What Are The Key Strategies for Weight Loss Success?

Have you ever wondered how some people are able to achieve their weight loss and then go on to maintain it over time? So many people who sign up for a weight loss programme or group can start to lose weight with the initial burst of motivation and focus but then somehow it all comes back on. It's easy to get stuck in a cycle of yo-yo weight loss and gain, or to simply decide that no programme works for you.

Well, now we have the research and evidence that shows exactly what behavioural and psychological strategies these weight loss maintainers are using that support keeping the weight off over time. I've covered the findings below. You may be surprised at how unsurprising the strategies for successful weight loss actually are, however, on the plus side, that means anyone can utilise them to increase results. 

Now, of course, in a recent post I wrote about how weight loss in itself won't necessarily make you feel happier, according to all the research. Yet there is no doubt that there are substantial health benefits to losing weight and that is certainly a goal worth achieving. And if you want a better quality of life, to wear those clothes, have more energy, move more easily and prove to yourself and others that you can do it, then so much the better.

So what are the strategies of those people who lose weight and keep it off over the years?

Strategies of Long-Term Weight Loss Maintainers

There can be many reasons why you end up putting on weight. There may be emotional eating going on, with food being a source of comfort to feel better when you are anxious, stressed, sad or bored. There can be unhealthy habits and behaviours that you first started sometime back and that seem to keep repeating over and over again. And there could be challenges around maintaining progress and staying focused that mean that after the initial burst of healthy eating, you find yourself slipping back to where you started (with all the annoyance and frustration that goes with it).

As I write this, we are still under lockdown here in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic. When we emerge form lockdown I'm sure there will be many who used any additional time they had to exercise more and be active and who will come out the other side fitter than when it started.

Yet I'm pretty sure there will also be those who used unhealthy food to try and cope with the uncertainty, change to routines, anxiety and stress generated by the coronavirus. I've also seen many comments by people struggling with boredom and tiredness during these weeks, both of which can lead to eating more. It's also recently been Easter which brings all manner of chocolate temptations into your house. The lockdown may have exacerbated healthy habits and scuppered any hopes of weight loss.

So if weight loss is your goal, what should you be doing to support long term success? 

In recently published research, Phelan et al (2020, Behavioral and Psychological Strategies of Long‐Term Weight Loss Maintainers in a Widely Available Weight Management Program) set out to answer this question. They wanted to identify the behavioural and psychological strategies among people who maintain their weight loss in a commercial weight loss program. 

We already know that many people struggle to maintain their weight loss over the long term and that successful maintainers tend to have a lower calorie diet, higher levels of physical activity, higher dietary restraint and more frequent self-monitoring. This research added to this knowledge by investigating weight loss maintenance following a popular commercially available programme (in this instance, Weight Watchers).

The research included 4,786 weight loss maintainers who had maintained their weight loss for, on average, over three years, compared to a control group of 528 weight stable obese individuals. 

And their findings? The weight loss maintainers practiced more frequent healthy dietary choices, self-monitoring and psychological coping strategies, as well as more willingness to ignore food cravings and had greater habit strength for healthy eating. 

Weight Loss hypnotherapy

"The practical implications of the current study’s findings are to highlight some key strategies that most characterized successful WLMs {Weight Loss Maintainers} in a large, commercial weight management program: keeping low-calorie foods accessible, setting daily intake goals, recording daily intake, measuring foods, thinking about past successes, and remaining positive in the face of weight regain. More frequent practice of these dietary, self-monitoring, and psychological coping strategies and development of greater  habit strength differentiated long-term WLMs from weight-stable individuals with obesity."

As I said at the outset, these findings for successful weight loss maintenance are hardly radical or revolutionary. But the research does help pinpoint some of the things that are valuable to focus upon and work on (and so saving you time and effort on things that may be less effective). Certainly many of these behaviours and psychological strategies are those that I help people with through their hypnotherapy sessions.

Weight Loss Strategies In Action

So what exact actions does this 2020 research suggest you should be doing?

On the dietary front, weight loss maintainers choose lower calorie foods, keep lower calorie foods/ low points food accessible, and eat more servings of fruits and vegetables. Long term weight loss maintainers develop habit strength for healthy eating choices.

Specific self-monitoring  strategies included keeping a graph of weight, recording calories/points and keeping a daily calorie/points goal. Keeping daily track of what you are eating helps maintain focus and accountability and means you can adjust quickly from noticing your habits and behaviours.

And psychological coping strategies included, if they regained weight, thoughts about past successes and, if they had gone off track, self encouragement to think positively. Many people, when they experience a blip or weight gain, tend to give up and chastise themselves, whereas this research suggests that a more compassionate, encouraging approach to yourself is more helpful.

"The key behaviors...that emerged as greater among WLMs than controls included keeping low-calorie foods accessible, setting daily calorie goals, daily recording of calories, and measuring foods. Specific psychological coping strategies included “thinking about past successes” and “remaining positive in the face of weight regain."

All of these things can be adopted, incorporated and repeated as you progress towards your own weight loss goals.

Interestingly, although not found to be a strong factor, compared with weight-stable individuals with obesity, weight loss maintainers reported greater self-kindness and practice of mindfulness and acceptance strategies and they had particularly higher scores on the “willingness to ignore cravings” subscale. Again, these are all things that can support successful long term weight loss and that can be developed through hypnotherapy.

So ultimately what does this research add for you? Well, many of the factors found to be important were the basic building blocks of a weight loss programme like self monitoring and lower calorie foods. On top of that there are coping strategies to encourage yourself if you hit a weight gain blip and learning to remain positive. 

Best of all, there's no rocket science here. These are behavioural and psychological strategies that anyone can implement. So here's to your long term weight loss (and maintenance) success! 

To your happiness,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

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Reference:

Phelan, S., Halfman, T., Pinto, A.M. and Foster, G.D., 2020. Behavioral and Psychological Strategies of Long‐Term Weight Loss Maintainers in a Widely Available Weight Management Program. Obesity, 28(2), pp.421-428.