29 49 22 Average
25 55 20
NWCR members consume an average of 25% of their calories from fat, 55% from carbohydrate and 20% from protein, with no difference in the macronutrient percentages between women and men. In the early 2000s, when low-carb diets were increasing in popularity, the fat content of the NWCR members’ diet increased and the carbohydrate content of their diet decreased compared to earlier years. The percentage of NWCR members consuming a low-carbohydrate diet (less than 90 grams, which is less than 25% of daily calories) increased from 5.9% in 1995 to 7.6% in 2001 to 17.1% in 2003, although it still remains low for successful weight losers, despite the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets. Even with the increasing percentage of NWCR members consuming a low-carbohydrate diet, the fat content of the diet remains far below the national average. Hardly anyone in the NWCR is consuming a very-low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet.
Habit #5: Eat Breakfast
Seventy-eight percent of NWCR members eat breakfast everyday, while only 4% never eat breakfast. These successful weight losers lost an average of 71.3 pounds and maintained the NWCR-required minimum weight loss of 30 pounds for an average of six years. Eating breakfast every day is also common among other successful weight losers: The NWCR’s sister registry in Portugal (Portuguese Weight Control Registry) has found that daily breakfast is one of their members’ most common strategies.
Skipping breakfast is associated with consuming more total daily calories. Skipping breakfast makes people hungry and therefore more likely to eat more later in the day to compensate. Breakfast skippers also tend to weigh more than breakfast eaters, and obese individuals are more likely to skip breakfast.
Eating breakfast is important for several reasons. When you get out of bed in the morning, your blood glucose is on the low side of normal. Your body needs energy for the day’s activities. Since it has been many hours since your last meal, you need to break the fast, literally. The macronutrients you eat at breakfast will be used for your important jobs—carbohydrate will be used to replenish your blood glucose from your overnight fast to provide immediate fuel for your cells and to store muscle glycogen for later use; protein will be used to maintain the structural integrity of your cells and tissues and to transport nutrients in your blood; and fat will be used to provide energy, absorb fat-soluble vitamins and maintain your bodies’ temperature. Because you are in a metabolically needy state when you get out of bed, all those calories from carbohydrate, protein and fat that you eat at breakfast will be used to fulfill your bodies’ metabolic demands. Skipping breakfast only serves to deny your body the fuel it needs.
Habit #6: Exercise (a Lot) Every Day
Successful weight losers exercise a lot every day, burning considerably more calories than the general population. Table 3 shows the number of calories the NWCR members burn per week during physical activity, along with the amount of weight they lost at the time they entered the NWCR.
Successful weight losers burn about 2,700 calories peer week. Seventy-two percent burn more than 2,000 calories per week and 35% burn more than 3,000 calories per week. A consistent, high level of exercise is one of the most important predictors of whether or not someone will be able to keep the weight off. A major finding of the NWCR is that a large part of regaining weight after losing it is due to the inability to maintain exercise habits for the long term.
To sum it up, here are the ten tips from successful weight losers:
10 Tips for Weight Loss Maintenance
1. Inch by inch - it’s a synch. Brace the small changes approach
2. Use “small swaps” when dining out. Ex swap veggies for french fries
3. Portion control really works
4. When it comes to food, don’t upgrade. Just because something is cheaper when its the super sized portion, it won’t be in the long run because of the extra calories.
5. Be mindful of your alcohol drinking.
6. Slitting meals saves money and calories
7. Get a massage. It gets rid of stress which makes you over eat.
8. Get enough sleep
9. Eat with your non-dominate hand
10. Eat in front of mirror once in awhile