Chew on this: 01/27

The 7 highly effective habits of the longest losers

By Jayne Powers
You’d think after 21 years of research by the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), created by researchers at Brown University and the University of Colorado, we’d know the secret to long-term, successful weight loss.

According to the NWCR (, we sort of do.

The registry, the largest study of its kind, has been tracking more than 10,000 individuals who have shed at least 30 pounds and kept it off for more than a year. These individuals are the elusive five percent of dieters who have managed to keep their scales in check.

Throughout the years, the registry has mined enough data to define five highly effective habits of successful dieters. I’m adding two more from a recently published Harvard Medical School special health report, “Healthy Solutions to Lose Weight and Keep It Off.”

Beyond their statistical profile – men and women in their mid- to late 40s who have lost an average of 66 pounds for 5.5 years – they come from all walks of life. While slightly more than half used a commercial weight-loss program, others lost weight on their own.

Either way, they were motivated by an experience, such as a health scare of finding out that they were at risk for a serious illness or feeling unhappy about the way they looked. You can read some of their success stories on the NWCR site.

To discover more about what sets these individuals apart, read on and digest these habits:

Habit 1: Diet. The pattern of eating followed by the men and women in the NWCR registry showed they consumed a low-fat, low-energy diet. Women in the registry restricted their fat intake to 24.3 percent of their daily caloric intake. For men, the figure was 23.5 percent.

Low-fat diets have bounced back and forth between being a dietary evil and the diet du jour. Experts recommend most adults get 20 percent to 35 percent of their daily calories from fat. That’s about 44 to 77 grams of fat a day if you eat 2,000 calories a day.

New research always seems to complicate things, however. A 2012 Harvard study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a low-glycemic index diet sped up metabolism faster and burned more calories, making you lose weight faster, than a low-fat diet and a very low-carb/high protein diet, which were the two other diets tested in the study. Low-glycemic index foods ( take a longer time to digest and help people feel full longer. This finding suggests that not all calories are equal.

But wait, there’s more. The results of a 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed low-fat diets are continuing to lose credibility, and that incorporating healthy fats – such as those included in the Mediterranean diet – can improve heart health and weight loss. And, here’s another caveat to low-fat foods. They are often high in calories because they contain large amounts of sugars and other carbohydrates.

Another facet: They ate a “low-energy,” or low-calorie, diet. The Harvard report defines low energy based on an individual’s daily caloric intake. For women, that’s 1,200 calories a day and 1,500 calories for men. To determine your daily caloric intake necessary to lose between one and two pounds a week, see Your weight-loss formula at the end of this column.

Habit 2: These individuals bumped up their daily physical activity – a lot. Ninety percent exercised an average of one hour per day. But the registry didn’t define the type of exercise. As a point of reference, let’s just say registrants engaged in moderate intensity aerobic activity. If you benchmark that against the 2010 federal physical activity guidelines, they far exceeded what the guidelines recommend to achieve “substantial health benefits,” which is 2.5 hours a week of that kind of aerobic activity; less if the aerobic activity is “vigorous.”

Habit 3: They ate breakfast every morning.

Habit 4: They also weighed themselves once a week. It’s not a good idea to weigh yourself every day because your weight can fluctuate up to six pounds a day.

Habit 5: A little more than half watched fewer than 10 hours of TV per week. Keep track of your screen time, which includes the computer, then try reducing the number of hours by a quarter or a third, using the extra time to devote to your weight-loss efforts, advises the Harvard report.

Habit 6: Start self-monitoring your daily caloric intake and how much you exercise. Quantifying this information is often a reality check. Do it for three days to a week to become more self-aware of your behavior and to help you pinpoint areas to improve. Some online options include Calorie King (, DietWatch ( and Lose It! (

Habit 7: Sleep. Are you getting enough? Most people need about eight hours a sleep a night. Sleep helps with emotional balance, which is always a good thing.

Your weight-loss formula

To lose one to two pounds a week, multiply how much you weigh by 15. This number represents your daily caloric intake to maintain your current weight. From that number, subtract 500 calories a day to lose one pound a week; 1,000 calories a day to lose two pounds a week. This formula is a general guideline. Your physical activity – energy output – will also impact your weight loss.

Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at, or email your fitness questions to

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Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at

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