You get motivated to lose weight when you've got a big event on the horizon. Weddings and class reunions are perfect (except that they may not occur as often as you'd like). Unfortunately, once the event has passed, your motivation goes up in smoke and it's back to your old habits.
"Goal-oriented dieters are particularly susceptible to regaining because they tend to lose weight with extreme measures that they can't sustain for the long term," says Dr. Abramson. The result: weight cycling, which may make it harder to lose any weight you regain, according to a University of Pennsylvania study. Research there suggests it could take twice as long with each successive attempt.
Be realistic. Choose events that are far enough into the future that you don't need to take drastic measures to reach the weight-loss goals you set. Aim to lose no more than two pounds per week, preferably one. The slower your weight loss, the more likely it is to be fat, not water or muscle, you're losing. The more muscle you preserve while you're dieting, the easier it will be to keep the weight off.
Make diet and exercise changes you can sustain long after the event is over. Ask yourself, Will I still want to eat prepackaged frozen meals every day for lunch after I get married? If the answer is probably not, amend your diet to include strategies you can incorporate into your lifestyle forever (or close to it).
Replace every goal you achieve with another—fast! Goals are the foundation of your motivation, so never be without one. "Event-oriented weight control works as long as there's always another event on the horizon you can target," says Dr. Kirschenbaum.