long term weight loss

15 Strategies for Long-Term Weight Loss Success

May 3, 2017

There is no magic bullet for weight loss. Whether you’ve had bariatric surgery, participate in a medical weight loss program or are working to lose weight on your own, there is no single step you can take that will guarantee that you’ll lose weight and keep it off.  However, modifying your behavior and changing the way you think about food and eating can have a profound effect on your weight.

15 Strategies for Success With Weight Loss


Recognize “head hunger.”

When we have a behavioral compulsion or pattern of eating without actual physiological sensations of hunger, that's what is called "head hunger." Many times we start thinking of food because of external stimuli (like that fast food commercial or the concession stand at the movies). Recognize when you might be eating out of habit, boredom or even situational expectations that aren't actually “hungry.” Remember to eat mindfully and ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you are just “thinking” about food.


Learn to stay motivated.

We all lose our motivation and backslide from time to time. Remind yourself not to be upset or use negative talk about yourself. Instead, use slip-ups as an opportunity to learn. Consider putting reminders somewhere that you'll see every day that will help you remember why you've embarked on this journey (perhaps a picture of children and family or a beach vacation getaway that you’re working towards). Make it a personal way to remember the investment that you've made.


Action plan for food cravings.

Food cravings are not necessarily indications of hunger. Learn to recognize the difference between the two. Most often cravings are for a specific sweet or high-calorie food. When the cravings hit, use a skill such as distracting yourself. All cravings will subside on their own eventually. Think of ways that can distract you from acting on your cravings, such as go for a walk, play a game, read, meditate, call a friend, or come up something else that appeals to you. Remember that cravings are just thoughts and feelings that you experience; they can’t control you and they, too, will eventually pass.


Quiet the inner critic.

We all have failures, mistakes, and slips. It's important to learn that negative self-talk can just fuel the cycle. Don’t chide yourself for “failures,” but think of them as “learning experiences.” Don't say “I can’t do this,” but rather say “I will do better next time.”

Give your inner critic a name (I call mine Bob) and tell him that he has no right to talk to you like that! That might sound silly, but the ability to separate yourself from those negative thoughts is key to quieting critical thoughts. ~Dr. Benoit


Plan for long-term success.

Weight loss is not a one-time event. Compare weight loss to gaining muscle. Once you achieve the desired muscle mass, regular workouts are required to maintain that physique. The saying goes “use it or lose it.” Consider weight loss in a similar way. It's a long-term change in thinking, motivation, and behavior. The most common reasons for weight regain include reverting to old ways of thinking and behaving. Plan ahead as you start your weight loss journey and know that you're making a life-long change. If you find it helpful, stay engaged by joining support groups to share your stories and tips. Helping others with their weight loss journey may also help inspire you to continue on your path.


Have an accountability partner.

It can be an exercise buddy, a spouse, a friend, another member of your weight loss program – whoever you trust and can rely on to be there when you need them and to give you honest, supportive feedback. Surround yourself with a community of like-minded healthy people, and limit interactions with negative people. Likewise, be a buddy to someone else who is going through the same process and win a true friend for life.


Eat protein.

Not only is protein essential in helping you feel full longer, it’s our most important macronutrient. Macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats, which are essential for health, growth, healing and immune function. Research published in the medical journal Cell showed that protein can block neurotransmitter receptors in the brain that signal hunger – thus, you feel fuller, stop eating sooner and can wait longer between meals. Proteins that are nutrient-rich and lower in saturated fat and calories include:

  • Lean meats and seafood
  • Poultry
  • Beans or lentils
  • Soy
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds

Eat about every three hours.

This will accomplish several things: Waiting longer than three hours between meals will cause your body to go into starvation mode, during which fat is stored and muscle is burned. Waiting until you’re ravenous before eating may lead you to binge. Eating every three hours resets your metabolism to keep burning fat all day long, and also stabilizes your blood sugar, helping you feel more energized and less hungry throughout the day. A good rule of thumb for meal size is 400 calories for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and 100 calories for snacks.


Keep a food record.

I encourage patients to use food tracking apps which also logs your exercise throughout the day. If you’re old-school, a pen and paper works, too. Studies show that people who keep food records exhibit better weight loss and control than those who don’t record their meals. Journaling shouldn’t just include a spreadsheet of foods and calories. Try to jot down what you were doing when you ate, how you were feeling before and after, and your goals for your next meal – i.e. “remember to drink more water at dinner.” Journaling helps you learn to track your behavior as well as your calories, and modifying behavior is how we get to the heart of many weight issues.


Eat mindfully.

Being “mindful” means focusing your awareness on the present and calmly acknowledging your feelings, thoughts and physical state. Mindful eating is eating with the intention to care for your body’s needs while noticing the effects of food on your body. Often, we eat “mindlessly” – snacking while watching TV, for instance. Mindful eating requires us to stop other activities and ask “Am I really hungry?” Learn to recognize your non-hunger triggers. Then, choose delicious and nourishing foods, eat slowly and enjoy your meal. Think about how you feel after eating and use your renewed energy to move forward through your day.


Do weekly meal prep.

Are you busy? We’re all so busy! It’s hard to find time to prepare healthy, tasty meals every day. Do yourself a favor and learn how to prepare meals ahead. Schedule time every Sunday to shop and do all of your meal prep for the week – your fridge will be stocked with healthy, premeasured portions in individual containers that are easy to take to work, pop into the microwave, or thaw for dinner. You’ll also save money by eating out less and wasting less food.


Control your environment.

If it doesn’t work for you, why would you let it live in your world? Make your home environment “safe.” Don’t bring in anything that will tempt you to overeat and stock your refrigerator with healthy, filling, delicious options like fruit, fresh veggies, and lean meats. Get rid of foods or things that tempt or risk your adherence to your regimen. If you can’t control your environment, have a plan prepared. Did someone bring a giant chocolate birthday cake to work? Reach for your chocolate Greek yogurt in the office fridge and pat yourself on the back for resisting temptation!



I recommend one to 1.5 hours of cardiovascular exercise daily, but it’s ok if you aren’t there yet. If you’re sedentary, start by walking 20 to 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week. You don’t have to run a marathon or climb Mount Everest! But you do need moderate to vigorous activity in order to burn more calories than you consume, and that is the key to weight loss. Try looking up exercise routines on Youtube and find something that looks fun and doable for you. When that gets easy, increase the duration and/or intensity.


Have specific, measurable, attainable, positive goals.

You’ve probably heard of “SMART” goals. This is a variation that’s a little lower-pressure and higher-reward.

  • Specific: Rather than saying, “I’m going to exercise more,” make a plan and schedule gym time on your smart phone. Set up reminders to hold yourself accountable.
  • Measurable: This is where those tracking apps come into play. Let them do the measuring for you. Set a goal for steps taken every day and celebrate when you beat your goal.
  • Attainable: Remember – you don’t have to climb Mount Everest. Can you burn 1,000 calories a day? If you aim too high and miss your mark, you’ll be more likely to give up, so set a reasonable goal and work to surpass it.
  • Positive: Reward yourself for your successes and don’t berate yourself for perceived failures. Allow yourself non-food rewards – whether it’s a manicure or a special outing, let it remind you of the success you’re celebrating.

Let the experts help you.

Keep your follow-up appointments with your weight loss program. Attend support groups, if they’re offered. Studies suggest that clinics that specialize in weight management are better trained for the sensitive needs of a bariatric patient, as well as in specific interventions necessary in their care. Take advantage of every opportunity to talk with your care team – it’s not just our job to help you; we LOVE seeing you succeed.


At some point, the paradigm will shift from weight loss to weight control. The goal is to keep your weight in a healthy range through a lifestyle that is enjoyable, manageable, and no longer a full-time job.



Lisa West-Smith, PhD, LISW-S is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience and Department of Surgery at the UC Health Weight Loss Center, where she also serves as Director of Behavioral Health Services. In the past decade, Dr. West-Smith has conducted over three thousand psychosocial assessments for individuals pursuing surgical treatment for chronic morbid obesity and also has provided behavioral health services for post-surgical and medical weight loss patients.


Stephen Benoit, PhD, MA, LPC research interests focus on neurobiological controls over behavior with emphases on food intake and learning. Part of this work has centered on the molecular, physiological and behavioral effects of hypothalamic neuropeptides that influence energy homeostasis, and how these neurotransmitters are modified by signals proportional to the amount of fat in the body (e.g., the hormones, leptin and insulin).