November through December is party time, with festive treats and more eating and drinking than usual. By New Year's, it is time to make new resolutions for a healthier lifestyle.
At the top of many lists will be losing weight and exercising more.
It can be daunting, but a plan and a few strategies can make it easier.
The weight-loss industry sells millions of dollars' worth of products to people who want to lose weight, but they will have no impact without discipline and consistency.
Only 20 percent of Americans who diet and lose the desired amount of weight maintain their new weight for more than a year.
Dr. Jessica Bartfield and a team from the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care identified the best weight loss behaviors by gathering and examining data from 4,000 Americans from The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR).
They all lost 30 pounds and kept their weight down for at least 5 years.
Keeping up the motivation in the long term is one of the challenges, according to Dr. Bartfield.
"People need a motivation to lose weight and the new year is an opportunity to start fresh. Maybe it was the shock of seeing oneself in recent holiday photos, or not being able to fit into desired party attire that causes a vow to lose weight, and for many more it is a medical event such as a heart attack, the threat of diabetes or high blood pressure."
Dr. Jessica Bartfield
Behavioral change is a key factor in successful weight loss. Professional health advice is also vital in helping people to learn what to do, how to do it, and how to maintain behavior change.
Dr. Bartfield describes behavior change as "the cornerstone of healthy, successful weight loss." She says it takes about 3 months to establish a new behavior.
She likens behavior change to learning to play a musical instrument with a skilled teacher.
People need professionals to teach them how to lose weight, she says, and they and need to practice and make mistakes until they get it right.
As when learning to play a new musical instrument, it is easy to accidentally hit a wrong one. The important thing is to keep trying until it is perfect.
The first step towards losing weight and staying fit is to identify and change bad lifestyle habits and behaviors. It is important for an individual to establish a realistic time frame and a realistic target weight for their age, height, and exercise level. An online body mass index (BMI) calculator is a good place to start.
The researchers identified a number of tips to help people lose weight.
The best time to eat breakfast is within an hour of waking up in the morning. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it boosts the body's resting metabolism by up to 10 percent, increasing the rate of weight loss.
It is important to be consistent in measuring weight. Weighing in once a week, the same time of day each time, and tracking how much weight has been gained or lost will allow the individual to see what behaviors work for them.
Everyone should try to spend at least one hour a day on exercise or moderate physical activity. This does not necessarily mean an hour of cardio non-stop. It can be achieved through a series of activities, such as vacuuming and going up the stairs.
Time spent idle, for example, watching television, should be limited to a maximum of 10 hours a week. Sedentary activities can be replaced with more physically active ones.
Exercising before breakfast, meanwhile, can burn up to 20 percent more body fat.
Research has shown that children who have a television in their room are more likely to become obese. The study revealed a direct correlation between the number of hours spent watching TV and waist circumference.
Dieters can benefit from monitoring how much physical activity they do every day and by making small changes in your life that increase the amount of physical activity. Examples include walking instead of using transportation when possible.
Phone apps for diet, weight loss, and activity can help to keep track of the routine and progress.
While a combination of both resistance and aerobic training are recommended for overall health, aerobic exercise is more effective for burning calories. Resistance training, such as weight lifting, can lead to weight gain, but this is because fat is replaced by muscle.
Dieters should vary their choice of food and activity, but be consistent with their diet plan and behavioral changes, including meal times and amounts of food and exercise.
Eating well and exercising for 5 days during the week will have no benefit if it is followed by a massive splurge at the weekend. Research suggests that being consistent for at least 25 days a month can lead to sustainable weight loss.
Losing weight for the long term takes a long-term plan and discipline. Studies show that if a person can maintain weight loss for a year, it becomes easier.
By this time, say the scientists, the body is no longer "fighting" its' perceived calorie-deficient state. Instead, it "accepts" the new weight.
This acceptance comes when there is an adjustment of hormones in the body that relate to appetite.