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Training the Brain for Healthy New Habits Sustains Weight Loss Better Than Dieting Alone

”It’s easy to quit smoking,” Mark Twain supposedly said. “I’ve done it hundreds of times.”

Something similar could be said of losing weight: It’s relatively easy to drop a few pounds, but keeping them off is much trickier. That explains why so many people fall into the classic pattern of yo-yo dieting, in which they lose weight, gain it back, lose it again, and so on.

A new study from researchers at Stanford University may point the way toward breaking out of this cycle. Weight loss might be more lasting, the study suggests, if dieters get the hang of certain healthy habits—such as eating mindfully and taking brief walks—before actively trying to lose weight.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, included 267 mostly obese women who were randomly split into two groups. Half of the women began a weight-loss regimen immediately. The other half eventually followed the same regimen, but first went through an eight-week program in which they fine-tuned their lifestyle and learned to stabilize their weight.

Both groups of women ultimately slimmed down by the same amount—roughly 17 pounds, on average (or 9% of their initial body weight). But over the course of the following year, the women who participated in the eight-week program regained an average of just 3 pounds, compared to 7 pounds in the other group.

“They cut that regain in half,” says lead author Michaela Kiernan, a senior research scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, in Palo Alto…

Read more: Amanda Gardner,  Time

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