7 Habits of Highly Effective Dieters

Of the 71 million of us dieting, about one in every five will actually keep the weight off. How do those success stories do it? A long-term study has identified exactly what it takes to be a diet success. Even if you were heavy as a kid, have dieted repeatedly in the past, or are middle-aged, you can lose the weight, and more importantly, keep it off by following these tried-and-true habits of successful dieters. Surprisingly, only two of the habits is about food and exercise! Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman’s Diet, is here to show us how diet successes lose weight and maintain the loss.

Habit #1: Take Responsibility

Maintainers realize that losing weight and keeping it off is up to them. Put this habit into practice:

  1. Take a long, hard look at who you are losing the weight for. Only when you honestly can say ‘for me,’ not for your spouse or mother-in-law, are you ready to lose weight and keep it off.
  2. Accept there are no magic pills, diet gurus, gizmos, or gadgets that can do it for you. You must own the problem and get honest with yourself about what you’re doing and what you’ll need to do to change.

Decide that the changes you must make for life are worth it for your health, well-being, or self-respect. When you do this, you drop the "why me" mantra. You’re right that it isn’t fair that some people have to move more or eat less than others, but that’s the reality, and the sooner a person accepts that and gets to the real question of what to do about it, the better.

Habit #2: Focus on Real Food

Fad diets work short-term, but they are not the way to keep weight off long-term. Instead, most diet successes monitor calories and portions, eat lots of produce and quality carbs, limit fat grams, and eat consistently, regardless of whether it is a weekday, weekend, or holiday. Ask diet successes what is different about their diets today compared to the past and they overwhelmingly respond that they used to eat haphazardly and now make a concerted effort to eat regular meals

Put this habit into practice:

  1. Load the plate with low-fat fare, i.e., vegetables, fruit, whole grain breads and cereals, legumes, extra-lean meats, seafood, and nonfat milk or soymilk.
  2. Listen to your body. Eat slowly and only when physically hungry and stop when comfortably full.

Define your "diet" as an eating plan you will live with for life.

Habit #3: Exercise Every Day

No diet will maintain a healthy weight if you don’t exercise. The trick is how much? Diet successes move more than you think, or the equivalent of an hour or more a day or 28 miles of walking a week.

Put this habit into practice:

  1. First, define yourself as an exerciser, then start small by wearing a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day.
  2. Second, add structured exercise to this daily activity. Walk, swim, bike, or some other sport for 10 minutes a day and slowly increase your time. Aim for 1 hour/day.

Third, mix it up. Combine two or more types of exercise in your weekly routine, such as walking with pilates, water aerobics, kick boxing, or snowshoeing.

Habit #4: Get Real

Success isn’t about reaching your ideal weight; it’s about reaching your feel-good weight, the weight where you are not hungry all the time and don’t have to exercise fanatically. Put this habit into practice:

  1. Set a realistic goal. i.e., a comfortable body weight that you can maintain without obsessing over food 24/7, yet you still feel good. Ask yourself, "What is the least I have weighed for a year or more as an adult?", "What is the largest clothing size I would be happy with?"

Lose the weight slowly. People who lose more than 2 pounds a week are losing mostly water and lean tissue weight, not the fat weight you want to lose. Lose it slowly and you’re also most likely to keep off the weight.


Habit #5: Pay Close Attention



Maintainers know that set backs are inevitable and they have plans to quickly handle slips. They keep records of their food intake, return to their weight loss efforts at the first sign of weight gain, and/or count calories or fat grams. The good news is that maintainers consistently report that it gets easier over time. Maintain the weight loss for more than two years, you’re likely to keep it off. Put this habit into practice:

  1. Everyone slips. No one is perfect. All of us know what it feels like to swing and miss. To leave no room for mistakes is like expecting yourself to be an Olympic athlete without training. The trick is to not let a slip progress to a relapse. That means having a plan.
  2. View slips as learning opportunities, not failures or flaws in your character. They are opportunities to identify stumbling blocks. For example, it’s been a stressful day and there you are at 6pm standing at the kitchen counter eating pie straight from the pan. Rather than beat yourself up and then eat the whole pie. Learn from this goof. Maybe you eat when stressed and you need to take a walk before entering the house after a hard day. Or, maybe you got too little sleep the night before and that dissolved your resolve. If that’s the case, you need to make sure you get your sleep or keep the pie out of the house on the days you don’t.

Weigh yourself several times a week. At the first sign of a 5-pound weight gain, have a specific plan to immediately get back on track. That plan will vary, but could include more exercise, journal keeping, weighing and measuring your food, or not eating after supper until the weight drops off.

Habit #6: Don’t Stuff Stress

Numerous studies, including one from Fairfield University in Connecticut, found that dieters who lose weight and maintain their weight loss meet adversity head-on, compared to re-gainers who escape life’s challenges by turning to food for solace.

Put this habit into practice:

  1. Stop emotional eating: Ask yourself if it’s fatigue, anger, anxiety, a need for comfort, or true hunger that is triggering a desire to eat. Take a walk or call a friend if your stomach isn’t growling, but you’re feeling stressed or blue.

Develop self-empowering skills, such as assertive communication, positive self-talk, and ways to relax, to nip stress in the bud.

Habit #7: Live It Up

Weight maintenance is not about deprivation or denial, it is about setting limits and making a few compromises. You can still have pizza, but one piece along with a big salad. Put this habit into practice:

  1. Give yourself permission to be imperfect and to treat yourself - but only on occasion, not constantly, and on smaller portions. Make conscious decisions about how to spend your calorie allotment. If dark chocolate is your favorite treat, then have a small piece, but don’t waste your time on a less-satisfying or mindless snack.
  2. Take time out of a busy day to nurture yourself in non-food ways, such as a pedicure or a hot bath.

Most important, put the weight thing into perspective. When you reach the end of your days and look back over your life, heaven forbid that your main accomplishment was that you agonized over your weight!


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