Let's face it. Losing weight isn't the hard part. Many of us can lose weight in the short term by following any number of diets.
But few people successfully maintain their weight loss. Data shows that the majority of people in weight loss programs regain most of their lost weight- and sometimes more - within 3 to 5 years.
According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, you stand a better chance of keeping the pounds off for good if you eat a high protein diet that contains low glycemic carbohydrates.
The glycemic index (GI) describes how carbohydrate-rich foods affect blood sugar (glucose) levels after eating. Most highly processed grain products (e.g. white bread, white rice, cereal bars, sweets) have a high glycemic index and cause blood sugar to spike after eating.
Minimally processed grains (e.g. brown rice, whole grain pasta, steel-cut oats, whole rye bread), whole fruits, legumes and vegetables have a low glycemic index. These foods lead to a slower rise in blood sugar after they're eaten.
In the study, conducted in eight European countries, 773 adults who had completed an eight-week, low-calorie diet were assigned to one of five weight maintenance diets. (During the weight loss phase, participants shed, on average, 24 pounds.)
The maintenance diets included 1) low protein (13% calories)-low glycemic index, 2) low protein-high GI, 3) high protein (25% calories)-low GI, 4) high protein-high GI, and 5) a control diet based on national guidelines.
There were no restrictions on calorie intake in any of the diets. Participants were told to maintain their weight loss although further loss was allowed.
After 26 weeks, only the low protein-high glycemic diet was associated with significant weight regain. Compared to folks assigned to a low protein or high glycemic diet, those following the high protein and low glycemic diets did a much better job at maintaining their weight loss.
What's more, participants on the high protein-low glycemic diet continued to lose weight during the maintenance phase.
Meals with a low GI are thought to cause changes to hormones and metabolism that can reduce hunger and prevent overeating. Protein-rich foods such as lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu and dairy products delay the rate at which food is emptied from your stomach. In this way, including protein at meals lowers the GI further and keeps you feeling full longer.
Adjusting the carbohydrate and protein content of your diet may increase the odds you'll maintain a weight loss, but there are other strategies you need to consider.
Keeping your weight stable requires the same level of commitment that was made when losing weight. The following tips will help you stay focused, motivated and on top of your healthy diet.
Include protein. Divide your protein intake among three meals and two snacks. Replace calories from refined (white) starchy foods with lean versions of protein such as lean meat, fish, chicken, egg whites, tofu and legumes.
Protein-rich snack choices include nuts, soy nuts, edamame, hard boiled eggs, part skim cheese, yogurt, and soy milk.
Choose low GI foods. Avoid eating refined and sugary foods at meals and snacks. Choose low GI foods such as such as beans, lentils, nuts, pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes, steel-cut or large flake oatmeal, oat bran, Red River cereal, 100% bran cereals, yogurt, milk and unflavoured soy milk. Low GI fruits include apples, oranges, peaches, pears and berries.
Revitalize your focus. It's easy to get sloppy after you've hit your weight goal. Portion sizes creep up, extra nibbles sneak in and the motivation to work out can wane.
To stay focused, resume keeping a food diary for one week each month. Write down every bite and track your portion sizes too. Refresh your memory about serving sizes by measuring and weighing your foods again.
Step on the scale. Permanent weight loss requires making friends with the bathroom scale. The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), an ongoing U.S. based study tracking over 5,000 people who have successfully lost weight significant amounts of weight and kept if off for long periods of time, reported that 75 percent of participants weigh themselves at least once per week.
Think of weekly weigh-ins as an early warning system; they allow you to correct small increases in weight quickly.
Move past slip-ups. The key to long term weight maintenance is nipping small weight gains in the bud - before they accumulate. If a few pounds creep back on, don't dwell on your lapses. Take action to lose them: reinstate your food diary for a few weeks, go back to measuring food portions, or add in an extra workout.
Check in with a dietitian. Research shows that having personal contact with a nutritionist once a month - be it face-to-face or over the telephone - is associated with better weight loss maintenance.
If you don't have a personal nutritionist, ask for support from a family member, co-worker or friend. Or consider joining a support group like Weight Watchers.
Exercise regularly. Ninety percent of successful maintainers in the NWCR report getting one hour of scheduled exercise each day, often brisk walking.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.