The Habits of People Who Lose Weight and Keep It Off

Courtesy of Sandra Costello

In 2003, I weighed an uncomfortable 307lb. By 2004, I weighed 150. Unlike most people who lose weight, I’ve kept it off for over a decade.

"What sorcery is this?" you may ask. But there’s no magic in my weight-loss maintenance formula. Like most folks who lose weight and keep it off, I developed habits that keep me from regaining the half of myself I left behind.

If you’ve lost weight, are in the process of losing weight, or are just in the planning stages, the sooner you start building the habits you'll need to keep it off, the more confident you can be that any weight lost won’t be re-found. What are those habits? I’m so glad you asked...

They drive the damn car

Like driving, staying on course with food means always looking slightly ahead, regardless of what you're driving. Even if you’re on the Tesla of nutrition plans, it’s as good as a crash diet if you stop paying attention. Look at what’s coming -- day-long meetings, holidays with pie-pushing aunts -- and plan your choices accordingly.

Those with weight-loss success stories keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road when it comes to what, how, and why they eat.

Sure, you'll hit bumps and wind up in a ditch sometimes. When that happens, take a breath, check the mirrors, and keep going.

They make the strong choice (almost) every time

Folks who keep the weight off know that built-in “cheats” can easily become full-blown orgies, so they try to eat clean most of the time. Eating well is a lifestyle, and they take it seriously. They stay away from heavily processed, hyper-palatable, and calorie-dense foods.

Like “Get Out of Debt FAST” and “Learn Spanish in 10 Minutes a Day!” they know sales hype when they see it. Of course, I and others like me still slip plenty of times. But it's important to self-correct so that it doesn't turn into a total collapse.

Flickr/Adam Bautz

They know that exercise alone won’t keep the weight off

In order to maintain weight loss, longtime losers do a good job of balancing the energy they take in with the energy they can reasonably put out in a day. If you're looking to lose weight, exercise may give you a little wiggle room, but unless you’re training for the Tour de France or plan to cross the Pacific in a rowboat, you can’t and won’t burn off the calories ingested if you eat mindlessly.

Sure, exercise is a non-negotiable if you want to feel your best, but it has next to no bearing on weight compared to the impact of what you stuff in your face. Remember this the next time some peppy, sexy 20-something co-ed promises weight loss to try to sell you a year-long gym membership.

They know that how they eat depends on how they treat their whole selves

Long-term weight-loss rockstars understand that what and how they eat is influenced by every other thing they do with and to their bodies. Some of these habits are relatively simple, like drinking plenty of water and getting solid sleep. They also work on keeping stress in check, and spend time every day doing things they enjoy. All of it gives them the power to made strong food choices consistently.

This is a tall order, and a lot more involved than just counting calories or abstaining from simple carbs. The more holistic your approach to wellness can be, the easier it will be to maintain your weight loss, so whenever you hear someone say “change just one habit at a time,” keep walking. Then slam a glass of water, take a nap, make plans with a friend, and make out with your S.O.

Flickr/I-5 Design & Manufacture

They invest wisely

Not all folks who lose weight and keep it off have an IRA or a meaty stock portfolio, but most of them make regular, daily investments in their health, because they know their weight is at the whim of life circumstances if they cheap out. Long-term losers spend money on nutritious food, on memberships, and on strong professional support. They spend time shopping for and preparing that food, they use the gym, and they take the advice they get from doctors, trainers, and coaches.

You don't have to be swimming in money with time to burn to make smart investments. People who lose weight and keep it off can fall everywhere on the socioeconomic spectrum. Choosing to spend time and money on health is what’s important, not how much you spend.

They trust their own data

You’ve been collecting information on what does and doesn’t work for you since forever. If the suggestions I make about how to maintain your weight loss don’t resonate with you, ignore them. Take all that you’ve learned from your own experience and work at developing the habits most likely to help YOU keep the weight off.

Take this formerly obese personal trainer’s advice: if you’re going to lose weight, get ready to do what you need to do to keep it off.

Easy, right? Hell no. But just like having sex and riding a bike (at the same time), it gets easier with practice.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Formerly obese personal trainer Kelly Coffey is helping other mortals slay self-sabotage from her command center in Western Mass. You can visit her at and on Facebook.