Image: Getting ready for a class reunion
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Many people go on a "reunion diet" to try to get back to their high school graduation weight.
By Brian Wansink, Ph.D.
msnbc.com
updated 7/11/2008 8:44:11 AM ET 2008-07-11T12:44:11

A couple of months ago an old classmate called to remind me about our 30th high school reunion this summer in Sioux City, Iowa. She joked that she and her husband would be starting their "reunion diets" a month before the big day. Her goal? To lose 30 pounds by July.

She’s got plenty of company. While summer means relaxation for some, it means lots of hard work dieting for those who want to put their best selves forward with former classmates.

It’s estimated that the typical American gains between 1 to 2 pounds a year. While that may not seem like much for a single year, by the time your 30th reunion rolls around, you’ll be rolling in 30 or 60 pounds heavier than you were on graduation day. With that kind of weight gain, you’re more likely to be greeted with “So … how are things going?” instead of something more flattering.

Lose it fast — regain it fast
Experts recommend losing a pound a week for best results. But when there’s a big event such as a school reunion or a wedding, many people like my friend put off dieting until almost the last minute. Quick-loss deprivation diets such as severely limiting calories, eating only protein or taking herbal laxatives can be painful, potentially harmful — and temporary. 

The reality is, the faster you lose it, the faster you regain it.

Keeping it Off
Let’s say you do manage to get back to your graduation weight. The reunion’s finally over, but you want to be able to keep wearing that tight dress or skinny suit you bought to show off your new body. It’s not impossible, but you can’t go back to your normal eating routine.

There are some tried-and-true ways to maintain weight loss, according to the National Weight Control Registry. Established in 1994 by researchers from Brown Medical School and the University of Colorado, the registry keeps track of over 5,000 people who have shed 30 or more pounds and have kept it off for more than a year. Here’s what they recommend:

  • Stay active every day. Ninety-four percent of successful dieters increased their physical activity. Most of them simply started walking regularly. Ninety percent of these exercise at least one hour a day.
  • Ninety-eight percent modified what foods they ate. Some cut out junk foods or cut them down to occasional or special treats.
  • Seventy-eight percent ate breakfast every day. In fact, a recent study found that a big, carbohydrate-packed breakfast can help control your appetite through the day, and can prevent cravings for starches and sweets.
  • Sixty-two percent watched less than 10 hours of television a week. Numerous studies show that people who watch a lot of TV are more likely to be overweight than people who don’t.

In addition, be aware of how much time you spend mindlessly munching on snacks or high-calorie foods. In my book “Mindless Eating,” I suggest these methods for weight maintenance:

  • Substitute a fruit bowl for the cookie dish.
  • Use smaller dinner plates. Use the half-plate rule: At dinner, load up the right side of your plate with salad, fruit, or vegetables. The other side can be starches and meat.
  • Store indulgent foods in inconvenient spots. If you have to work to get the treat, that can give you enough time to change your mind and opt for the carrots instead.  

If you manage to keep the weight off for a year, you can join the National Weight Control Registry and share your secrets with others.

Even if you don’t get all the way down to your graduation weight in time for this year’s reunion, if you focus as much on keeping the pounds off as losing them, by the next big one, you’ll get the enthusiastic “Wow, you look great!” greeting you want to hear.

Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of "Mindless Eating — Why We Eat More Than We Think," is head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. He is alsodirector of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

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