But new research says there’s a clear answer to “yo-yo” dieting that can make substantial weight loss permanent.
Researchers at the University of Colorado tracked 75,000 people over 7 years as they followed Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), a national, low-cost weight-loss program led by peer volunteers and costing just $32 a year. They found that that about half of the subjects had “clinically significant” weight loss (at least 5 percent of their body weight) in the first year. More important, 62 percent of those who lost the weight kept it off for seven years.
The program works for three simple reasons, researchers say: it’s low-cost, so anyone can use it; it’s sustainable, so subjects can keep using it even after their initial weight loss; and it’s peer-led, so participants get ongoing coaching to keep them motivated and on track.
While it’s not always possible to find a local chapter of TOPS, anyone can adapt their secrets of motivation, along with several other creative weight-loss hacks, and use them at home. The editors of Eat This, Not That! have collected the best stick-to-it tips from recent research, so you can quit bouncing on the weight-gain trampoline and keep the pounds off for good. (And to jumpstart your path to a flat belly, check out these 14 must-have secrets to eat, drink and still shrink!)
Schedule a Workout Date
TOPS works by teaming people together who hold one another accountable. You can do the same by turning gym time from a solitary activity to a social one. For example, it’s hard to squeeze in a workout before meeting friends for drinks, so you blow off…the workout, of course. A better idea: Tell your buds to meet you at the gym. You can socialize, get fit, and still hit the bar afterwards. This trick works with spouses, too: A recent JAMA Internal Medicine study of nearly 4,000 couples found that people are more likely to stick to healthy habits like exercise when they team up with their partner. Better yet, grab a cup of tea after the gym—you’ll boost your workout’s effects when you choose one of these 5 Best Teas for Weight Loss.
Stick to an Eating Schedule
Having a firm schedule, with meetings and check-ins, helps the TOPS subjects monitor themselves. Experts say that building in your own schedules around food can help you duplicate this success yourself. “To ensure I stay on track—no matter when I roll out of bed—I eat within an hour of waking, eat every four or five hours thereafter and stop noshing two hours before bedtime,” advises Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of a Manhattan-based private practice, The NY Nutrition Group.
Adopt a Weight Loss Mantra
Support and coaching are critical to the TOPS plan, but you can become your own coach, Jen Comas Keck, NASM Personal Trainer and Owner of Beauty Lies in Strength, tells us. “You can still love your body while working towards weight loss by coming up with a phrase that's personal to you—something like, ‘I feel stronger and healthier every day that passes’—that you can think to yourself when negative thoughts about your appearance or progress start to creep in. Repeating this phrase to yourself can help you to de-stress and focus on the positive aspects of your weight loss journey. I like to take a full inhale, and then repeat the phrase to myself in my head as I exhale. Let it all go …”
Opt for Small, Red Plates
Yes, you read that correctly: Small red plates. Though you might be stocking your kitchen with dining ware that clashes with your decor, the trade off is a slimmer stomach. “The bigger your plate, the bigger your meal,” according to Carolyn Brown, MS RD at Foodtrainers in New York City. Swapping dinner plates out for salad plates will help trick your brain into craving less food. And, yes, go with red. In a study published in the journal Appetite, subjects consumed less snack food and soda when their plates and cups were red. Researchers suggest the color red reduces the amount we’re likely to eat by subtly telling the mind to stop noshing. It’s worth stocking up on rouge tableware to cut some calories.
Have a Carb Strategy
A sure-fire way to get real hungry real quickly? Cut out carbs. Completely slashing your carbohydrate intake will melt away the the pounds, but you’ll also be left with some not-so-pleasant side effects that can make it hard to go about your daily routine, like exhaustion and lethargy. That’s why the TOPS plan isn’t nearly as stringent as many eating plans. “Carbs are essential for life as our brain and CNS require them continuously to work properly. Restricting carbs completely will allow for any muscle mass to be metabolized to provide us with energy,” says trainer and RD, Tim McComsey. As long as you use them correctly and choose the right ones, carbs don't have to hit the curb. Stay fuller, longer, with the 9 Best Flat-Belly Superfoods.
Call on Your Txt Buddy
Hey hot-t! Don’t eat more than 1,500 cals 2day! … A recent study published online in Health Promotion Practice found that people who received weekly text reminders of their daily “calorie budget” and motivational emails made healthier meal and snack choices. Solicit a friend to regularly remind you of your diet goals, or take matters into your own hands; set up labeled alarms on your smartphone, so when 6 a.m. rolls around, it’s: You make 1,500 cals-a-day look so good!
Apply the 5- Minute Rule
Downtime can be dangerous for your waistline. Don’t self-harm through snacking! Instead of giving into boredom munchies, try out a new hobby or two to keep your hands—and your mind—occupied. In particular, Brown says that doing a puzzle, picking up knitting or doing other craft projects have proven helpful, but anything that keeps your hands busy for a short while will work, Brown says. “Research shows cravings usually last between 5-10 minutes, sometimes as short as 3 minutes. So take some deep breaths and a walk around the block til it passes!” When you feel the need to snack out of actual hunger, go for it guilt-free! Keep these 50 Best Snacks for Weight Loss on hand.