How Successful Dieters Make Weight Loss Stick

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Dieters always regain lost weight, right? Not so, according to a new analysis of data from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), whose 10,000 participants have lost at least 30 lbs. and kept the weight off for a year or longer.

The new study, which was presented at the annual scientific meeting of the Obesity Society in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month, included data on a subset of NWCR members: about 3,000 men and women who managed to maintain the bulk of their weight loss for at least 10 years. These successful losers tended to be women and to have a college education. On average, they weighed 224 lbs. to start and lost 69 lbs.

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Based on answers to questionnaires that all participants filled out yearly, researchers found that weight regain mostly happened early on, shortly after the initial weight loss. Over time, weight gain slowed. At five years, participants had regained about 17 lbs. By the end of the 10-year follow-up, participants had gained one more pound on average — managing, in the end, to keep off 51 lbs.

So how did they do it? Reported USA Today, NWCR members share these techniques:

  • Track their food intake
  • Count calorie or fat grams or use a commercial weight-loss program to track food intake
  • Follow a low-calorie, low-fat diet. They take in about 1,800 calories a day and less than 30% of calories from fat.
  • Eat breakfast regularly
  • Limit the amount they eat out. They dine out an average of three times a week and eat fast food less than once a week.
  • Eat similar foods regularly and don’t splurge much on holidays and special occasions
  • Walk about an hour a day or burn the same calories with other activities
  • Watch fewer than 10 hours of TV a week
  • Weigh themselves at least once a week

Common sense would suggest that these behaviors would help most people control their weight. But it’s hard to say that definitively, considering that the NWCR includes a self-selected group of people who are likely more driven and more committed to losing weight and keeping it off, compared with your average Joe. These are folks who had the stick-to-itiveness to fill out surveys every year, stay on a diet and exercise regimen over the long term, and resist temptations to splurge — even on holidays.

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Still, despite the study’s limitations, the registry’s success stories may offer real inspiration for would-be dieters. “People do want to hear that there is hope, and it is possible to keep weight off without having to take extreme measures,” Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told ABC News. “Most people are discouraged. The behaviors listed by the NWCR are reasonable, practical and consistent with healthy living.”

Meredith Melnick is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeredithCM. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.