Let's face it, losing weight isn't the hard part. Many of us could do it in the short term by following any number of diets.
But few people successfully maintain weight loss. Data show that the majority of people in weight loss programs regain most of the pounds - and sometimes more - within three to five years.
According to a study published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine, you stand a better chance of keeping the weight off for good if you eat a high-protein diet that contains low-glycemic carbohydrates.
The glycemic index (GI) indicates 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 GI 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 GI. 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 per cent of calories), low GI, 2) low protein, high GI, 3) high protein (25 per cent of calories), low GI, 4) high protein, high GI and 5) a control diet based on national guidelines where the participants lived.
There were no restrictions on calorie intake in any of the diets. Participants were told to maintain their weight although further loss was allowed.
After 26 weeks, only the low protein, high GI diet was associated with significant weight regain. Compared with folks assigned to a low protein or high GI diet, those following the high protein and low GI diets did a much better job at maintaining their weight loss.
What's more, participants on the high protein, low GI 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 as when you're losing weight. The following tips will help you stay focused, motivated and on top of your food intake.
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. Choose low GI foods such as beans, lentils, nuts, pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes, steel-cut or large-flake oatmeal, oat bran, Red River cereal, 100-per-cent 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. 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), a continuing U.S.-based study tracking more than 5,000 people who have successfully lost significant amounts of weight and kept if off for long periods of time, reported that 75 per cent of participants weigh themselves at least once a 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 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 such as Weight Watchers.
Ninety per cent of successful maintainers in the NWCR report getting one hour of scheduled exercise each day, often brisk walking.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is lesliebeck.com .