Why is it that many people successfully lose weight, and then end up regaining everything they lost, plus more? There can be many reasons, but probably the main factors are that they lose weight on a plan that isn’t sustainable over the long term, and they don’t change their eating behaviors. These are two critical elements in attaining long-term success.

Long-term adherence is impossible if you try to follow a strict rigid diet, or if you embark on an overly-aggressive exercise program. Just like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, permanent success comes from slow steady progress. It takes time to form new habits, and even longer for them to become a permanent part of your life.

We have seen the results of people who have gone on drastic diets only to quickly return to their pre-diet weight. Rapid weight loss causes a significant decline in the metabolic rate. When the metabolism becomes reduced, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a day-to-day eating plan that is low enough in calories to prevent weight regain.

Participants in NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” suffer from a markedly reduced metabolism when they leave the show, after rapidly losing a large amount of weight. Many burn 500 fewer calories per day than when they started. Most of the participants regain much if not all of their weight.

Another facet of this problem is that rapid weight loss causes loss of muscle tissue, along with fat tissue. So when a person loses a lot of weight really quickly, about half of that weight is from the loss of muscle tissue. When the weight is regained, it is in the form of fat tissue, not muscle tissue. Therefore, if you return to your previous weight, you are now fatter than you were before, with less muscle to aid in burning fat. It can become a vicious cycle, and it gets harder and harder to lose weight each time.

The most important thing to do when losing weight is to work on forming new habits. We know that habits, whatever they may be, are self-sustaining — in other words, we do them without thinking about them. If you adopt realistic changes that work with your lifestyle, they will become habit after a while. If you consistently eat healthy foods rather than simply cutting down the portions of unhealthy foods, you will eventually come to prefer this new way of eating, and the struggle to eat healthy goes away.

For example, if you’ve ever had to cut the salt down in your diet you’ll remember how bland everything tasted at first. But if you stuck with it, pretty soon unsalted foods began to taste really good, and salted foods tasted too salty. It’s the same way with every dietary change you make — it just takes a little time to adjust.

The key is to stay focused long enough for these new changes to become habit. It takes 21 days to form a new habit; but it takes 66 days for a new habit to feel automatic. It takes continued thoughtfulness and awareness to maintain these new habits.

We all slip up occasionally and get off track. That’s okay. As long as you get back to your new healthy routine, you’re still on the road to success.

Personally, I advocate the 80:20 approach to healthy living. Stay on track at least 80 percent of the time, and give yourself permission to skip a workout every now and then, or to occasionally eat something you normally wouldn’t. This is real life after all, and it isn’t realistic (or healthy) to expect to stay fully engaged 100 percent of the time.

Try to get off the extremes of being either perfect or completely off the wagon. Work your way toward the middle, in the gray area, and learn to get comfortable there. This is where balance occurs, and balance leads to success. No matter which particular plan or strategy you choose, if you adjust your mindset to balance in the gray area, you’ll achieve success.

Susie Bond is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist with Health First Pro-Health & Fitness Center. Contact her at susie.bond @health-first.org.


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