The majority of dieters regain the weight they lose within five years. But they could avoid doing so by gradually changing their eating and exercise habits.
Your approach to weight loss should be to make changes you can keep up for the rest of your life, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
You can expect to go through three distinct phases as new diet and exercise habits take root and a healthier you begins to emerge.
Here's how to stay on track through every phase—from your decision to lose weight to after you reach your goals.
Phase one: Enthusiasm and fast weight loss
At the beginning of a diet, weight loss tends to be speedy because it's mostly water weight, not fat. Enthusiasm also tends to be at an all-time high, which can cause some dieters to try to rev up their rates of weight loss by undereating. This ultimately leads to binging, which can derail your efforts.
You should strive for an eating plan that allows you to lose about a half-pound to two pounds a week. According to the NIDDK, a half-pound to two pounds a week is a safe rate of weight loss. It means eating 300 to 500 fewer calories a day than what you need to maintain your current weight.
To get a caloric intake baseline, keep a food record for a week, but don't alter your eating habits. Then analyze your records to compare the number of calories you're consuming with what you need to consume to reach your goal weight.
Once you have a daily calorie goal in mind, start keeping weekly food records for five of the seven days and reducing calories gradually until you reach your daily calorie goal.
Phase two: Impatience and sluggish weight loss
By the middle phase of your diet, your new habits will start to feel more comfortable. Yet, your rate of weight loss will slow down as your body composition changes. Be prepared for this, and remember that eventually your weight will stabilize.
You may feel frustration at this point. You may feel like you're putting in the same amount of effort you did in the beginning, but not getting the same rewards. Some weeks you may lose weight; some weeks you may not.
During this trying time, be prepared for second-guessing thoughts such as "is this really worth it?" and the lure of old, not-so-healthful habits.
To stay on track, increase your weight-loss rate by exercising. Slowly work up to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, five times a week, adding muscle-strengthening exercises on two days. Check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.
Phase three: Disbelief and the lure of old habits
The final phase of your diet is the beginning of the most challenging part of the journey—maintenance. By now, your new eating habits are established and you know the best diet and exercise formula for you.
Don't be surprised, however, if you feel your success is tentative. How you deal with the occasional slip is the real difference between losing weight for good and gaining it back.
When you overindulge, try to get back to your regular eating and exercise routine the next day. Eating healthfully and exercising regularly are the keys to success.
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