- Trae Patton/NBC
Six years after the show ended, 13 out of 14 contestants in the study had regained a significant amount of weight. Four of them are heavier today than they were before the show began.
The results highlight a disheartening reality: Losing weight is hard work, but keeping it off is harder – especially if you’re significantly overweight.
Still, the study’s somber findings also draw attention to some key principles that anyone looking to losing weight and stay fit can follow:
1. Aim to lose only a few pounds each week.
- Lisa Creech Bledsoe / Flickr
Shedding pounds too rapidly can be a red flag for a diet that might encourage unsafe behaviors, and losing weight too slowly might be so discouraging you give up.
Instead, aim to lose about 1-3 pounds each week, University of Texas professor of exercise science and the executive director of the Fitness Institute of Texas Philip Stanforth recently told Business Insider.
“During the losing phase, you need a calorie deficit,” said Stanforth. At the maximum, you want to burn 1,000 calories more each day than you eat. “That typically means you’re losing a few pounds a week. And that tends to be a lot more sustainable than losing a whole bunch at once.”
2. Be mindful of portion size.
- Yelp/Peter K.
The standard size of many foods, whether they’re fast-food, sit-down meals, or even groceries, has grown by as much as 138% since the 1970s, according to data from the American Journal of Public Health, the Journal of Nutrition, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
So instead of cutting out a specific food group – whether its carbs or fat – you might be better off simply being more mindful about how much of everything you eat.
Of course, there are always some foods to keep an eye out for, like those with high concentrations of a few specific ingredients. A 20-ounce bottle of soda, for example, has roughly 65 grams (just about 16 teaspoons) of sugar. So go for a smaller size instead, or opt for the refreshing classic: All natural tap.
3. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
- Flickr/Sonny Abesamis
Vegetables and fruits are high in key vitamins; most have a good amount of fiber to help with digestion and keep you feeling full.
Dr. Mark Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, says “about 70 to 80% of your diet should be plant foods,” like vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fruits.
“It should basically include whole, fresh food that’s unprocessed and high in fiber and phytonutrients,” says Hyman, the latter of which are plant-derived compounds associated with positive health effects.
You can start small, for example, by adding a serving of steamed veggies to every dinner. This list should help you get started.
4. Don’t diet.
- Flickr/IRRI Photos
Instead of thinking about going on a drastic, limiting eating plan for a few weeks, opt for lifestyle changes that you can keep up forever.
In the weeks and months after a diet ends, research suggests most of us slide back into old, unhealthy eating habits. This is one of the reasons some people who successfully diet end up re-gaining weight. (The other reasons, which are becoming clearer as more research is done, can be summarized here.)
“You know we tend to say you go on a diet, butthat also implies you’re going to go off of it,” said Stanforth. “And that’s not how we should be looking at this.”
Instead, incorporate more whole grains, vegetable fats, fibrous fruits, and good sources of protein like fish, lean meats, and nuts into your diet and start limiting your intake of refined carbs and sugar like white bread and candy.
5. Remember: Working out is important, but so is changing how and what you eat.
- Flickr/Nathan Rupert
But working out also burns far fewer calories – and takes more time – than most of us might think. (A general rule is that walking 1 mile burns about 100 calories, so “burning off” a 220-calorie Snickers would require walking roughly 2.2 miles).
So in addition to upping your fitness regimen, aim to avoid or cut down your intake of high-sugar, high-calorie foods and swap in lighter, more nutrient-dense alternatives like a handful of nuts or seeds or a few dollops of plain Greek yogurt.