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Tried and true methods work best for losing weight If you’re trying to slim down for summer, new study findings suggest you’ll do better if you stay clear of popular diets and diet foods. According to the study, successful “losers” followed tried and true methods: they ate less fat, exercised more and some joined a weight loss program.

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One in four Canadians are obese and roughly 60 per cent are trying to lose weight. Given the fact that the vast majority of people who lose weight regain all or even more pounds after weight loss efforts, it’s important to pinpoint strategies that work.

Previous studies have identified methods which have helped dieters successfully lose weight. But findings based on selected volunteers might not generalize to the public. In the new study, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Bostonanalyzed data from a nationally representative sample of 4,021 obese U.S. adults, over the age of 20.

Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater is considered obese. BMI is calculated as your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters. (Use an online calculator to determine your BMI) Sixty-three per cent of participants said they were trying to lose weight. Among them, 40 per cent had managed to lose at least 5 per cent of their body weight and another 20 per cent has lost 10 per cent or more.

Obese adults are recommended to lose at least 10 per cent of their body weight to improve their overall health, but even a modest loss of 5 per cent can lead to healthy benefits such as lowering blood pressure and blood sugar.

All participants who tried to lose weight – regardless of whether they were successful – were shown a list of weight loss strategies and asked which ones they used to attempt weight loss.

People who reported eating less fat and exercising more were more likely to lose weight. Participants who joined a weight loss program were also more likely to achieve at least a 10 per cent weight loss, suggesting that being in a structured program is an important contributor to success.

Participants who used prescription weight loss medications were also more successful, although these were used by only a small number of people in the study.

Least likely to achieve a weight loss were those who followed a popular diet or used a liquid diet. Switching to calorie-reduced diet foods was also not associated with successful weight loss. It’s possible that some people overeat diet products because they believe they’re healthy or low in calories.

Of course, weight loss must be maintained over the long term to be truly successful. While this study did not gather information about maintenance of weight loss, it does suggest it’s time to put aside the latest fad diet and get back to basics.

These findings aren’t new. A 2011 study of United States residents identified 14 strategies successful for a 10 per cent weight loss. Most strongly associated with success included eating fruits and vegetables, eating healthy snacks, limiting carbohydrates, controlling portions, doing different types of exercise, and focusing on the progress made.

When it comes to maintaining a weight loss, research has determined that successful “losers” are more likely to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, plan meals, restrict fatty foods, track calories, track fat, measure food on their plate and weigh themselves daily.

As a registered dietitian in private practice, I’ve spent most of my career designing weight loss plans and coaching clients for success. It’s not about a quick fix. Instead, it’s about making permanent – and livable – changes to calorie intake and eating habits.

Based on the research findings and my clinical experience, the following strategies can help enhance success for achieving – and maintaining – a weight loss.

Keep a food diary

A number of studies have found that recording your daily food intake increases the odds of weight loss success. Keeping an inventory of what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat provides awareness, focus and motivation to improve eating habits.

Plan for midday snacks

Eating a between-meal snack helps keep hunger at bay and prevents overeating at meals. Healthy snack options that keep blood sugar relatively stable until mealtime include fruit, nuts, yogurt, part skim cheese, a homemade smoothie and vegetable sticks with hummus. Healthy snacks that keep blood sugar relatively stable until mealtime include fruit and nuts, yogurt and fruit, fruit and part skim cheese, vegetable sticks and hummus, and a homemade smoothie.

Measure portions

If you’re following a weight loss plan, measure your foods for at least two weeks to help you more accurately eyeball portion sizes.

Portion sizes can creep up over time. Every so often, use a scale or measuring cup to serve your food. Read food labels to determine serving sizes.

Step on the scale

Permanent weight loss requires making friends with the bathroom scale. Weighing in allows you see your progress, which motivates you to keep on making healthy changes.

Conversely, regular weigh-ins serve as an early warning system; they allow you to quickly correct small increases in weight.

Check in with a dietitian

Research shows that having personal contact with a nutritionist – 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

Successful weight loss maintainers report getting one hour of scheduled exercise each day, usually brisk walking. If you don’t have an hour to spare, research suggests that 30 minutes of daily walking (equivalent to walking 12 miles per week) can help prevent middle-aged weight gain.

Don’t expect to be perfect

Consider lapses as momentary setbacks, not the ruin of all your hard work. Doing so will make it much easier to get back on track. Focus on the positive changes you have made.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian, is the national director of nutrition for Body Science Centers, medical clinics focusing on healthy aging ( www.BSC5.com ).

Follow on Twitter: @lesliebeckrd

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