How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off: Let Science Talk

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Are you in your healthy weight range? A life-long struggle for many people worldwide, most of us are aware that there are some pretty big health bonuses of losing weight and keeping it off—even if we aren’t aware of all of them.

For those of us lucky enough to achieve a healthy body mass, it’s still very hard work for most people to keep it there. Almost everyone probably knows a yo-yo eater, who does really well to shift those pounds, then is unable to maintain their loss.

Often, people can pile on even more weight than they were carrying beforehand. And I’ll hold my own hands up right now—I’ve been through the cycle myself at least three times.

So what actually works?

There are a whole bunch of different eating plans and theories about how to lose weight, and many more ideas about what to do when it comes to keeping it off. Along with many other people who struggle with their own weight, I’ve probably tried the majority.

Some worked for weight loss but not for maintaining, others were just far too strict or rigid for me to stick to. Having found out what works for me when it comes to how to lose weight and keep it off, here’s what the scientists say about what works when it comes to a weight loss and maintenance plan.

Let’s see if we can come up with a formula that can help you banish the bulge too!

How to Lose Weight…

The basic principle behind weight loss is very simple. To lose weight, we need to take in less energy than we use up. Easy, right? As every conscious eater will tell you—probably very loudly—NO!! Losing weight is not easy at all.

To accurately calculate exactly how much energy we use takes some pretty technical measurements and calculations. Research like this study published in Molecular Medicine tells us that the total energy we use is made up of the energy used in all our millions of normal body functions, plus that of any exercise.

Not only this, but things like recovery from exercise, healing wounds and fighting infection use up extra energy. For a precise result, all of these figures should be calculated. The total can then be compared with the total intake of energy by a single person. If the total energy consumed is less than the energy used, that individual will lose weight.

The reason this works in terms of weight loss is that the body recognizes we’re not taking in enough energy to meet our requirements. To compensate, it mobilizes the fat stores to be released and used as energy.

How quickly a person loses weight depends on the extent of the deficit. One study published in the International Journal of Obesity indicates we generally need an energy deficit of approximately 3500 kcal to lose one pound of body fat, although this figure does change slightly according to the actual lean body mass of the individual concerned.

…and How to Keep It Off

Once you’ve made your chosen changes to your eating plan, stuck to it for months—maybe years for some people—you’d think the hard part was over. Sorry—think again! Maintaining a constant weight can also be an incredibly difficult challenge.

Weight maintenance takes us into a slightly different package of energy requirements. To keep your body weight stable, the energy in our food and drink needs to balance the energy we use.

In terms of data and energy calculations, this is harder to get right than for losing weight. With weight loss, we can err on the side of caution to ensure a consistent loss, but with weight maintenance, there’s much less margin for error.

It seems managing weight on a long-term basis is a global problem, too. All that pizza and pasta in Italy seems to have taken its toll. In an article published in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity, Italian scientists noted this is a very difficult task with a high incidence of weight gain.

More encouragingly, an article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that around 20 percent of people do manage to maintain their weight loss for more than a year.

Keep Those Pounds Off

Thankfully, those clever Italians also observed a few things that made it more likely that people would maintain their weight loss. They grouped these factors into distinct areas.

Here are some things to think about to give yourself a better than average change of keeping those pounds away.

Behavioural Changes

One of the most crucial factors was that people continued to choose to maintain their healthy choices, such as an active lifestyle, which helps keep motivation and confidence high. Hand in hand with an active lifestyle must come a healthy eating plan.

Whether it’s a low-fat, low-calorie or low-carb plan, keto, paleo (more on those later) —the actual details of the eating plan were less important than the fact that the person concerned continues to make healthy choices.

Accountability was another important factor. The research indicated that people who had regular long-term contact with their weight loss medical professional had success over a longer period than people who didn’t maintain contact.

A higher than average success was also observed for people who chose to weigh themselves regularly and monitor their progress with visible markers.

Access to a lifestyle counsellor was also found to increase the likelihood of long-term weight management. This is someone trained in helping people to introduce change into their lives, but also in assisting the individual concerned to make those new lifestyle changes become ingrained habits.

Personality Traits

The thousand and one things about our character that makes us all individuals are largely to be celebrated, but there are some particular aspects of our personality that can make maintaining weight loss more likely.

People who placed low interest and value on novelties in life were shown to achieve more success in weight maintenance. This suggests it’s important to develop some very personal, intrinsic goals and reasons as to why you’re following your plan of how to lose weight and keep it off.

Weight Loss Eating Plans

We briefly touched on the various different approaches to weight loss. Here’s what the experts say about some of the most popular plans.

Traditional Low Fat

For many decades, it was widely believed that the best weight loss plans centered around minimizing the amount of fat consumed, and there’s evidence to say that this approach results in successful weight loss.

Research published in The Journal of Nutrition found that low-fat diets are significantly effective at reducing body weight, total cholesterol and insulin levels.

Some people find a low-fat approach easier to follow than other plans. There are lots of low-fat products available from many different food companies, which many people use to create a low-fat version of their original eating plan. It can also cut down on time spent organizing and preparing.

So if this style of eating plan suits you and your lifestyle, low-fat diets are definitely worth considering—although there are lots of newer ideas about weight loss that you might want to consider too.

But there’s also evidence to indicate that saturated fat can have a positive effect on weight loss. The above research also noted that the greatest weight losses were achieved by individuals for whom most of the fats included in their diet were saturated fats.

Let’s look at some alternatives to low-fat eating.

No Carb Low Carb

Eating plans which involve having either reduced or no carbs have become very popular in recent times. They work on the principle of eliminating the body’s first-choice energy supply. Being left with no other alternative, the body is forced to use its fat reserves.

In research to compare these kind of eating plans with low-fat versions, clinical trials like this one from The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found low-carb plans to be significantly more effective than programs based on low-fat eating.

There are lots of health advantages to no or low-carb plans. As they cut down our often carb-rich diet and limit the sources of carbohydrates, these eating plans can automatically do away with all the unhealthy, refined carbs that are available to most of us.

As a result, it comes as little surprise to many that in addition to producing very effective weight loss, this research also linked low-carb eating plans with decreased blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

This research also noted reduced blood glucose levels and risk of diabetes, lower bad cholesterol levels and increased amounts of good cholesterol. Some people find low carb plans easy and feel great—others have a rough time as the body adjusts.

One problem is that many people need to make drastic changes to the way they eat. Staple foods like potatoes, pasta and rice need to be wholegrain versions, and eaten in limited amounts.

Low-carb diets also need a fair amount of planning and preparation. Some food outlets and manufacturers do produce low-carb options, and steak or chicken and vegetables is a perfect low-carb choice at a restaurant—but there’s no grabbing a sandwich for lunch anymore if you get caught short!


Paleolithic eating plans are based on the theory that many modern health conditions can be linked to diets based on processed food, grains and dairy. A paleo approach focuses on eating whole foods, fruit, vegetables, nuts and other good-quality proteins.

Some paleo-based plans also included some dairy and potatoes. Not everyone agrees that the modern paleo eating plan is accurately based on foods our ancestors ate, but there’s little denying the scientific evidence that it works for weight loss.

A study out of the journal Diabetologia found that a paleo-based diet was more effective at short-term weight loss than a Mediterranean-style eating program. A two-year-long study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that a paleo approach is more effective than an eating program based on government nutritional advice.

Other studies have shown that a paleo plan can also help to improve insulin intolerance and reduce the risk of diabetes, decrease blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Paleo is considered by many as quite expensive due to all the fresh produce and good-quality ingredients required. Many people consider this a worthwhile investment in their own health and well-being.

It also takes some planning, and many people find the easiest way to stick to a paleo approach is for the vast majority of food to be homemade, which takes time and effort.

Glycemic Indexing

Another approach to losing weight is based around how much any particular type of food increases your blood glucose levels. Some types of glycemic-based plans limit food according to percentages, with some specifying around 30 percent of the diet consisting of protein and fat, with the remainder made up of carbs with a low glycemic index (GI).

Research on glycemic-style programs isn’t clear. Some studies such as one published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicate it’s effective for weight loss and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Others studies, including one published in the Cochrane Database Systematic Review call for more research into the long-term effects.

And Finally…

There are numerous other eating plans and commercial programs that are designed and marketed to help people who want to know how to lose weight and keep it off. Most are based around at least some of the principles discussed above.

People who aren’t within their healthy weight range can make a huge difference to their life and their health by losing weight. It’s a goal that some people keep trying to reach right throughout their lifetime. But knowing how to lose weight and keep it off and actually being able to do it are not the same thing.

In reality, the only way to reach and maintain a stable, healthy weight is to keep making healthy choices on a consistent, ongoing basis. Which type of eating plan you follow doesn’t actually matter, as long as it’s approved by your doctor as a plan that provides your body with all the nutrition it needs.

Research tells us what really does matter is that you stick to your plan, and that you make your lifestyle more active on a regular basis. People who use consistent markers like using weighing scales or a tape measure and recording progress are more likely to stick to their plan and reach their weight loss goal. Regular contact with medical professionals or lifestyle counsellors about your progress can also increase success.

If anyone had a cast-iron, 100 percent, works-for-everyone, guaranteed answer to how to lose weight and keep it off, they’d probably have made a lot of money by now. Even the idea that the next big weight loss approach might be effective is enough to generate a lot of interest—and money in some people’s pockets, no doubt—in the hope that this one might work for us.

But when it comes down to the wire, losing and maintaining weight is about whether or not you’re able to maintain the changes you’ve made to your diet and lifestyle on a long-term basis. That comes down to the exact changes you’ve chosen to make, and how sustainable they are for you personally.

So the long and short of the story is whatever food and lifestyle changes you choose to make in your plan on how to lose weight and keep it off need to be exactly that. Changes for life, not as part of a short-term plan are the order of the day.

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