Every nutrition expert knows the only way to get to and stay at a healthy weight is to balance calories with exercise, but something seems to be missing from the standard food and activity formula. Sure, plenty of people lose weight using a variety of methods, but in spite of all the tips and tricks designed to help us do it, very few people are successful at keeping excess weight off for the long-term.

In a study presented earlier this month at the European Congress on Obesity, Swiss researchers put 33 morbidly obese patients on a typical diet and exercise plan—cutting daily calories by 500 a day and walking three times a week—during a two-week hospital stay. The program also included a variety of on-going educational and motivational workshops, dance and art therapies, and cognitive-behavioral counseling.

For five years following the initial two-week program, the patients were seen every two months by a doctor specially trained in obesity treatment. Each visit included a weigh-in and counseling session. No diet drugs of any kind were used throughout the program. At the end of five years, 15% of the patients weighed about the same as when they left the hospital and a whopping 55% had lost even more weight.

The researchers believe that access to several years of follow-up counseling sessions with appropriately trained healthcare professionals, in addition to motivational and educational workshops that provide the tools needed to maintain weight loss, can make all the difference when it comes to long-term weight loss maintenance. Looking at their 70% success rate, compared to the estimated 5% (at best) success rate of American dieters, it's hard to argue.

Susan McQuillan is the author of Low Calorie Dieting for Dummies.

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