6 ways to lose weight - and keep it off for good

Professor David Cameron-Smith reveals some scientific insights on how to sustain long term weight loss.

Written by David Cameron-Smith
Fit young women preparing for race. Closeup of young athletes legs at start position with copy space.

Losing weight is no easy task. With hard work and sacrifice, you finally hit your goal, only to gain it all back (sometimes even more).

Luckily, scientists at The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) have collected 23 years worth of data from over 10,000 people, each losing an average of 30 kilograms (and keeping it off for over 5 years). This leading research has provided some excellent insights into lifestyle, metabolism, and of course - how to shed weight for good.

1. Understand that weight loss gets harder as you age

With each passing year, metabolic rate falls just a fraction. This means you’ll need a lower intake of energy to balance the lower output of energy, and anything extra is stored (mainly as fat).

While scientists haven’t pinpointed exactly why this happens, we know it has a lot to do with muscle mass, and movement. Muscles use most of our daily energy, and as we age, muscle mass slowly declines. Maintaining fitness and strength helps maintain muscle mass, which preserves metabolic rate.

As well as this, spontaneous muscle activity declines with age. Even with daily exercise, make sure you twitch, fidget, even leap around the room (simply for the fun of it). All this movement will go toward preserving metabolic rate.

2. Focus on healthy, sustainable changes

How you lose weight matters. Whatever the weight loss strategy, the essence is simple. Cut down on energy in and maintain or increase energy out. Weight is more likely to stay off when the strategy is practical, healthy and sustainable. The NWCR data overwhelmingly showed that while their approaches to losing weight varied, people could sustain their weight loss if their lifestyle changes weren’t difficult to maintain.

It’s a key reality shift - dieting and losing weight is not a passing fad - healthy, sustainable changes must become the new everyday, and replace old eating and sedentary habits.

3. Accept that no one is perfect

Interestingly, the study showed that those who kept weight off had each developed a strategy to manage a bad day, or week. Each hurdle and problem was met with reflection, learning and resolve.

This thinking also makes it easier to appreciate treats at important times, like celebrations. You have to savour and enjoy special occasions.

4. Sleep more!

Research overwhelming shows that sleeping less hours – whether you’re a night owl or have irregular sleep patterns – makes weight loss harder. Insufficient sleep wreaks havoc with the hypothalamus, the brain’s master regulator of metabolism. A tired hypothalamus turns up the desire to eat, changes metabolism to store more fat and dampens the desire to move.

5. Start your day out right

While there is no scientific evidence saying breakfast boosts your daily metabolism, starting your day with a nutritious breakfast helps you navigates the pitfalls of mid-morning snacks or a ravenous lunch. Almost every person in the study began the day with a planned, purposeful breakfast, not a snack on the run.

6. Move every day

Exercise alone won’t shift the weight - but is very effective in helping keep weight off. Simply moving is incredibly important; walking and standing can burn a surprisingly large amount of daily energy. On top of this, getting active and structuring each day to include planned exercise will help keep that weight off – forever.

Written by David Cameron-Smith

Professor David Cameron-Smith is a health expert and the current Chair in Nutrition at the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland.

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