Friday, July 06, 2007

Is There a Secret to Success?

Lou Shuler, over at Male Pattern Fitness wrote about the article in Slate yesterday and asked What if Nothing Works?

Weight loss advice almost never helps anyone lose weight.

And yet, something must work. We all know people who've lost weight and kept it off. We've all known non-exercisers who became exercisers. We all know people who've turned their lives around by eating better and exercising more, or at least more effectively.


Instead, researchers tend to discover, over and over again, that whatever we're doing now just isn't working for most of the people who try it. And sometimes the results are worse than they would've been if the dieters hadn't tried at all.

His observation is dead on if you ask me.

True, I know some people who have lost weight and maintained their lower weight for years (myself included), but I know many, many more who were able to lose weight effectively in the short term, but then as time passed, the weight was regained, sometimes leaving the person heavier than before they dieted to lose weight.

If we look at data from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) a self-reported database of "successful losers," we're told they have four similar behaviors post-weight loss:

1. They eat a low-fat diet (23-24% fat) with just 1300-1500 calories a day
2. They eat breakfast everyday
3. They monitor weight frequently with 75% weighing themself once a week
4. They engage in a high level of physical activity - 60 to 90 minutes a day


None of the above - daily I eat almost twice as many calories each day with a lot more fat; I skip breakfast more often than not; if I remember I might weigh myself once a month and my activity is daily routine stuff, not a formal exercise program specifically to meet certain targets each day.

For me, it's been eating adequate calories to meet, yet not exceed, my active metabolic requirements each day with primary focus on consuming sufficient quality protein - whatever fat that includes, so be it; eating breakfast if I'm hungry, but not forcing myself to do so if I'm not; I weigh myself occasionally and if my clothes feel a bit snug, weigh to see what's up - if I'm a few pounds up, I review what I'm eating daily and make adjustments if necessary; and I maintain a level of activity that really isn't much more than day-to-day things, but I do have to say includes keeping up with an extremely active almost three child!

Which leaves me wondering - how do you maintain weight once you've lost weight?

If you've lost weight and are able to maintain that loss, share here how you've done it...if you've lost to only re-gain the weight, what do you think is the problem?


  1. I have been one of those unsuccessful dieters all my life. 100 lbs down and 100 lbs back up any number of times. I started a low carb diet in May 2002 and it has become a lifestyle. I am down over 100lbs over that time span without gaining any back and while I am not near goal, I am confident that eventually I will get there. I don't exercise and eat the typically high fat/low carbohydrate diet. My calories are well over 2000 per day. With low carb, I can eat enough good food to feel satisfied and don't gain, which was not true on any other eating regimen. My health has improved greatly, blood pressure normal at 80 lbs overweight, pre diabetic symptoms all gone.

  2. I know it sounds crazy but you don't regulate your weight once you have totally broken your sugar and carbohydrate addiction. Your body does it all by itself!

  3. Anonymous12:13 PM

    I've tried every diet out there (almost) Atkins and Weight Watchers I gained the most with (I even called the Atkins clinic and they OMG EAT CARBS your metabolism will shut down with out them) that was the day I stopped listening to experts, they all contradict themselves - every other diet I gained or stayed the same, and the few I lost some on (gained it all back ) until NOW -- now I do my own plan.

    The only thing that works for me is very very low calories - I do NOT recommend this to any one, but it's the only thing has worked So I have found ways to survive on 800 or less a day

    My doctor and nutritionist both have looked over my plan and even my cardiologist says stick with it

    so far 80 lbs losts and only 60ish to go - this time I will do once and for all and never go back

    Last time I lost over 100, got stuck, gave up went back to eating like a normal person (1500 or so calories) and gained over 100 lbs back within three months. NEVER EVER AGAIN!

    Lady Rose

  4. Anonymous12:57 PM

    Hi Regina.

    My husband and I lost weight with a low-carb diet over seven years ago and have maintained the loss. We have also seen dramatic improvemements in our general health. My secret for success was good food. Anyone can maintain a diet for a while when they are getting dramatic results, but the trick is to stick it out after the excitment wears off. It's the boredom that leads to relapse.

    So I constantly search for new products and try new recipes. We eat desserts every day since there is no reason to skimp when they are sugar-free and good for you. I use relishes, sauces, and condiments to keep it interesting and never, never, never serve just steak and broccoli for dinner!

    Judy Barnes Baker, author "Carb Wars; Sugar is the New Fat"

  5. As I understand it -- and this is largely based on things Dr. Eades has written both in book and blog -- the trick is that there are two things going on: the weight loss process and the weight gain process, and the "problem" is that they aren't biologically inverses of one another.

    The person doing several hundred calories a day may well lose weight, because they're burning faster than they're fat-building, particularly since at that few calories they're probably not jacking their insulin up as high anyway, so the fat building's not as high as it might otherwise be. Unfortunately, in generally I wouldn't expect people to continue that kind of diet for maintenance, and if they still crank up the insulin machine to handle the carbs, well... fat returns.

    On the other hand, I've found a lot of stuff I've been told about low carb (which I primarily do for my blood sugar, for which it is outstanding) is a little exaggerated, because while yes, you won't be adding fat, you also don't lose weight if you're heaping on the calories.

    And it gets worse, or at least weirder, when you admit that people seem to vary as to how few calories they actually can operate on without burning fat. For me, it's surprisingly few. I wouldn't be astonished to find out that that's true of many type 2 diabetics, and would love to see a study on that.

    Having said all that: I haven't gained any weight back while keeping my carbs low, my blood sugar tight, and my insulin requirements modest. (That's all one act, of course.) I haven't always lost more weight, which I'd like to do, because I haven't always kept the calories low enough. When I do both, like I've been doing for the last few weeks, I lose weight, with the confidence that if I don't fool with my endocrine system, it'll stay lost.


  6. Anonymous2:11 PM

    My wife and I followed a low carb diet and started an exercise program based on the principles at I built a crossfit gym in our basement(they have great recommendations on the website). Having a gym in the basement made a huge difference. As a result my wife dropped from a size 12 to a size 6 I dropped 25 pounds. This took about 6 months and it has been easy to maintain.

  7. SWF, 34. I've been following a modified Shangri-La Diet plan for the past 59 weeks: 2 Tbl of flax oil (not taken with food, with a buffer taste-free period of 2 hours on either side of the dose), combined with calorie-counting (1300-1400 calories a day on average) and long slow walks on the weekends to preserve my lean muscle mass.

    The SLD oil has virtually eliminated all my carb binges - this is a first for any diet I've ever been on. In addition, the SLD oil has made staying within my daily calorie budget very easy and virtually stress-free. Plateaus have also been rare (I had one three week long plateau back in January 2007, but that's been the longest period of stalled weight loss so far). Even more importantly, I've been able to go off the diet to enjoy eating on a vacation and then get right back on it after my return to the normal daily routine. That's also a first for me - prior to SLD, vacations have always derailed me permanently, resulting in a regain of all the weight. I've never experienced this level of control with any other diet. Other than adding the flax oil, my consumption of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins has not changed from what it was pre-SLD (50% carbohydrates and anywhere from 15-20% protein, and 30% fats). I have not had to increase my protein consumption or decrease my intake of carbohydrates at all.

    Having done much more reading and research since starting SLD back in May 2006, I realize now that prior to beginning the regime of daily flax oil dosing that I consume as part of diet, I was extremely deficient in Omega-3s (I rarely eat fish, as it's difficult and expensive to obtain high-quality fish where I live. Also I rarely eat meat - Omega-3 rich grassfed meat is only sold at the farmer's market, which I cannot attend, so I mostly consume eggs laid by hens fed flaxseed and organic dairy products as my major protein sources). Not only has my weight loss been steady and consistent from week to week, but my mood, energy level and sleep quality have all improved. I suspect the flax oil and the resulting improvement in my Omega-3/Omega-6 ratio have much to do with this.

    Currently, I'm about 10 lbs away from goal (though I may ramp off at 120 as my low point and then begin a weight-lifting regime to regain some of the muscle I've lost over the past year). I intend to use the principles of the Hacker's Diet to monitor my weight as part of maintenance (using the Physics Diet website to keep track of my weight trend line). And I will switch from flax oil to fish oil for my Omega-3 dose, since most authorities recommend the latter.

    It's almost amusing to realize that my own obesity over the past 20 years was the result of a nutritional deficiency. I only wish science had known about the importance of Omega-3s back when I was in high school and beginning the first of (at least!) four serious weight-loss attempts. My data are posted publicly here if anyone is interested.

  8. I was one of those dieters who gained and lost and regained over and over again---even suffering from bulemia for 30 years---until I reached a whopping 375lbs, I'm only 5'2". I ended up having gastric bypass surgery. I've now lost over 200 lbs.
    The thing that keeps my weight off is following a ketogenic approach->70% fat. But the big thing is now I have motivation--I didn't go through major surgery just to regain it all back once again. So many do.
    Even though I went through a serious bout last summer and regained 35 lbs---all because of re-adding carbs back into my plan. I got a handle on it ---now I have done my research about real nutritional science, so I know what and how much to eat. The regained weight is coming off once again.
    Also working with a therapist dealing with my emotional issues with food has been a lifesaver too.

  9. Also, if I may ask, what was your original weight (pre-WW) and how much weight did you lose before plateauing and switching to a protein-heavy diet? (And how much weight did you lose after going low carb - was it more than with WW?) No problem if you don't want to share this information. I was just curious.

  10. Also, if I may ask, what was your original weight (pre-WW) and how much weight did you lose before plateauing and switching to a protein-heavy diet? (And how much weight did you lose after going low carb - was it more than with WW?)

    See my profile...

    Also, my weight loss was not with a "protein heavy" diet, but a fat rich diet that was adequate for protein (essential amino acids) and remains protein adequate for my current weight (96-100g average a day)....I continue to control carbohydrate (60-120g per day) and whatever fat is in my diet is in my diet - it is what it is, I don't specifically pay much attention to fat other than to take a fish oil supplement (for omega-3 fatty acids) and avoid vegetable oils. So, my diet is still "high" in fat by current recommendations.

  11. See my profile...

    If it's this link, I did. It doesn't list actual weights. Again, it's not an issue if you don't want to discuss them. Thanks for detailing your protein and carbo intake though - I'm always wondering about what constitutes a "low-carb" diet - it varies so much from person to person.

  12. If it's this link, I did. It doesn't list actual weights.

    Ooops, sorry, my bad - I thought my starting weight was in my profile - my highest weight (pre-WW) was 275-pounds; I lost 20 with WW and the rest with Atkins, settling into maintaining at 185-190.

  13. Anonymous5:45 PM

    Male, 39. I'm just at the end of another failed cycle of standard low-cal dieting. Took 30 lbs off for a reunion last year and looked pretty good. But the only way to maintain that was calorie counting. As soon as I relaxed my counting, the weight returned, and now I'm right back where I started, almost exactly one year later.

    For me, it's the convenience factor of fast foods that makes weight regain too easy. If we could just drive through any restaurant and order a good tasting, calorie-controlled meal, I think things would be a lot easier. I enjoy intense-tasting foods like Tex-Mex, Thai, and Indian; unfortunately, most of those come loaded with calories, too.

    I haven't tried low-carb yet, I'm almost afraid to. Over the last 15 years, I've re-cycled and brought my set-point weight up from 175 to 195, and am about 25% bodyfat right now (I would like to maintain around 10% -- LOL and "good luck").

    If programs like Atkins really can keep you from feeling hungry all the time, that would be wonderful. That's really the hard part about dieting, is the being hungry all the time (and the difficulty of trying to "work out" when you're hungry and weak).

    I do believe that having a personal trainer who would force me to do the exercise, and be accountable of your eating, might help me a bit.

  14. Anonymous6:51 PM

    Low carb to lower the weight and then low-ish carb to maintain. It's the only diet where I can eat as much as I want. Without that aspect of it maintenance is impossible for me. And it's the only diet that improved all my blood metrics.

  15. Anonymous9:13 PM

    After I reached 255lbs at age 17 and 5'10", I started out with a low fat, fairly high carb diet, with calories intake between 900-1200 cals/day. I got down to 170 lbs and maintained that weight for 30 years.

    Then I noticed my weight slowly creeping up and found it difficult to eat fewer calories and still feel OK. I was eventually diagnosed with IGT and switched to approx 100g carbs a day with no grains except a small amount 2 meals per weekend. I replaced the carb calories with more fat a bit more protein. Also eat 5-6 smaller meals a day. I have FBG of 84mg/dl now and rarely go past 120mg/dl pp. Great cholesterol numbers and an A1c of 4.8%. I also lost 20 lbs without trying to lose weight.


  16. Anonymous5:22 AM

    I was glad to have found your blog as the low-carb is not yet very known here in Finland where I currently reside and it makes you feel lonely as nobody understands what you are talking about. Relapses for me come most often when invited for dinner. The Finns are quite keen on their potatoes and an endless discussion seems to go on about which variety is the best and tastiest and having the opinion that potatoes are not really good for you, they are prefect for fattening pigs up, well they do not take me seriously.

  17. I grew up normal sized (5'4" and 125lbs). Then in college I decided I needed to be "thin" and dieting/extreme exercised down to 108lbs. I was WAY to skinny. Because I couldn't maintain the starvation long, I went back to "normal" eating and ballooned up 60lbs in 6 months. The doctors said that's when the PCOS/IR kicked in. I had screwed up my body/metabolism with the dieting.

    I gradually ballooned up and down - my highest weight was 301 - 2 years ago. I have been on about every known low-cal/low-fat diet and always stalled about around 200lbs. I just couldn't go down to 800 calories a day and not be STARVING. That was the level I needed to eat to lose weight. I felt like I was really screwed. I had a lapband installed in July 2005 and funny enough, stalled at around 215lbs. Sure I'm not hungry at 900 calories or so, but the amount of food I was eating was not getting me sufficient nutrition. I was seriously worried about that. Plus, what a bummer, to sit with you family and literally be eating a tabl. or this and a tabl. of that.

    I had my 15 year old daughter tested for IR (I have PCOS and so does she) and her insulin levels were CRAZY high but her blood sugars were fairly normal. She had slightly elevated blood pressure (she showed Metabolic Syndrome). I knew that Glucophage worked for some women with PCOS (not me), but it worked BETTER for young girls. At the time that my daughter had her 3hr GTT, my husband had one with her (in support with her and his BS levels looked "suspcious"). Well he ended up being "early-diabetic" IR and her high insulin levels were confirmed. My husband also has VERY high cholesterol.

    I knew at this time that I HAD to do something for my families health. For the first time in my life, eating right was about keeping my family healthy and LIVING. I really "got it" this time.

    I actually got some of the best information at your website and started us all on a low-carb lifestyle. We are also taking Omega 3's avoiding vegetable oils and here's the results. My daughter is also taking Glucophage and from what I can tell will always be taking it.

    My weight is dropping by about 2-4lbs a WEEK now (I still need to lose another 50-60lbs in order to start on Plastic surgery for all the hanging skin issues), my 15 year old has dropped 41lbs as of this week and is an advocate at school for the obese teenagers, all the while promoting a low-carb lifestyle to them (and believe me she tells me every single day how she's NOT dieting and NOT suffering - she loves this WOE) and my husband's cholesterol is super normal now and his blood sugar is very very controlled. We don't every forsee him going to insulin!

    This WOE works and my family is a testament to that!

  18. Posting from email received:

    For some reason, your web page was not accepting my password, and I wanted to send in a response.

    I was never that overweight, but did lose 22 lbs in five weeks after starting to eat LC. I went from 155 to 133. (I am 5'8") I maintained that weight for seven years, eating between 50-60 grams/day of carbohydrates and about 75 grams/day of protein. I also maintained a vigorous exercise regimen and did both resistance and aerobic training.

    Lately, I have developed a painful back condition (unrelated to anything metabolic), which precludes my going to the gym. Without the exercise, I dropped another 10 lbs and now weigh around 125. Strangely, I've had to increase my caloric intake in order to maintain that weight.

    Chuck Berezin

  19. Anonymous2:22 PM

    I figure I lost about 35 pounds of fat, but from weight lifting gained about 25 pounds of muscle, very strong by normal standards, not by weighlifting standards. I am curious if my body 'wanted' to weigh more, and added muscle when it couldn't add fat. Rob

  20. Anonymous4:10 AM

    A couple of you have said you avoid veg oils, can I ask why?

  21. Anonymous2:05 AM

    Because vegetable oils are unhealthy. Best fats are organic butter, virgin coconut oil, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil.

  22. This month marks 4 years of eating Low Carb (about 60 grams a day.)

    I lost 50 pounds in 4-5 months when I first started, and it's pretty effortless to keep it that way. Aside from living on the 3rd floor (no elevator) and taking walks, I don't exercise.

    Sticking with low carb has been simple for me because of two main factors (aside from the fact that IT WORKS):

    1) I don't have those late night prowling hungries a few hours after my "healthy" low fat meal, I eat a low carb meal and am very satisfied.

    2) I feel much better. I sleep better, have more energy during the day, my disgestive upsets have vanished, my skin is clearer, the benefits go on & on.

    People have to find what works for them. But with me, it was a metabolism issue; eating 300 carbs a day on my low fat regimen was making me tired and overweight. Low fat only worked for me when I also exercised like a maniac. When health issues made me stop that for two months, I could never make it work for me again.

  23. "Ooops, sorry, my bad - I thought my starting weight was in my profile - my highest weight (pre-WW) was 275-pounds; I lost 20 with WW and the rest with Atkins, settling into maintaining at 185-190."

    Thanks for the info and congratulations on your success! You truly are an inspiration!

    And thanks to werebere for detailing his daily carb consumption - it's very helpful.

  24. Thanks for the info and congratulations on your success! You truly are an inspiration!

    Why....thank you!

  25. I lost about 40 pounds in the first six months, when I started about five years ago, and I have kept that off, with ease. Recently started watching portions, and dropped a few more.

    maintaining my weight loss is very easy, I just eat the right foods, eggs, meat, low starch vegetables, etc. and avoid the bad ones... I never count carbs per se, I just eat as much as I feel like from the "legal" foods.

    I cheat here and there - some bread at a nice restaraunt, or a few beers too many, etc... but it doesn't seem to make any real dent. I recently had an extravagant dessert at a nice restaraunt-I gained a pound or so in the next couple of days, but lost it just as fast. When I go on vacation, however, I binge like crazy-I go out of my way to eat ALL the bad stuff... I always gain 10 pounds or more (depends on how long the vacay lasts), and feel truly wretched at the end... and I cant wait to get back to my normal diet.

    I should add that I drink a bit more than I probably should, but a lot less than my pre-low carb days. I just can't drink like that anymore! I used to down 10 or more pints of guinness on a Friday night, now I can only handle four or five...

  26. I'm with you Regina. I tried to follow the low fat dogma for several years. First I did Weight Watchers to try to stay below 200. Then I balooned up to 350 and foolishly went back to WW again, stubbornly clinging to the low fat dogma I thought to be true. I did get below 300, but eventually crept up to over 350, how far I really don't know. I was frustrated and gave up on losing weight. Then I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In diabetes education, they told me to follow the low fat dogma. I eventually found low carb and am down 100 lbs with much better blood sugar, blood pressure, and lipids. Sugar is the enemy, starch is bad, and fat & protein are my friends.

  27. Thanks Regina for your excellent blog. Growing up, I was active and my parents just didn't feed me much starch. I got married to a beautiful woman who would fix two or three starches with every meal. I gained 75 pounds over 14 years. I was 221 and went to the doctor who told me he would put me on medication within a couple of months for cholesterol, high tri-glycerides, you name it, if I didn't do something. He told me to basically eat brown everything, you know, rice, bread, etc. I began running and eating low fat and lost 43 pounds to 178. I began lifting weights and my weight started to creep up. I was always hungry and I guess my muscles were crying out for protein. I got back up to 207, seven months ago. After eating a plate of french fries, I felt really bloated, like someone just filled my stomach with air. At that point I remembered something my doctor said. "You have to reduce your starches." I immediately cut out bread, rice, pasta, potatos and simple sugar, and I began to lose weight immediately. I did not change my workout routine. I continued to lift 3 days and run 5 days. I got back down to 178 within 3 months, and then I stalled. I read Dr. Atkins book and began to do it his way, and now I'm down to 165 and I'm reading Atkins for Life. Even though I'm 15 to 20 pounds heavier than high school, I have the same high school waist and a new six-pack! I love Atkins! It seems that if I stay at around 30 carbs per day, I lose and can easily maintain. It's easy to stay this way simply because I feel bad when I eat too much starch, plus I'll admit to a bit of vanity! Keep up the great work.

  28. I have lost 140 lbs following a low carb diet. It took me 2 1/2 years.I have maintained this loss eating 30 to 40 carbs a day and 1200 to 1400 calories. There is no secret to success, it is hard work.I started Curves 5 months into my diet and walking 5 mon later. As a result I have minimum loose skin.In order to keep it off you have to realize it is going to take effort for the rest of your life. Until you achieve that mindset your weight will go up and down.

  29. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Charles, I think our parents were smarter than they thought. My mom advocated eating a variety of foods and not too much starch. Dessert once in a while. The weight of the average American was much lower back then - before the "low fat" nonsense hit.

  30. Anonymous2:11 PM

    The real key to success is patience. Any sudden changes to your body are unhealthy and can have dragged out side effects. I've read here that it has taken many people years to loose the weight they have. Patience, Determination, and healthy habits the secret to success.

  31. Anonymous3:36 PM

    How do I break sugar and starch addiction?

    It seems easy to me in concept, but my body seems to really "cry out" for them if I go a day completely low carb. At that point it feels literally impossible for me not to give in, which makes me feel helpless. Also, I get down about feeling "weird" about eating differently than everyone else around me. It just seems that sugars and starches are in EVERYTHING! It feels like trying to quit an addictive drug while mainstream society is innundated with widespread and constant "using".

    Any help appreciated!

  32. Anonymous8:23 AM

    Magnificent idea