If your closets are packed with skinny jeans, fat slacks, and in-between pants (with drawstrings), you know the only thing tougher than getting slim is staying slim. You're not alone. Statistics like this are rampant: "Eight out of ten dieters regain their lost weight within 2 years." One study suggests why: The things that make you slim are NOT what keep you slim. You need a different skill set.
When diet experts at Penn State Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, (yep, they studied weight control in the self-proclaimed "Sweetest Place on Earth") polled nearly 1,200 successful dieters, they found that those who'd maintained an impressive 30-pound weight loss for at least a year shared some secrets. A few had to do with food and fitness -- eating lots of low-fat protein, staying active -- but more had to do with their brains, not their bodies: To stay slim, it turns out, you need to stay positive, regularly giving yourself praise, rewards, pep talks, and back pats for staying on track. Forget modesty. Tell yourself daily, "Great job!"
That big "Aha" adds to a growing stack of research showing that keeping pounds off depends both on forming healthy new habits and, maybe more, on developing a new attitude once your diet is done. If you've recently lost weight, or hope to soon, these six mental switches could get you to weight loss nirvana: never having to diet again. In YOU: On a Diet we call it "dieting smart, not hard," because you build smart habits and an environment that fosters smart -- not hard -- choices.
Mental switch 1: Find new thrills. Dieting has its own built-in reward system. Every pound lost feels like you've hit the lottery: Your bathroom scale is smiling, your waistbands are loose, your friends can't stop complimenting you. Life is good. Keeping that buzz going postdiet helps you maintain new habits. So give yourself frequent prizes for sticking with it: a great new top, an iTunes spree, a massage, new sneaks, or just time doing something you love.
Mental switch 2: Love your new body. Do you feel jubilant about the new you or frustrated that you're not model-perfect? (Millions of fab-looking people aren't.) Feeling good about your success can be critical to whether you maintain or regain. Regainers often never feel satisfied with their new body and quickly start "feeling fat" again, even though they're not. That discontent can trigger emotional eating. Focus on your accomplishment. Ask friends and family for extra support. Do daily cheerleading -- "Yay, me!"
Mental switch 3: Adopt a can-do philosophy. Will you gain back a pound or two? Probably. What matters most is what happens next, and that depends on your attitude and environment, not just your fork or your feet. While an all-or-nothing approach may have helped you power through the diet, flexibility and optimism work better afterward. "I'm not perfect, but I can make a U-turn and fix it." We call that a YOU-turn! Don't go on a binge because you had a sundae on Sunday. Do what you'd do if you made a mistake on the highway: Turn around and fix it.
Mental switch 4: Learn to say, "Ahh," not "Oh, no." Stress is one of the biggest differences between people who make successful YOU-turns after a postdiet glitch and those who regain weight. Regainers' tension levels are about 20% higher. If you tend to eat when you're stressed, learning to stay calm will keep you in your skinny pants. Yoga, a few minutes of deep breathing, a quick walk, even knitting or woodworking will take the edge off. Need extra help? Try the Stress Free Now program at Dr. Mike's base, ClevelandClinicWellness.com.
Mental switch 5: Check the scales. Not sure how much you can eat after losing? Find out by keeping your feet in touch with your bathroom scale. Seventy-five percent of successful losers weigh in at least once a week. We don't advise doing it daily because everyone's weight can shift a pound or two day a day, but checking once or twice a week lets you spot creeping gains and make a YOU-turn fast.
Mental switch 6: Find 8.5 minutes a day. It's no surprise that sticking with the workout that helped make you skinny can help keep you there. But did you know that the difference between relapsing and maintaining is just 8.5 minutes per day (1 hour a week)? People who recover from little weight gain lapses total about an hour more of exercise per week than those who regain. Just 8.5 minutes a day? YOU can do that!
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