by Tom Venuto Iron Magazine
This is probably the best check-list of weight maintenance advice I have come across this year – if not ever.
This is straight from peer-reviewed obesity research journals, not from pop fitness websites, so you can trust that this advice is rock solid and true.
The data came from obesity researchers at the University of Surrey (UK). They didn’t conduct a new study, however – they did an exhaustive review of 152 other studies (Basically, ALL the major research that’s ever been done on weight maintenance).
What I’ve done is to summarize the most important weight maintenance factors for you (psychological traits and physical behaviors) and then translate that into a lesson or actionable step.
The more of these strategies you use, the more likely you’ll be not only to lose fat, but to keep it off for good. A person who is 13 for 13 (or even close to it) is simply NEVER going to have a weight problem.
In the words of the authors, tracking calories eaten, workouts performed, body weight change, progress achieved, and so on, are “cardinal behaviors of successful weight maintainers.” Maintainers monitor everything. They are journalers, trackers, and counters. Remember, you can’t improve it if you’re not even measuring it.
Self-responsibility / Internal locus of control
People who attribute (blame) their body fat on medical conditions are LESS successful at maintenance. This is most likely because they don’t believe they’re in control of their results. A person with an internal locus of control believes that outcomes are under their own control. A person with an external locus of control believes outcomes are controlled by outside forces such as environment, genes or chance. High internal locus of control strongly predicts successful fat loss and long term maintenance.
External motivation is helpful, but no motivation is better than self motivation. Research confirms that being SELF motivated predicts successful weight loss from both exercise and diet programs.
Self motivation vacillates a lot for most people and the research has found two major reasons why: (1) Small lapses in compliance cause a drop in motivation, and (2) self criticism causes a drop in motivation. Successful maintainers are kind to themselves, they avoid critical self-talk, and they understand that they’re going to have lapses, they simply bounce back quickly.
Self efficacy is the conviction that you can successfully execute the behavior required to produce the results you want. Differently stated, this is believing in yourself, and specifically, believing in your ability to follow the program (“I can do it” attitude).
Weight cycling (yo yo dieting)
Multiple previous attempts at weight loss followed by weight regain (yo yo dieting) predicts poor success at future attempts. This may seem discouraging to chronic dieters, but the good news is that the research said this was only a correlation. If you’ve lost and regained many times, you CAN succeed. The key is that you must learn from past mistakes.
Proper nutrition is one the strongest predictors of weight loss and weight maintenance. Most experts consider diet the #1 key to success at the outset of a weight loss program. Though there are thousands of diet programs, the one thing the successful ones have in common is that the diet is low in energy density.
Most people now understand there are healthy and unhealthy fats, but because fat has the highest energy density, a common finding among maintainers is a low fat diet. Also, over and over again, studies associate higher fruit intake, higher vegetable intake and eating breakfast with better weight loss and maintenance.
Experts still argue about how important exercise is at the beginning of a weight loss program but it’s unanimous when it comes to maintenance – exercise is VITAL for keeping the weight off (to the point that you are almost doomed to gain back weight if you think you can be totally sedentary). Recent research has emphasized that it’s important to reduce sedentary behaviors, not just increase exercise. For successful maintenance, the activity and exercise also has to be something you can maintain as a lifestyle.
Not even remotely surprising, attendance (aka “compliance”) is one of the most consistent predictors of ongoing weight loss success. This should go without saying, but this confirmation should be a reminder that you are fooling yourself if you think skipping workouts, skipping meals, or skipping anything that’s an integral part of the program won’t matter. Every workout and every meal matters. Discipline and consistency are everything.
Caring about body image
People with more concern for their shape and appearance successfully maintain a lower body weight. One research team called this a “healthy narcissism.” Another researcher said that pride in appearance is one of the four main factors predicting maintenance.
Some people are concerned about when healthy narcissicm becomes unhealthy. Cognitive psychologists say that when you evaluate your self worth as a person based on your body image (weight and shape) alone, that is unhealthy. It’s important to disassociate you as a person from your weight and body shape. As I wrote in The Body Fat Solution” “body fat is not a person, it’s a temporary condition.”
Early weight loss
Getting off to a good start and getting momentum going is a predictor of future success. This doesn’t mean that crash diets and induction programs are a good idea, but there’s little doubt that good early results correlates with lower dropout and with finishing strong. Going for the first few weeks with no results correlates highly with dropout. Conventional wisdom says take it slow and steady or you may burn out – and while that’s still good advice, don’t tip-toe through your first few weeks – start strong!
People with good coping strategies have better weight loss and maintenance results. Research shows that weight regainers tend to eat in response to stressful or negative life events and negative emotions. Maintainers use food for fuel and building material for the body and have other ways to cope with stress. The most effective strategies involve confronting problems and resolving challenges. Avoidance, passivity or emotion-based coping (eating, sleeping more or wishing problems would go away), leads to failure and relapse.
Social support falls under coping strategies, but it’s so important, on so many levels, it stands alone as one of the biggest predictors of better ongoing weight loss AND long term weight maintenance.
Here’s one of the keys: You need support from LIKE-MINDED people who are in or have been in your shoes before. That creates a bond or rapport (“these people are like me”), which creates confidence that you can do it too. The researchers confirmed it:
“An individual’s degree of success is likely to be heavily influenced by their capacity to construct linkages and alliances with people sharing the same problem, and the quality of the social network available.”
Here’s another key to finding quality support: The researchers found that when support was viewed by the recipient as promoting autonomy as opposed to being controlling, the participants got much better results.
For fat loss support – quality support, from like-minded people – you CANNOT do better than the Burn the Fat Inner Circle support community: Burn The Fat Inner Circle (unmatched support and much more).
On one hand, unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment and correlate to high dropout, but on the other, you can only rise as high as you set the bar. Researchers say that the best results come from a combination of realistic and positive expectations. My philosophy is: be realistic, especially on goal achievement deadlines / time frames, but set big goals and always EXPECT SUCCESS!
Summing it all up
One of the major conclusions of the researchers was that people who combine multiple strategies are far more successful at weight loss and weight maintenance than those who use only one strategy, such as diet alone or exercise alone, or positive thinking/psychological approaches alone. They wrote,
“The more dimensions or modules of behavior change and mental attitude that a person can fit in their lives, the greater the chance of success” they said.
In the Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle program, this is precisely the approach we use – multiple strategies. I’ve boiled successful fat loss and body transformation down into a combination of four primary elements:
2. Weight training
3. Cardio training
4. Mental training
We also agree completely with the research findings about support and support groups. We call social support “the 5th Element.” When you’ve got that too, you’ve got a permanent fat loss system that’s almost fool-proof.