- According to a new study published in the journal Obesity, those who were most successful at losing weight—and keeping it off—had a more positive outlook.
- Weight loss maintainers did not beat themselves up for regaining a few pounds or feel negative about themselves or the behaviors that had led to being overweight or obese.
- Instead, weight loss maintainers practiced self-kindness and mindfulness, which helped them understand that days of overeating and low activity do happen, and you can get back on track the next day.
It should go without saying that no runner needs to lose weight, and runners indeed come in all shapes and sizes (see: Allie Kieffer advocating for body-positivity in the running community and social media movements like Dorothy Beal’s #IHaveaRunnersBody). But the reality is that many people get into running to lose weight, which is a challenging process, and those who are successful face an even harder road ahead: keeping the pounds off.
While there’s no single strategy that works best for everyone, new research highlights certain tactics that many weight loss maintainers have in common, providing at least a roadmap for the maintenance journey.
Published in the journal Obesity, the study surveyed almost 5,000 members of WW—formerly known as Weight Watchers—who lost an average of 50 pounds and didn’t regain the weight for at least three years. Researchers looked at 54 behaviors related to weight management, encompassing strategies related to goal-setting, attitudes, food tracking, and type of food consumed.
In terms of habits around food, the most prevalent behaviors of the weight loss maintainers were keeping healthy, lower-calorie food accessible, setting daily consumption goals, recording actual food consumed, and continuing to measure or weigh foods.
Also important for those who kept the weight off for years is an emphasis on outlook. These participants focus on remaining positive and often think about past successes, said lead study author Suzanne Phelan, Ph.D., a kinesiology and public health professor at California Polytechnic State University.
“Focus on building these skills first,” she told Runner’s World. “The more these skills are practiced, the more they become habitual.”
And while there are often unhealthy temptations and distractions all around us, putting consistent habits in place can counteract this environment, Phelan added.
[Blast through a series of HIIT sessions to boost running strength and prevent injury with the IronStrength Workout.]
What the weight loss maintainers did not do was beat themselves up for regaining a few pounds or feel negative about themselves or the behaviors that had led to being overweight or obese.
“Practicing self-kindness and mindfulness are connected to being self-aware, and to understanding that eating and activity are part of a process,” Phelan said. “There will be days of excess eating and low activity. How people respond to these days makes a difference.”
Preventing weight regain isn’t important just for a sense of emotional wellbeing. Recent studies have highlighted the health hazards of yo-yo dieting, since the weight that’s regained is often fat, which raises heart disease risk and increases systemic inflammation—a potential cause for many health issues, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
For those who are on a weight loss track right now, it may be helpful to look past that “goal weight” moment and think about implementing strategies that will boost maintenance efforts, too. Above all, obsessing over every single calorie or every single pound can quickly result in an unhealthy mindset so focusing on awareness, positivity, and healthy habits is key.