Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Do you remember from when you were a child, one of Aesop’s most famous fables, “The Tortoise and the Hare?” That’s the one where the hare ridicules the slow-moving tortoise and challenges him to a race. The tortoise crawls along, slowly but surely, to the finish line. During the race, the hare is so arrogant and self-assured of his victory that he decides to take a nap. When he awakes, he finds that the tortoise has indeed won the race.

One can use this analogy with losing weight. What took a lifetime of poor lifestyle habits to gain, cannot be lost with a quick weight loss or fad diet. What works is making small doable changes that over time add up to attaining larger goals. For example, maybe switch from full-fat ice cream to low-fat frozen yogurt (instead of cutting out the ice cream you crave); perhaps start a walking program (rather than signing up for a 10k race if jogging’s not your thing).

Rather than try for a short-term fix to a long-term problem, I always recommend that my patients learn the weight loss secrets of success from the true experts at weight loss, those people that have joined the “National Weight Control Registry.” The National Weight Control Registry is a group of individuals who have done the impossible…lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off! “Do what they did,” is my advice.

What exactly is the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR)? The NWCR is a scientific investigation tracking over 5,000 individuals who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year ( So how did they lose weight and keep it off? Four behavioral characteristics common to most of the successful losers were recorded:

  1. Use a combination of diet plus exercise to lose weight. Registrants used a variety of methods to lose weight (50% on formal diets, 50% on their own), with both groups using a combination of diet with exercise for their initial weight loss. What they all had in common, however, was their similar behavioral weight loss strategies for maintaining the weight loss: they eat a low-calorie, high-carbohydrate, and low-fat (25%) diet. They also eat healthfully consistently throughout the entire week rather than just dieting during weekdays.
  2. Eat breakfast. Almost 80% of registrants eat breakfast daily.
  3. Use frequent self-monitoring techniques to keep yourself on track: weigh yourself at least once per week and keep a food and exercise diary for example.
  4. Exercise, exercise, exercise! The common thread running through all of the successful weight loss maintainers is their high level of physical activity, including moving around more in everyday life and getting in planned exercise sessions. (Registrants average 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity daily, with walking being the most popular form of physical activity.)

The take away message from the masters of weight control is that for a lifetime of weight management, you need to change your behavior pattern of eating and exercise (or lack thereof). There is no magic weight loss bullet that you can buy at the store. A lifetime of weight control involves slowly making the transition to eating a healthy lower-calorie diet and combining that way of eating with a highly active lifestyle. Aim for a slow and steady weight loss of no more than about a pound or two a week and you will see that this method truly wins the weight loss race.

Four tips for a lifetime of weight control:

  • Use a combination of healthy eating plus regular exercise to lose body fat and keep it off.
  • Eat breakfast.
  • Use a self-monitoring technique.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise.

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