By Susan Moores, R.D.
updated 3/29/2007 12:09:52 PM ET 2007-03-29T16:09:52

After all those passed-up treats and careful calorie counting, after all the effort put into losing weight (and lose it you did), those last 5 measly pounds just seem to stick around like an old bagel on a deli tray.

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Plenty of readers have expressed this frustration, including Sam from Monterey, Calif. She writes, “I eat really well, but can’t lose those last 5 pounds. I guess I should cut out wine in the evening, but a girl’s gotta have some fun.”

And right she is.

Losing weight and keeping it off are about finding the balance between consuming and burning calories. It’s about adopting healthy lifelong habits that ensure “fun” is part of the plan. If you focus too much on deprivation, you're setting yourself up for failure .

There are several reasons why it feels impossible to shake those last 5 pesky pounds.

It takes fewer calories to feed a lighter you. 
Weight loss can slow down as you near your goal because it does not take as many calories to support your smaller size. For every pound lost, the body needs approximately eight fewer calories a day. That may not sound like much, but if you have lost 25 pounds, then your body may need 200 fewer calories than it did at the start of your weight-loss efforts. If you’ve downsized, so too must your calories.

No cheating or coasting!
People learn how to sneak in favorite foods and bend the rules for special occasions, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian in New York. But as few as 100 extra calories a day can stall progress, she warns.

At the beginning of a diet people usually make many major adjustments to how they eat. Stick to it. When a weight goal is so close in sight, it's not uncommon for people to let their guard down.

“Sometimes I’ll see clients try to lose those last 5 pounds by skipping meals or undoing some of the great habits that have served them so well so far,” says Taub-Dix.

When you get toward the end of the diet phase, all that may be needed is an extra tweak or two and a little fine-tuning, says Taub-Dix. Otherwise, "those 5 pounds may be tough to erase.”

For example, if a cup of hot chocolate is a favorite bedtime ritual, switch to a soothing, chamomile or spiced tea. That's a quick 100-plus calories saved. If fruit juice is on the breakfast menu, substitute the whole fruit instead. Depending on the fruit, calories can be cut by one-third to one-half.

So how do you budget the needle on the scale?  

Write it down
Successful dieters keep tabs of what they eat, explains Anne Fletcher, a registered dietitian in Mankato, Minn. A food diary can help reveal extra mindless eating, which you can then change.

“People told me writing down what they ate helped them see the little things they were doing that they weren’t aware of," says Fletcher, who in her book "Thin for Life" interviewed more than 200 people who, on average, lost 64 pounds and kept if off 11 years. "Eating that handful of nuts before dinner or crust of pizza off their kid's plate added up."

Try something new
If you're in a rut, stirring the pot a bit may help you re-energize and reinvigorate your efforts — as long as the overall plan stays balanced.

“One woman told me she decided to eat only white meats when she hit the dieting wall," says Fletcher. "There was nothing magical about white meat, it simply helped her get re-enthused about dieting.”

Add more veggies
Vegetables are a good substitution for other foods. They're filling and full of fiber and nutrition, but have relatively few calories. "It’s important for people to feel full and satisfied and vegetables can accomplish that," says Taub-Dix.

Reflect and refocus
Sometimes people forget how far they've come. “Write down where you started and where you are now," says Fletcher. 

It can be helpful to note the obvious changes, such as size, clothes, the number on the scale, but also to jot down what’s happened in less tangible areas of your life, such as personal satisfaction, energy level, or changes in your relationships and health. Marking those milestones may help you relax, spur you on and take the focus off the scale.

When the last few pounds finally melt away, then you can really enjoy that glass of wine.

Susan Moores, R.D., is a nutrition consultant and spokesperson for The American Dietetic Association

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