Keeping It Off!

Banishing shed pounds for good
requires a long-term plan.

June 2012

By Beverly Burmeier

You’ve finally done it: After a lot of hard work you are seeing a thinner, healthier you in the mirror. So now you can relax and ease up a bit, right?

Not so fast.

Plenty of information is available about the newest techniques for dropping pounds, but there’s little follow-up to help people maintain the weight loss they’ve achieved—and that’s the real challenge.

American Council on Exercise (ACE, statistics are daunting: Only 5% of dieters manage to keep off the weight they lost, and one-third of the initial weight loss is gained back within the first year. Researchers now recognize that behaviors that help people lose weight don’t overlap much with those that help them maintain their new shape, although avoiding weight regain does get easier with time. Making weight maintenance even more challenging are hormonal changes that encourage extra eating in people who have shed a considerable number of pounds.

The key is to focus on healthier habits rather than unsustainable diets. Gaining control of your health involves a long-range plan for changing three crucial lifestyle components: diet, exercise and behavior.

Eating Like a Thin Person

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR,, a study that began in 1994 and is still tracking more than 10,000 people who have kept significant amounts of weight off for long periods of time, found that 98% of participants modified their food intake. Successful “losers” continue to monitor portion size and the types of food they eat, weigh themselves regularly and keep a food diary. They dine out only occasionally, share large entrees and skip fast food.

Obviously, feeling deprived isn’t a viable way to stay slim. The idea is learning to eat well without feeling like you’re starving all the time. Vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes are calorie-dense foods—high in fiber and water—that lead you to feel full while providing crucial nutrients. “When 75% of the diet consists of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds (raw as much as possible), people will lose weight and keep it off,” says Laverne Dupree, ND, author of From Surviving to Thriving in Health and Weight Loss (CrossBooks).

Spreading calories throughout the day helps curb hunger, especially when you start with a protein-rich breakfast. Quality high-protein foods include eggs, yogurt, almonds, meat (preferably organic) and fish (preferably sustainable species;
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Happy Brain, Fewer Pounds

Sometimes weight loss feels like a constant battle with your own mind. You’re doing all the right things when something, good or bad—a breakup, a vacation, a two-for-one coupon at the local buffet—triggers a munching spree that leads you to regain all those lost pounds. What makes it worse is when your inner critic chimes in. “Failed again, didn’t you? Where’s your willpower?”

The answer, scientists have found, lies within your brain. Researchers are starting to see the ability to stick with a healthy diet (or any other positive habit) in terms of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, especially dopamine.

Dopamine is the end result of what’s called the brain reward cascade (BRC), a sequence of events that leads to feelings of satiety and pleasure when it works properly.

When the BRC misfires, though, it’s like trying to turn on a light with a broken switch—the brain just can’t be satisfied. And so it seeks fulfillment in such unhealthy habits as smoking or cravings for sugary, starchy, greasy foods.

One study team was actually able to predict weight gain by imaging the participants’ brain reward centers (The Journal of Neuroscience 4/18/12 online).

“Dopamine deficiency is the result of a combination of not enough good lifestyle choices and too many bad ones, stressful challenges, which contribute to poor lifestyle choices, and genetic predispositions,” says Kenneth Blum, PhD, professor in the department of psychiatry and the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Blum explains that nutritional deficiencies can limit the body’s ability to either synthesize enough dopamine or to form what are called dopamine receptors, the parts of the brain cell membrane that dopamine latches onto. When this happens, a person tends to derive less satisfaction from food—and makes up for it by eating more.

To help overcome a lack of dopamine, Blum has developed a nutrient combination called Synaptose that “addresses all three factors for optimal health: lifestyle, stress and genetics.”

Synaptose contains four amino acids—DL-phenylalanine (DLPA), L-tyrosine, L-glutamine and 5-HTP—that help maintain proper neurotransmitter levels. Other ingredients include passion flower, which helps ease anxiety and insomnia; rhodiola, which promotes physical endurance and sharp mental performance; vitamins B1 and B6, required for healthy nervous system function; the trace mineral chromium, which helps the body control blood sugar; and metallosaccharide complex, molecules involved in neuroendocrine function, weight and energy management, and stress reduction. Synaptose incorporates these ingredients in precise ratios and dosages that allow them to help reset a malfunctioning BRC. It has been shown to help reduce cravings and improve energy (Medical Hypotheses 9/09, Advances in Therapy 9/08 and 3/09).

It can be hard to avoid the temptations that undermine weight loss. But Synaptose can help make it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Increasing your water intake is a simple way to help manage your weight. “Consuming two eight-ounce glasses of water before meals fills the stomach with zero calories and helps people lose weight and keep it off,” says Brenda Davy, PhD, RD, of Virginia Tech University, lead author of a study on this topic published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you exercise or play sports, don’t negate that effort with sugar-laden energy drinks, sodas, lattes and fruit smoothies.

Changing your food environment helps maintain weight loss. “The quickest way to eliminate mindless overeating is to start at home,” says Brian Wansink, PhD, Cornell University professor and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam). Size really does matter: Wansink’s studies reveal that people eat 45% more popcorn at the movies if it’s served in extra-large containers rather than large ones and pour 37% more liquid into short, wide glasses than into tall, skinny ones of the same volume. To curb mindless eating, Wansink recommends moving unhealthy food out of sight and healthy food to eye-level in the cupboard and refrigerator, dining on salad plates instead of large dinner plates and eating in the kitchen or dining room, and away from the television.

Calories to Burn

When someone eats significantly less, metabolism—the process by which the body converts calories into energy—slows down. Calories are not burned as quickly, and weight loss may plateau. But when weight stabilizes, metabolism adjusts to a normal level for the new weight. “If you have the right diet, metabolism won’t slow as much. Then follow the same diet to keep weight off,” says Dupree. What’s more, you won’t need to eat or burn as many calories as before—although calorie-burning through exercise still plays a crucial role in long-term weight loss.

Increased physical activity has been a crucial part of keeping weight off for 94% of participants in the NWCR. Regular exercise typically means burning 400 calories per day by walking or other moderate-level activities. Even better, vigorous activities such as a brisk, hour-long walk keeps on burning calories for up to 14 hours. Researchers at Appalachian State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 45 minutes of vigorous exercise caused 190 additional calories to be burned later in the day when a person was at rest.

Make fitness fun, so you’ll stick with it over the long term. Join a hiking group, soccer team or dance club, or exercise with a partner. If you can, head outdoors. Research indicates that you use 10% more energy when walking outdoors instead of walking on a treadmill, a difference attributed to the different temperatures and surfaces encountered outside.

Make the Commitment

Motivation and steadfastness are crucial to long-term weight management. “It’s not an easy task, and you must be persistent,” says Lawrence Cheskin, MD, FACP, of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore.

Some people have emotional ties to food or habitually use eating as a response to stress or boredom. If you eat for reasons other than sustenance for your body, substitute an activity such as exercising, talking with a friend or meditating. Discover food triggers, and identify situations such as negative moods or personal difficulties that make old habits surface, so you can cope in ways that don’t include food. Scientists use the term reward when referring to the sense of satisfaction in the brain that short-circuits overeating.

People who keep weight off develop interests and hobbies to focus on rather than food. They set and assess goals, realizing that weight loss maintenance is a lifelong journey. They understand that an occasional slip-up doesn’t signal failure and isn’t reason to give up, and that self-worth isn’t related to body size. An outside support system such as monthly meetings, electronic devices or Internet support groups can provide feedback and tips for staying focused on improvements in health and energy rather than fixating on the bathroom scale.

The bottom line? Maintaining weight loss requires eating low-fat protein, following a consistent exercise routine, rewarding yourself—with something other than food—for sticking to your eating plan and reminding yourself why you need to control your weight.


Weight Maintenance Bookshelf

One way to keep weight off for good is to arm yourself with information, and the following books can help fulfill that need.

The Blood Sugar Solution

By Mark Hyman, MD

LITTLE, BROWN (, 448 PAGES, $27.99

One approach to maintaining weight loss focuses on avoiding the surges and crashes in blood sugar that can lead to disordered eating. Mark Hyman, MD, bestselling author of the “Ultra” series of books (UltraMetabolism, etc.), tackles the problem of glucose control in The Blood Sugar Solution.

The book looks at seven items crucial to long-term wellness—nutrition, hormones, inflammation control, digestion, detoxification, energy and mental calm—with specific recommendations for each. Quizzes help determine which areas you need to work on, and checklists help keep you on track.

The key, Hyman says, is not to treat seemingly disparate symptoms—including weight that doesn’t want to leave—but to “look for and treat the fundamental underlying causes.”



By Nell Stephenson

288 PAGES, $23.00

The paleolithic (paleo) diet encourages eating like our ancestral hunter-gatherers, with an emphasis on fish, fruits, meat, nuts, roots and vegetables. In Paleoista, paleo nutritional counselor Nell Stephenson puts a cavewoman spin on what is also known as the “caveman diet”: She defines a “paleoista” as someone who is “feminine, fit and knows that eating Paleo will give her the boundless energy she needs to maintain her insanely busy lifestyle.” Behind the “hey, girlfriend” style is a trove of useful knowledge on stocking the paleo kitchen, cooking tips, recipes and more.


Grilling Vegan Style

By John Schlimm

DA CAPO PRESS (, 240 PAGES, $20.00

For many people, the stumbling block to eating more weight-friendly vegetables is a lack of knowledge about the best ways to cook them. If you want to add something other than the standard baked potato or ear of corn to your barbeque repertoire, Grilling Vegan Style can help. “Did you know you can grill salads and sandwiches? And even desserts?” asks John Schlimm—and he proceeds to answer his own question with dozens of creative recipes (including new approaches to corn and taters). The recipes are supported with a chapter on basic grill setup.


Quick Check Food Facts

Introduction & Notes by Linda McDonald, MS, RD

BARRON’S (, 594 PAGES, $6.99

No matter what approach you take to weight maintenance, it helps to know the nutritional content of the food you’re eating. Quick Check Food Facts lists the calories, total and saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, protein and sodium for hundreds of foods, including separate listings for some of the bigger restaurant chains. Registered dietician Linda McDonald’s introduction and notes provide valuable explanatory information.


The Misleading Mind

By Karuna Cayton


The mental component to long-term weight loss includes the ability to overcome life’s difficulties without turning to food for solace. Psychotherapist Karuna Clayton, author of The Misleading Mind, believes Buddhist psychology—with its emphasis on detachment from passions of the moment—can help people see their problems as opportunities “to think in new, more successful ways, thus becoming freer, happier and more mentally balanced.” The book focuses on learning how suffering comes from our own minds and ways to escape this self-imposed misery; case histories and exercises help drive Clayton’s points home.


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