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Resolved to Be a Loser? You'll Need More Than Luck.

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, January 2, 2007

When it comes to New Year's resolutions, losing weight tops the list.

Shedding pounds "is the number one New Year's resolution and has been for at least the last 10 to 15 years," notes University of Scranton psychologist John Norcross, who specializes in the study of habit change.

But if this year is like others, nearly half of those vowing to lose weight will have given up their efforts by Feb. 1.

So what separates those who succeed in keeping their resolutions to lose weight from those who don't?

Findings from the National Weight Control Registry -- a group of more than 3,000 people who have shed at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year -- reveal a number of common healthy habits. Registry members mostly eat a low-fat diet. They rarely skip breakfast, a meal that helps set the nutritional tone for the day. They monitor their weight, so that if pounds start creeping back on they can take action to lose the weight right away.

Registry members also stay active. They get at least an hour a day of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking.

Research is one thing. Personal experience is another. So to get a better idea of how successful losers put their healthy habits into practice, I asked Lean Plate Club members and participants in the registry to share their experiences. (For inspiration, you can find more brief profiles of successful losers as well as their "before" and "after" pictures at http://www.leanplateclub.com. If you're a successful loser and would like to share your tips, please contact me at leanplateclub@washpost.com.)

Here's what successful losers said made the difference for them:

Reality strikes. For Markie Crossman, 43, it was a photograph that showed how heavy she had become. "It was horrible," says Crossman, who has since lost 74 pounds. "It really changed things for me. I realized that this is how I looked. This is how people see me. I was in denial about my weight. I couldn't believe it [the photo] was me."

Family health problems provided additional motivation. Her grandmother died suddenly of a heart attack. Her younger brother had a serious kidney ailment diagnosed. "I decided to fight for my health," says Crossman, who lives in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and is the mother of four adult children.

Dieting doesn't work. Each year, Cynthia Gordon says she "lost and regained the same 40 pounds doing all kinds of crazy diets." But shortly after her only child, Kara, died suddenly of a blood clot in 2001, Gordon, 55, reassessed her life. "I didn't want to fall apart," she says. "I knew my daughter wouldn't want that. I decided to do what I could to live as victoriously as I could in her honor."

So during the week, Gordon started adding pineapple and strawberries to the food she ate. She switched to whole-grain bread and other healthy fare, including broiled lean meat, chicken without the skin, brown rice and plenty of vegetables.

On weekends, she allows herself to splurge a little on macaroni and cheese or even cake. Any leftovers are frozen on Sunday night so Gordon won't be tempted to eat them during the week. The result: She has lost 60 pounds and maintained her weight for more than two years.

Small steps add up to big rewards. David McKibbin, 59, of Mitchell, Neb., first gave up soft drinks "cold turkey," as the former history professor put it.

Next, he cut out all candy and sweets. Since he was in the habit of buying a snack when he put gas in his car, he switched to a debit card that allows him to pay at the pump.

Then he took up bicycling while spending the summer in Denver. In about six months, he lost 32 pounds without going on a formal diet.

With other habit changes, he has since lost an additional 30 pounds and has maintained his weight. "I now weigh what I weighed in high school," he says.

Find the healthy foods you enjoy. Gordon switched from sugary iced tea to tea sweetened with Splenda and saved 400 calories a day. She also soothes her sweet tooth with diet Jell-O and Cool Whip Lite. Crossman snacks almost daily on popcorn and now has a fondness for Bosc pears.

Make it easy and enjoyable."I'm not into struggling," notes Gordon, who has shed 60 pounds and gone from a plus-size 24 to a regular 16. So when she found excuses not to walk outdoors, she put a treadmill in her bedroom and set a time to walk on it daily. "Having this right here makes a big difference for me," says Gordon, who listens to gospel music as she walks. ยท

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