Feed Yourself: Healthy Habits

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Anyone can lose weight. The billion-dollar question is, how do you shed those pounds AND lose them forever? Is it luck, or is it something we all can do, too?

Try to get in the habit of these 10 strategies:

Habit No. 1: Eat a low-fat, high-carb diet.

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) has been tracking thousands of “successful losers” who have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for more than five years.

Less than 1% of the NWCR successful losers ate low-carb diets for weight maintenance. Most ate the low-fat, high-carb way to maintain their weight loss, including higher-fiber carbs, such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies even if they lost the weight with a different type of diet.

Generally, successful losers eat about 56% of their calories from carbs, 19% from protein, and 25% from fat. With around 25% calories from fat, you eat enough fat (the healthier monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and canola oil, omega-3 fatty acids from fish, and some helpful polyunsaturated fats found in nuts and other plant foods) to be satisfied without eating too much fat.

Habit No. 2: Eat every day.

Successful losers never skip breakfast. Skipping meals in general isn’t a good idea because that means you’ll be starving later. When you get that hungry, you are more likely to overeat.

Habit No. 3: Eat five small meals throughout the day.

Habit No. 4: Don’t restrict foods.

Being too strict can make it hard to stick to a healthy eating plan. Forcing yourself to give up certain foods completely can lead to bingeing, which triggers guilty feelings and an array of potential disordered eating habits.

Habit No. 5: Shy away from sugar and bring on the fiber.

Avoid refined and processed carbs such as white bread, cookies, and chips, and eat plenty of whole grains and fiber-filled fruits and veggies to help you feel fuller on fewer calories. Don’t forget to drink lots of water, too!

Habit No. 6: Exercise, exercise, exercise.

Many NWCR participants exercise for about an hour a day — burning about 2,700 calories a week. Don’t let the “hour a day” scare you. Many successful losers exercise a few minutes at a time throughout the day, and walking is their primary exercise. And according to a Consumer Reports survey of 32,000 dieters, 80% of successful dieters who tried exercising at least three times a week ranked it as their No. 1 dieting strategy. Though walking was the most popular form of exercise, nearly 30% also lifted weights to increase calorie-burning muscle mass.

Habit No. 7: Stay away from gimmicks.

A Consumer Reports survey found that the majority of people who had kept the extra pounds off for more than a year (83%) did it without any gimmicks, supplements, or fad diets. They just ate a better diet.

Habit No. 8: Change your lifestyle.

The NWCR identified two habits that can put those pounds back on your hips: A decrease in physical activity and an increase in fat intake. Essentially, not dieting anymore. If you have to change habits to lose weight, it makes sense that you have to maintain those new habits to keep the weight off for good.

Habit No. 9: Recover from relapses quickly.

Even successful losers fall off the diet wagon. The trick is to not dwell on it. Get back to eating sensibly and exercising as soon as possible, says Arthur Frank, MD, medical director of George Washington University Weight Management Program, Washington, DC.

Habit No. 10: Keep a food journal.

Finally, recording what you eat and drink in a food journal will help you learn about your eating habits and identify bad eating patterns.

Final words of advice: Hang in there, baby, it really does get easier. The longer you maintain weight loss, the easier that maintenance becomes. How long are we talking about? Keep the weight off for two years, says Frank, and you’ll be fairly stable thereafter.

It’s not easy, but you can lose weight permanently. Make a commitment to gradually adopt healthier eating habits for the rest of your life. It may sound impossible, but if this new way of living entails eating great-tasting food (many of which are healthier versions of your favorite foods) and getting an hour a day of exercise you actually enjoy, it can be — are I say it — pleasurable.