The Yo-Yo Dieter's Guide To Losing Weight And Keeping It Off Forever

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So you've been on a diet. Or two.

OK, make that 10. In fact, you're on a diet right now. The problem is, you're still struggling to lose those 40 pounds (which were actually 30 pounds last January).

Here's the truth about diets not many of us want (or prefer not) to acknowledge: That just one percent of all people who go on a diet lose their excess weight and keep it off in the long term.

In other words, only 1 out of every 100 people who go on a diet get leaner and stay that way…permanently.

What happens to everyone else?

yo_yo_weight_loss_genResults from a study that were published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that people who drop pounds using highly restrictive diets undergo long-term hormonal and metabolic changes that favor weight gain while making it increasingly difficult to lose weight and keep it off.

So what does it really take to shrink that waistline for good then?

According to The National Weight Control Registry, which tracks the weight loss-maintenance results of individuals who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept them off for over a year, a common trait that these people have is this: Habit consistency.

A whopping 89% reported achieving their lasting weight loss via a combination of continued portion control and exercise, and eating-wise, 59% ate the same foods in the same patterns daily without "˜cheating' on the weekends.

Whether you've got 10 or 100 pounds to lose, here are my tried-and-tested strategies (which helped me lose 22 pounds and keep them off for over 5 years now) that you can use to put those metabolism-damaging yo-yo diets in the ground, and start seeing results that stick with you for life.

Ditch That All-Or-Nothing Mindset

Many people set huge goals with huge numbers, and then quickly find the slow and unpredictable pace at which their progress comes, disappointing. Before long, they're declaring: "This isn't working!"

Or, they end up feeling so disheartened the first few times they run into a setback that they stop trying altogether.

While there are plenty of things that come with set, fail-proof outcomes (like say, assembling a table lamp from IKEA), losing weight isn't one of them. What you can do to make the process less bumpy is to make friends with uncertainty.

Start off by applying this concept to the other areas of your life:

  • The next time you head out for a meal, randomly pick a restaurant you've never been to and eat there.
  • Watch only chick flicks at the movies? Have a friend with very different interests pick this or her favorite genre instead.
  • Go for a drive with no fixed destination.

The more unpredictable the outcome, the better. The important thing here is to keep an open mind, let go of your expectations and have fun.

Focus On Progress Markers Other Than Numbers

If the only thing you're focused on is wanting that number on the scale to go down, you're in for a frustrating and morale-busting experience.

Here's why: Yes, seeing your weight drop from 200 to 150 pounds can give you concrete evidence that what you're doing is working, but it doesn't tell you anything about:

  • How much your confidence has soared.
  • How your sleep has improved.
  • Why you're able to walk past the cupcake display without so much as a twitch.
  • Why, for some inexplicable reason, that the thought of going up to your crush and asking her out on a date doesn't seem so scary anymore.
  • Why you can now run for 15 minutes without stopping to catch your breath (or thinking about giving up).
  • How much muscle you've gained.

Instead of obsessing over pounds and inches, try zeroing in on tiny, no-brainer goals you can achieve every single day, like adding an extra spoonful of vegetables to your lunch, going to bed 15 minutes earlier or walking an extra block before heading home.

Small wins add up to bigger wins over time and give you the confidence to tackle the bigger things in life"¦like the 100 pounds you want to lose.

Dig Deep For Your Big "˜Why'

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when you decide to lose weight is to not know why you're doing it.

And I'm not talking about surface "˜whys' like "I want to lose 50 pounds" or "my doctor says I should start exercising"; I'm talking about a meaningful, compelling "˜why' that will have you pushing forward with that workout when all you really want to do is dig into a bucket of fried chicken, or waking up 30 minutes earlier to prep your meals for the day when hitting the snooze button would be so much easier.

Here's a simple exercise that you can do unearth your big why: Imagine that you've woken up having lost all your excess weight. As you swing your legs off your bed, you realize that you no longer have to struggle to sit up, stand and walk to the bathroom. When you get there and look in the mirror, you notice a huge difference"”you're leaner, have a glow to your skin and feel healthier than ever.

What else is running through your mind? What else are you feeling? What do you feel like wearing? You head out the door and to work"”you're walking a little differently. Why? How do you interact with your colleagues? What do you eat throughout the day?

Go into as much detail as you can and make each scenario feel as real as possible. Then, use the insights you've gleaned from this exercise to come up with a weight-loss goal that goes beyond the numbers.

Rely On A Plan, Not Willpower

Willpower is a fickle friend.

One minute it's whispering words of encouragement (and helping you resist that 4th slice of pizza), the next minute it's gone AWOL, leaving you to fend for yourself just when you find yourself right smack in the middle of a buffet line at your best friend's birthday party.

So should you make willpower a part of your weight-loss arsenal? Absolutely, but the trick is to not rely on it 24/7. It can keep you going up to a certain extent, but there's something else that works even better: A plan.

Planning the action steps that support your weight loss ahead of time allows you to take a huge load off willpower, which depletes the more you use it.

Here's what you can plan for:

  • Your meals. Having these prepared ahead of time means you won't have to think about what to eat when your hunger pangs develop.
  • Your workouts. Penciling your sweat sessions into your schedule tells your brain: "Hey, this exercise thing is just as important as everything else in your diary, so get your butt to the gym!"
  • What to do when a colleague turns up with cake to share that you normally wouldn't be able to resist. Keep it for the occasional post-workout treat, when your body's primed for simple-sugar utilization, or have an accountability partner at work hold you to having just one slice.
  • How to gracefully handle negative (or well-meaning but unhelpful) comments from friends, family and colleagues, so you're mentally prepared and won't be likely to go on a depression-induced binge after.

As you can see, permanent weight loss isn't just about eating certain things a certain way"”it's also about having the right mental strategies in place that keep you aware, open to new possibilities, prepared for uncertainty or roadblocks, and motivated for the long-haul. Start slow and focus on taking those tiny action steps daily. Before you know it, you'll be sprinting to the finish line.

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About the author

Michele Lian

I'm a food coach and author of, where I show food lovers how to eat what they want, lose fat and keep it off for life with more ease and less overwhelm. Get started on your own mindful weight-loss journey without having to go on a crash or restrictive eating plan with my FREE, Lose 4 Pounds in 4 Weeks Without Going On A Diet email course.