You’ve lost weight again and again, but the pounds just won’t stay off. How three defeated dieters finally broke the cycle–and slimmed down for good.
It’s a sinking feeling: You try on a smashing outfit in the department-store changing, room, only to discover that you’ve jumped up yet another size. On the drive home, you grimly ponder which weight-loss weapons you should try this time: policing every bite you eat, swilling liquid dinners, hitting the gym five days a week. If only peeling off the pounds weren’t such a misery–and regaining the weight down the road so inevitable.
Thankfully, there’s new hope: Experts are finding that previous dieting failures don’t mean you’ll never keep the pounds off. A recent University of Pittsburgh study examined nearly 800 subjects who maintained an average weight loss of 30 pounds for just over five years and concluded that many dieters need several tries to find the strategy that works best for them.
The three women featured here had all tried m lose weight, but they couldn’t find the time to exercise or the willpower to abandon their favorite treats. It wasn’t until they exchanged drastic, self-denying regimens for sensible, carefully thought-out lifestyle changes that they put yo-yo dieting behind them forever.
The Secret of Staying Motivated
When you’re running yourself ragged from dawn to long past dusk–a full-time job, car-pool duty, cooking, and cleaning at night–nibbling one little cookie might not seem like such a felony. Since a jam-packed schedule allowed Jacklyn Marcus, 43, a Los Angeles mother of two and sculptor, little time for exercise or meal planning, indulging her sweet tooth was the only occasion she felt like she was doing something nice for herself.
The problem: “Once I had one cookie, I usually ate the whole box,” confesses Marcus. Depriving herself only made it worse. “I would first go for healthier snacks like pretzels or a piece of fruit, but eventually I would give in to my craving.” By the time she was 30, her weight had climbed from 120 pounds to 150; after the birth of her second child four years later, the scale hit 165.
Marcus’s first stop on the diet train was a high-protein, no-sweets regimen that took off 40 pounds–for about a year. Dismayed by the regain, she next tried a liquid diet and was disappointed again. The problem was, “I would overeat the moment I allowed myself to go back to real food,” she says. At parties she steered clear of the dessert table, nibbling on fresh veggies and crackers, but “once I got home, I would attack the pantry for anything sweet.”
It was bumping into an old friend who also longed to lose weight that started her on the right path-literally. “She suggested we begin jogging together, and we found we could use each other to stay motivated,” says Marcus. “At first we couldn’t run for more than five minutes, but gradually we worked up to three-mile runs for thirty minutes, four times a week.”
As these morning runs started to pay off, Marcus’s cravings for sugary treats lessened. She began cutting back on bread and pasta; a typical dinner became grilled fish, steamed vegetables, and a salad. “The more healthful foods I ate, the better I felt, and the more energy I had to go jogging,” she says. After dinner, she permitted herself one piece of fruit. “I still have to work hard to enforce this rule because I tend to be a late-night snacker,” she admits.
To handle parties, which have always spelled diet trouble, Marcus worked out a specific strategy. She modified her hands-off-the-goodies policy, permitting herself to sample a few high-calorie foods. “I constantly remind myself that a little taste here and there is better than bingeing on two thousand calories of junk food at home later,” she says.
To her delight, Marcus lost 35 pounds more than two and a half years ago and hasn’t relapsed. This is not to say her sweet tooth has been extracted. But instead of running from temptation, she’s made peace with it by indulging in Saturday-night restaurant dates with her husband that end with a sugary splurge. “If I know I’m going to have a dessert, I’ll order only a salad and soup or an appetizer to compensate for the extra fat and calories,” she explains.
And she’s discovered another trick that helps prevent her from polishing off the whole dessert plate. “I eat half of the serving very slowly, then go to the bathroom for a few minutes to give my body a chance to feel full from the meal,” she says. “I’ve found that what I want is just a taste–not an entire piece of cake!”
With a Little Help from Hubby
Flora Hochenberg, 48, of Norwood, NJ, took pride in being a stay-at-home mom, turning out plenty of cookies and cupcakes for PTA programs as well as serving her kids freshly baked treats after school. The trouble was, her home was loaded with dieting booby traps. “I couldn’t resist eating a large portion of whatever I baked,” she admits.
Hochenberg had been waging a war against the same 20 pounds for years. Back in 1981 she’d followed a strict Weight Watchers eating plan in order m dazzle guests (and her groom) on her wedding day. Sure enough, she reached her goal in time. “I looked fabulous in my dress, but then the wedding was over,” she says. “I found myself eating more to compensate for the months that I had deprived myself.”
Additional pounds crept back on when she quit smoking. “The weight gain didn’t Faze me too much, because I was proud of the fact that I had quit smoking,” Hochenberg says. Two kids later, she was 25 pounds over her wedding-day weight. It was no coincidence that when the bathroom scale broke, the family never got around to replacing it. “I stopped weighing myself, and I think this gave me more of a license to eat,” she says.
That mind-set changed a year and a half ago, when a 45-year-old neighbor died of a heart attack. It was a wake-up call not only for Hochenberg but also for her husband, who had put on his own 25 pounds. “My husband’s father was obese and died of a heart attack in his forties,” she says. And Hochenberg fretted over stories she’d read about a link between being overweight and developing breast cancer, the disease that killed her mother.
The couple decided to get serious about taking off the pounds together, but not by following a draconian diet. Instead, they started working nutritious, low-fat foods into their meals. “We substituted chicken and turkey for red meat and made sure to include at least two servings of vegetables with every meal,” she says. Spaghetti with meatballs made way for pasta primavera; meaty lasagna layered with high-fat cheeses morphed into spinach lasagna with part-skim ricotta and mozzarella.
Some sacrifices were harder than others: Hochenberg found it easier to wave good-bye to fried foods and wine than to give up an occasional slice of gooey chocolate cake. “I know I lost weight less quickly because I allowed myself to eat some of my favorite foods,” she says. “But I found the process was much easier than it had been in the past.” Focusing on the health risks of being overweight–not just vanity–did the trick for her.
How did Hochenberg conquer the home-with-the-treats dilemma? “Instead of baking for my children’s fundraising sales, now I go to a bakery and get a sealed box of cookies or cupcakes,” she says. And she’s recently started working for a bookstore catalog, bringing in a healthy brown-bag lunch every day. “I keep celery and carrot sticks both at work and around the house for snacks.”
The results: Over the course of six months, she lost 25 pounds and has kept them off for more than a year (her husband has also shed 25 pounds). And yes, she did get around to buying a new bathroom scale, which she steps on once a week. “No one could give me the perfect formula for losing weight,” says Hochenberg. “I had to find that out on my own.”
An Eating-Style Makeover
Being too busy to eat would seem like a surefire way to lose weight, but Barbara Ciment, a 53-year-old mother of two from Silver Spring, MD, actually saw her weight shoot up as a booming real-estate business kept her on the road from morning till late at night. The culprit: a steady supply of high-carb snacks stashed in both car and office. “I would eat only one meal a day-dinner with my family,” she says. “The rest of the day I would snack on fat-free crackers, pretzels, and jelly beans. I nibbled all day–sometimes I wouldn’t even notice I was eating.”
Carrying extra weight meant never feeling she looked her best in a business where image wins clients. “Shopping for clothes was so depressing,” she says. “I found my options were limited to long skirts and loose jackets.” One day, while trying on clothes in a department store, she realized that the size-10 skirts were too snug –she’d graduated to a size 12. At five feet six inches, Ciment weighed 164 pounds, an all-time high. It was time to make some changes.
She was determined not to repeat her past mistakes. Weight Watchers hadn’t led to permanent weight loss; a two-week-long “cabbage soup diet” also failed. So Ciment consulted a nutritionist, who, after analyzing her diet, frowned on her “fat-free” snacks. “She told me I wasn’t eating enough protein and that I was eating way too much sugar and starch.”
Ciment was informed that three meals a day would curtail snacking. “I forced myself to eat a bowl of shredded wheat with skim milk for breakfast, even though I never feel hungry in the morning,” she says. “I used to think that breakfast was a waste, but I found that it made me less hungry during mid-morning, when I would usually begin to nosh.” She also rearranged her schedule to take a 30-minute lunch break at home, grabbing a tuna- or egg-salad sandwich fixed the night before or a cup of low-fat yogurt. One unexpected benefit of the new lunch routine was an energy boost that lasted all afternoon.
Still, finding time to prepare healthy meals was no cinch. “I didn’t realize how much time it takes to cut up fruits and vegetables to make salads,” she says. “What works for me is making larger portions that last a few days.” Every Sunday she prepares a large bowl of coleslaw–shredded cabbage, carrots, and green peppers mixed with low-fat mayonnaise –for munching throughout the week.
Working exercise into her schedule was another problem. Ciment solved it by not booking any appointments before 9:00 A.M.–that way she can work out for a half hour on the treadmill or stationary bike at least three times a week. Brisk walks on the weekend with her husband help, as do vacations that involve hiking.
In eight months, Ciment lost 32 pounds, and she’s kept them off for more than a year. “I’m very happy with where I’m at,” she says. “Although I lost weight for my appearance, I find I also have a lot more energy now. I wasn’t expecting this payoff, yet it’s been very rewarding.”
Six Sensible Strategies for Success
Have diets left you convicted that you’ll never lose weight for good? What you need is a new way of thinking. Most important: Be realistic. Weight-loss experts stress that you should make only those changes that will fit into your lifestyle. “It’s those baby steps that barely notice–like switching from two-percent to one-percent milk–that lead to weight loss in the long run,” says Ronette Kolotkin, Ph.D., director of the behavioral program at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, NC. Armed with the following strategies, you could very well have a weight-loss breakthrough.
* Analyze past weight-loss efforts? Did previous diets often leave you feeling deprived? Was it a daily struggle to fit workouts and meal planing into your schedule? Did you find it impossible to maintain new eating habits? “Answering yes to any of those questions means you made too many drastic changes that you couldn’t stick with,” says Gary Foster, Ph.D., clinical director of Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania school of Medicine in Philadelphia. If your lifestyles is too hectic to accommodate big changes, make small ones. While more modest changes may mean slower weight loss, they’re still worth the effort.
* Don’t set yourself up for failure. Set a weight-loss goal of no more than 10 percent of your current body weight, according to a panel of experts from the National Academy of Sciences. (For example, a 150-pound woman should aim to lose no more than 15 pounds.) If you can keep that much weight off for six months, then go for another 10 percent.
* Think filling foods. Calorie for calorie, high-fiber foods such as apples, oranges, and shredded wheat will leave you feeling fuller than cookies and candy bars, which pack more calories into a smaller portion. Ditto for low-fat starchy foods (pasta and potatoes) compared to high-fat starches (croissants). The 230 calories in a croissant are packed into a measly two ounces, whereas a 230-calorie potato weighs in at a satisfying eight ounces.
* Allow for small regains. Although a two- to three- pound weight gain can be blamed on water retention, a gain of five pounds or more means you need to take stock. (If you don’t weigh yourself, use the fit of your clothes to gauge your progress.) Keeping your weight within a five-pound range means you’ll maintain a loss for good.
* Get physical. While you’ll lose weight faster if you work up a sweat for 25 minutes at least three days a week, smaller blocks of more frequent but less intense exercise will still get you results. Shoot for 25 to 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week–and that activity doesn’t all have to be at the gym. Play with your kids for ten minutes at the park; sweep the floor for five minutes; garden for 15. If you’re moving, it counts.
* Adjust your calorie intake. The more weight you lose, the fewer calories your body needs. If you are a five-foot-five-inch, 35-year-old woman who weighs 160 pounds, you burn about 1,443 calories a day, not counting exercise. If you then lose 30 pounds, you need to burn only 1,302 calories to maintain your 130-pound body–that means you’ll have to eat about 140 fewer calories every day (or burn them off through exercise) to maintain your new weight.