The "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" reports that more than 90 percent of "successful losers" have previously failed in their effort to lose weight. Many reported having lost...

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The “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” reports that more than 90 percent of “successful losers” have previously failed in their effort to lose weight.

Many reported having lost and regained the weight — up to nearly 270 pounds — several times before they finally mastered permanent weight loss.
Unfortunately, recent research in the “International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders” indicates that yo-yo dieters actually gain more weight over time. And research in the “Journal of the American Dietetic Association” has found there are possible effects on the immune system resulting from long-term frequent weight cycling.

But don’t give up! “It’s never too late to try again to lose and control your weight,” says Alison Field, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. The more often you try and fail to lose weight, the greater chance you have of succeeding the next time.

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I know what you’re thinking: “If failing is the key to winning the diet war, I should be in perfect shape right now.” But it’s not quite that simple. You also have to do something with the information you’ve collected about yourself from those unsuccessful attempts to break the pattern of previous disappointments.

A dieter benefits significantly from reviewing issues and events that affected weight control in the past, says Dr. Vincent Pera Jr., medical director of the Weight Management Program at the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.

Here are tips to help you take a look back — not to find fault or blame with past diets but to see what you can learn from them.

Try again

Keep trying to lose weight. “Research shows that most people don’t maintain their weight loss on the first few attempts — that’s why an individual needs to keep trying, making small, effective changes that will last,” says Diane Berry, author of a Yale School of Nursing study examining women who successfully maintained their weight loss.

Watch the triggers

Many yo-yo dieters “fall off the wagon” when faced with stressful situations. “For instance, someone could lose a significant amount of weight and then experience a major event such as a divorce, the death of a spouse or the loss of a job — this type of situation is the most common trigger for weight regain,” says Pera. Make sure you have a “major event” plan in place, knowing how to stay focused on your weight-control goals.

Examine success

One of the most important techniques associated with successful permanent weight control is to review your past successes. “About 30 to 40 percent of the success of controlling weight has to do with the review and analysis of past dieting success,” says Pera. You’ve probably learned something from every diet you’ve been on.

For instance, from Atkins you might have learned you didn’t need two slices of bread to feel satisfied by a sandwich: Just the meat and veggies, wrapped in a lettuce leaf, were satisfying on their own.

From South Beach you might have learned about good carbs versus bad carbs.

Maybe Weight Watchers helped you realize that surrounding yourself with people supportive of your efforts and new lifestyle helped keep you motivated.

With Jenny Craig you might have learned portion control by eating the program’s prepared foods.

Write down everything you’ve learned from your past successes. Hold on to those facts, attitudes and behaviors.

Connect to the past

Many people who have lost and then regained the weight feel disconnected from what worked for them in the past. “The skills you learned to lose and maintain your weight in the past are blocked,” says Pera.

He recommends taking very small steps to help you reconnect with your successful dieting self. Yo-yo dieting tends to lower self-esteem and confidence, which might prevent you from trying again. Remind yourself that you can lose weight if you have an effective plan.

Review dieting disasters

“Don’t be ashamed of your past failures,” offers Pera. By looking at the failures, you learn what NOT to repeat. Keep an open mind. Think of the strategies that didn’t work when you tried to lose weight in the past.

For instance, you might have had the following situation: “All the dieting gurus told me, ‘Don’t deprive yourself.’ Well, I didn’t deprive myself, all right. Whenever I had a desire for cookies, I would eat them. I would try having just one, but I simply couldn’t stop myself. I put on 10 pounds following the ‘don’t deprive yourself’ diet.”

Make sure to ask yourself: Why didn’t these strategies work, and what have I learned from them?

Bottom line

The past may be behind you, but thinking about and analyzing what happened is the key to your future.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, author and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions. Copyright 2004 by Charles Stuart Platkin. Write to