Weekly challenge: Get mentally prepared before embarking on a weight loss plan

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The biggest bane of dieters isn’t losing weight but keeping the pounds off. Some 90 percent of those who lose weight find themselves regaining all their lost weight (and then some) time and time again. There may be, however, a way to ensure better success: mental preparation beforehand.

In a Stanford University School of Medicine study published last week, overweight women who learned skills to maintain their weight loss—before they embarked on a weight loss plan—wound up regaining fewer pounds within the year after they finished their weight loss plan compared to those who were put on a diet and exercise plan first and then taught skills to keep then from slipping back into their old habits.

Both groups lost similar amounts of weight, but the ones who prepared beforehand had gained back three pounds on average within a year after ending their diet compared to seven pounds for those who didn’t get the pre-diet preparation.

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Learning maintenance skills before rather than after a diet, wrote the researchers, was “designed to capitalize on initial motivation, provide a mastery experience for weight stability, and increase perceived self-efficacy for maintaining a stable weight in the future.”

Before starting on the long road to weight loss, the women in the plan-ahead group learned real-world skills like paying attention to their hunger signals, appropriate portion size, and how much they were eating without having to write everything down in a food diary. They did, though, weigh themselves every day and had a weight range that they were supposed to maintain.

In another exercise, they simulated going on vacation by losing a few pounds during a week or two beforehand and then allowing themselves to indulge a bit for a week on their “vacation” before cutting back again when their vacation ended.

Commercial weight loss programs aren’t designed to teach maintenance skills before the dieting part, but consulting a registered dietitian or wellness coach on your own before you head to, say, Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig could be useful. (Individual sessions can be costly, but they’re often covered by insurance if you’re obese or have a weight-related condition like diabetes.)

Everyday Health offers these tips if you’re trying to prepare on your own.