In the study, overweight African American women were put in a program that gave them weight-maintenance (not weight-loss) pointers, such as to skip fast food, watch less TV, and cut their daily caloric intake by just 200 calories a day. They were also taught skills such as how to read nutrition labels and how to find low-calorie dishes on restaurant menus. After 12 months, 62 percent of the women were either at or below their original weight. On average, the women had dropped about two pounds each.
So why did this “maintain, don’t gain” method work? One reason could be that it’s simply easier to stick with healthy habits that control your current weight rather than those that are actively designed to drop pounds, says study author Gary Bennett, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, global health, and medicine at Duke University. Cutting only 200 calories from your daily diet is a lot more doable than cutting 500 calories, after all.
“If you’re a person who’s been unsuccessful at losing weight, the best thing you can do is try not to gain any,” says Bennett, who notes that even a small amount of weight gain can pose a major health risk. So skip soda and drink water instead, or order a side salad with your meal instead of French fries—the simpler the change, the more likely you’ll continue doing it and eventually keep off (or lose) weight.