5 Secrets to Lifelong Weight Loss

Proven ways to get pounds off -- and keep them off
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Most people can lose a quick five or ten pounds before a big event. But how do you keep the weight off -- today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life? Not even everyone with "lucky genes" can stay slim for a lifetime without the help of a few basic strategies.

These five secrets to lifelong weight loss can keep you leaner -- and more important, healthier -- now and forever.

Lifelong weight-loss secret #1: Acknowledge that your body and your life change as you get older, and fine-tune your habits accordingly.

Aging begins well before you turn 40 or 50. "Lifelong weight loss comes down to paying attention at every life stage," says Beth Reardon, director of integrative nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine, part of the Duke University Health System. "You need to acknowledge that you're always changing, and you can't do the same things you've always done to maintain the same weight."

To put this in practice:

  • Leave food on your plate. The older you get, the more your metabolism slows -- one to two percent a year after age 30, Reardon says. "It doesn't take much food to add up to weight creep. Three extra bites can add 100 calories a day, or ten pounds at the end of the year."

  • Move away from three square meals a day. Digestion slows as we age, especially digestion of fiber. So lightening the load by eating smaller, lighter meals and healthful snacks keeps your energy levels more stable and makes you less prone to hungry gorging.

  • Count the liquid calories. A five-ounce pour of wine with dinner contains about 150 calories. That can add up to 15 extra pounds in a year. Two glasses? Double that.

  • Pay attention to how food is prepared. Midlife and older adults often cook less and eat out more. But when you're not controlling the food prep, extra calories sneak in. It's not that you shouldn't socialize but that you need to be hyperaware of what's going in your mouth.

Lifelong weight-loss secret #2: Keep moving (not necessarily in the gym).

A gradually slowing metabolism from young adulthood onward means you need to eat less than you could in your 20s to keep weight comparable. But you can also compensate for the slowdown by fighting midlife inertia and a sedentary lifestyle. Thinner people move more, numerous studies have shown. Lean older adults don't necessarily follow vigorous workouts; rather, they keep moving all throughout their day -- gardening, doing chores, walking, climbing stairs, and staying engaged and active.

To put this in practice:

  • Get up -- every hour. One famous study found that obese people sat for 9.5 hours a day, compared with lean people, who sat fewer than 7 hours a day. University of South Carolina researchers found in 2011 that people who sit more have larger waist sizes (along with a host of undesirable blood-work results). But it's not enough to sit for long periods and then go physically wild; better to stand up and exert calories throughout the day, which stimulates muscles and body functions better.

  • Rely less on "labor-saving devices." One Mayo Clinic study compared those who performed daily chores like dish washing and doing local errands manually or on foot with people who did the same things with electric or mechanical devices like dishwashers and cars. The comparative calorie savings were small (26 extra calories for hand-washing the dishes), but they added up, day after day, to the tune of as many as 11 more pounds per year for those who relied on devices. Obviously you can't walk everywhere, but the takeaway is that the more you can do on your own, the better for your body.

  • Wear a pedometer. This can help you track how much you're moving. Aim for 10,000 steps a day.

  • Start fidgeting. Research shows that some people are natural-born fidgeters, genetically programmed to move around more than others. But that doesn't mean you can't train yourself to emulate them.

Lifelong weight-loss secret #3: Eat plants -- all day, every day.

Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules, has famously distilled healthful eating to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Reardon favors the acronym "PBD, GDI," which stands for the advice she gives dozens of times a week to clients with health and weight issues: "Plant-based diet, gosh darn it!" The gosh-darn-it part (sometimes she inserts expletives with the same initials) is because she comes back to this basic so often, for so many circumstances. "Eating lighter, eating better, always comes back to a more plant-based diet," she says.

To put this in practice:

  • Include a plant at every meal, every snack. Don't worry about how many fruits and vegetables you're supposed to eat in a day. Just include one at every single meal and snack, Reardon suggests.

  • Make sure veggies and grains dominate your plate. Break free of the "meat-potato-veggie" definition of a decent meal. Don't limit yourself to just one vegetable per meal, and explore the wide world of whole grains. Consider meat a condiment.

  • Choose fruits, vegetables, and grains that are fresh and whole. By definition, you'll be eating fewer processed foods. That, in turn, helps you minimize sodium, which is bad for blood vessels that grow less flexible and more prone to high blood pressure over time. Eating fewer processed foods also helps you avoid inflammatory fats. Chronic inflammation is a biochemical process that can fuel unwanted weight gain.

More secrets to lifelong weight loss

Lifelong weight-loss secret #4: Stay super hydrated.

Sure, water fills up your stomach -- but that's not the only reason drinking a lot will help keep your weight low. It's important to keep well hydrated, especially as you get older, because thirst receptors lose their ability to recognize thirstiness over time, says Duke University's Beth Reardon. Since we're water-based beings, our organs rely on staying well hydrated in order to perform optimally. Older adults often take multiple medications that need to be metabolized by the liver, for example, and drinking water helps flush them through the system.

You might not directly connect this process to your scale, but stabilizing weight is easier when the body's organs are performing optimally.

To put this in practice:

  • Don't confuse hunger with thirst. "Make sure that before you grab something to eat, you check whether you're really thirsty," says Reardon.

  • Carry a water bottle everywhere. Bring it in the car, to doctor's appointments, when you're going for a walk -- "just like you carry your wallet everywhere," Reardon says.

  • Make water tasty. To help develop the habit, try flavoring your water. Drop in a lemon or orange wedge, or even a slice of watermelon or some berries. Or add an herbal tea bag or flavored green tea bag to cool or room-temperature water to enhance its taste.

Lifelong weight-loss secret #5: Don't be a night owl.

Sure, plenty of skinny twentysomethings pull all-nighters, party, and burn their digital devices at both ends. Trouble is, it's a hard lifestyle to sustain into midlife and beyond while also keeping pounds off. Kids, work woes, a condition called sleep apnea, and, by one's 40s and 50s, bladder issues that trigger trips to the bathroom can all keep you up at night. And a large body of research now shows that poor sleep directly influences how tightly those pants fit when you get dressed in the morning. On average, those who sleep less, weigh more.

Why? People with disrupted sleep cycles or who fail to get enough restorative sleep experience many hormonal shifts that influence appetite. Levels of leptin, which regulates satiety, sink; ghrelin, which triggers appetite, rises. Many people with poor sleep have poorer control of their cravings. And cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) rises too, which can contribute to insulin resistance and prediabetes. Six to eight hours of sleep is an often-cited goal for those trying to break this problematic cycle.

To put this in practice:

  • Consider sleep as important to weight control as diet and exercise. Most people simply discount sleep. But lifelong weight loss is more than simply a calories-in-calories-out formula.

  • Learn how to manage problems that interfere with sleep, such as sleep apnea or overactive bladder triggers. Physical problems are often at the root of disrupted sleep.

  • Avoid eating close to bedtime. Your body will spend energy digesting the food rather than shifting into restorative sleep, Reardon says. Best: Leave at least three hours between dinner and bed. If you must have something, make it a glass of milk, which may increase seratonin levels.

  • Try enhancing sleep with supplements. Magnesium and melatonin have relaxing, sedative qualities, according to Reardon. Periodic use of over-the-counter sleep aids can also help reset a pattern of disrupted sleep.

  • If you're a caregiver and someone else's sleep is affecting yours, get help. Ask a doctor about medications that can help regulate sleep in an older adult with dementia who has sundown syndrome, for example. Your sanity, your health, and, yes, your weight management may all depend on it.


over 1 year ago, said...

Many small matters which are very helpful


over 1 year ago, said...

Of all the secrets, I agree the most with Get up -- every hour. It practically works. In fact, this is my secret weight loss weapon:)


almost 2 years ago, said...

I thought this was a very well thought out and helpful article . THANKS


almost 2 years ago, said...

With cardiac insufficiency and reduced kidney function, avoiding fluid accumulation in my lower legs is important. I watch salt, take 160 mg. furosemide a day, and often have an unpleasantly dry mouth, especially when my nose is stopped up. Any suggestions?


almost 2 years ago, said...

The doctor in charge of the health of returning astronauts found that standing up frequently, 35 times a day, was THE most important exercise for health as so many body systems were involved.


about 3 years ago, said...

It was well written, informative and pertinent.


about 4 years ago, said...

Extremely informative and useful hints very effectively presented. All the hints are very easy to follow. I have myself tried a few of them already and besides losing a few undesirable extra pounds (weight) initially, have been able to maintain my weight also with out much ado. I commend the writer(s) of this nice article. -- Dr.Parameswaran, Consulting Engineer


about 4 years ago, said...

learning about how much sleep you need and how it helps control your weight


about 4 years ago, said...

Well written with easy to do instructions. Had a few bits of information that were new to me.


about 4 years ago, said...

All of these suggestions are helpful. But there is one element missing with this and most diet or new way of eating programs. I, like a lot of people are serious emotional eaters. It will take more than just eating less and exercise more for us. We need to figure out how to deal with our emotional problems before any weight loss effort will be successful. My emotional eating stem from unresolved issues in my childhood and adulthood. I am 56 years old. I know that is a long time to hold on to childhood issues but some things just do not disappear with age. And you can not always "get over it" like many would suggest you do. I take mental health meds to help me cope. I would recommend talking to a professional if you can find one that really care. Which, unfortunately, I have not been able to do. Even your family or friends may get tired of hearing your issues. There are support groups for almost any situation you may have. It is a relief to find out that you are not alone. I am working through my issues slowly but surely with the help of my Heavenly Father who is never too busy to comfort and reassure me. I recite The Serenity Prayer each morning. As I work through my emotional issues, it is easier to stick with a new way of eating. I use the 'Walk Away The Pounds' video for my daily exercise. There are several different versions on the market to make it more exciting. I pray this will help somebody.


about 4 years ago, said...

We find it helpful - when we remember (!) - to give input to our server at a restaurant: "Only two slices of bread, please, and would you take back the butter - we don't use it." "No croutons (or cucumbers) on the salad, please" "Can you substitute double vegetables for the boiled potatoes?" "Only a small bowl of rice for the two of us, please""We'll share the dessert - two forks, please" "Hold the fries - what can you substitute?" " We'll just order two appetisers a la carte" "The soup looks like enough to hold us til dinner". Haven't been able to be very successful with limiting ourselves on cruise meals and good European breakfast buffets, however.


about 4 years ago, said...

AND you might want to start putting more veggie/fruit smoothies in your day. I LOVE LOVE LOVE our new Magic Bullet! Makes the best smoothies and I haven't bought a smoothie in over a month!


about 4 years ago, said...

clear and concise


about 4 years ago, said...

//this is no problem for myself, but it does bring to mind some basic, common sense approaches for regular application


about 4 years ago, said...

I find this article very helpful. It shows that little things or little steps can easily add up to giant strides. I find the tips easier to follow.


about 4 years ago, said...

All the information on the type of food, to be on the move more, etc. Thank you.


over 4 years ago, said...

I agree with the comment on the benefits of juicing. When I tried that several years ago, it became extremely complicated, boring, and messy. Now I eat my food whole but as natural as possible. All processed foods are suspect when it comes to health and loosing weight. I like Joy Bauer's new book, Joy Fit Club: Cookbook, Diet Plan and Inspiration. I love to cook with natural ingredients and chew my food too.


over 4 years ago, said...

I think cooking out all the Nutriants, Vitamins in our food is a problem along with trusting processed foods in our grocery stored. I think we should juice our fruits and veggies.


over 4 years ago, said...

I love to know about healh food and everything that have to be with keeping the body in good condition. Since I was very young I have always read about how to keep the body in health condition, that's why I love this article.


over 4 years ago, said...

Most of these sound like good advice. I do not agree with the "leave food on your plate." Learn to control your portion sizes in the first place. We waste so much food and there are people going without food everywhere. I have learned to control my sizes and at restaurants I will order small portions and tell them to cut down on the size of the portions. If I receive too much food when I asked for it, I will write a comment. Restaurants waste so much food. Sure you can take it home if you are going home, but if you are not, this food is thrown out. I am disgusted with the portions at most restaurants. We need to accept an actual designated portion size instead of demanding large portions and then wasting food or eating and all and contributing to the obesity epidemic. The amount of food this country wastes is absolutely disgusting. People are starving in our country and we throw out food.


over 4 years ago, said...

It's a life-style change. A temporary adjustment in dietary choices will produce exactly that result: a temporary level of success. As soon as one lets go of the rule-book, they gain the weight back and perhaps a bit more. Portion control. Avoid sweets - cakes, etc., for at least one week. Then allow yourself just one portion. So don't buy an entire cake. If you buy cookies -- eat ONLY the suggested serving size... and spread it throughout the day. You'll not feel as though the dietary change is a punishment. And surprisingly, you'll find yourself actually craving fruit and salads or veggie snacks. And you'll be loving it! About every hour on the hour, drink 8oz of water. When an ad comes on TV, that's the clue to march around the room, until your show comes back on. i did it.... 45 lbs ago. .... and it's 7 yrs now.


over 4 years ago, said...

@ Cheesie ~ I know the feeling. Good luck to you and know that if anything bad every happens to you, like a long illness of your own, you will have some ammunition to burn or waste, right? Good luck to you and so sorry about your wife. It is extremely hard to make that adjustment.


over 4 years ago, said...

I hate to waste food. At home I can just use a smaller plate so that my portions are smaller, too. But if I eat anywhere else where the amount of food is more than I actually want, I ask for a box to take the rest home. It's not embarrassing. Friends would have given me some to take home anyway, and it's common for older people in restaurants who can't eat it all at once.


over 4 years ago, said...

All these tips are very helpful to me since I am changing my bad habits into good habits. I also joined golds gym and learning how to get more active in my life. I eat every 3 hours and watch the portions which is very important. This way i dont get real hungry at all. I am watching the salt and fat in my diet. Its hard to do but determined to get better as time goes by.