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Five secrets of successful dieters

Of the 71 million of us dieting, about one in every five will actually keep the weight off. How do those success stories do it?  We share the secrets.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Of the 71 million of us dieting, about one in every five will actually keep the weight off. How do those success stories do it? A long-term study by the National Weight Loss Registry has identified exactly what it takes to be a diet success. Even if you were heavy as a kid, have dieted repeatedly in the past, or are middle-aged, you can lose the weight, and more importantly, keep it off by following these tried-and-true habits of successful dieters. Surprisingly, only two of the habits are about food and exercise! 

Habit No. 1: Take responsibility
Maintainers realize that losing weight and keeping it off is up to them. Put this habit into practice:

  • Take a long, hard look at who you are losing the weight for. Only when you honestly can say "for me" — not for your spouse or mother-in-law — are you ready to lose weight and keep it off.
  • Accept there are no magic pills, diet gurus, gizmos or gadgets that can do it for you. You must own the problem and get honest with yourself about what you’re doing and what you’ll need to do to change.
  • Decide that the changes you must make for life are worth it for your health, well-being, or self-respect. When you do this, you drop the “why me” mantra. You’re right that it isn’t fair that some people have to move more or eat less than others, but that’s the reality and the sooner a person accepts that and gets to the real question of what to do about it, the better.

Habit No. 2: Exercise every day
No diet will maintain a healthy weight if you don’t exercise. The trick is how much. Diet successes move more than you think: the equivalent of an hour or more a day or 28 miles of walking a week.

Put this habit into practice:

  • First, define yourself as an exerciser. Then start small by wearing a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day.
  • Second, add structured exercise to this daily activity. Walk, swim, bike or play some other sport for 10 minutes a day, and slowly increase your time. Aim for 1 hour per day.
  • Third, mix it up. Combine two or more types of exercise in your weekly routine, such as walking with Pilates, water aerobics, kick boxing, or snowshoeing.

Habit No. 3: Get real
Success isn’t about reaching your ideal weight; it’s about reaching your feel-good weight. The weight where you are not hungry all the time and don’t have to exercise fanatically. Put this habit into practice:

  • Set a realistic goal, i.e., a comfortable body weight that you can maintain without obsessing over food 24/7, yet you still feel good. Ask yourself, “What is the least I have weighed for a year or more as an adult?”, “What is the largest clothing size I would be happy with?”
  • Lose the weight slowly. People who lose more than 2 pounds a week are losing mostly water and lean tissue weight, not the fat weight you want to lose. Lose it slowly and you’re also most likely to keep off the weight.
  • People who lost one to two pounds a week while gradually reprogramming their taste buds and lifestyle report the easiest time adapting to weight maintenance compared to people who dropped weight quickly on fad or liquid diets.

Habit No. 4: Live it up
Weight maintenance is not about deprivation or denial. It is about setting limits and making a few compromises. You can still have pizza, but one piece along with a big salad.

Put this habit into practice:

  • Give yourself permission to be imperfect and to treat yourself — but only on occasion and on smaller portions. Make conscious decisions about how to spend your calorie allotment. If dark chocolate is your favorite treat, then have a small piece, but don’t waste your time on a less-satisfying or mindless snack.
  • Take time out of a busy day to nurture yourself in non-food ways, such as a pedicure or a hot bath.
  • Most important, put the weight thing into perspective. When you reach the end of your days and look back over your life, heaven forbid that your main accomplishment was that you agonized over your weight!

Habit No. 5: Focus on real food
Fad diets work short-term, but they are not the way to keep weight off long-term. Instead, most diet successes monitor calories and portions, eat lots of produce and quality carbs, limit fat grams, and eat consistently, regardless of whether it is a weekday, weekend, or holiday.  Ask diet successes what is different about their diets today compared to the past and they overwhelmingly respond that they used to eat haphazardly and now make a concerted effort to eat regular meals.

Put this habit into practice:

  • Load the plate with low-fat fare, i.e., vegetables, fruit, whole-grain breads and cereals, legumes, extra-lean meats, seafood and nonfat milk or soymilk. 
  • Listen to your body. Eat slowly and only when physically hungry and stop when comfortably full. 
  • Define your “diet” as an eating plan you will live with for life.

Now that you know the habits for long-term success, get a meal plan that will help you keep off the pounds. includes four pounds of food and only 1,500 calories.