For many people, weight loss is a constant battle, and once you lose weight, there’s the whole new challenge of keeping it off. Try out these four tips from weight-loss experts on ways to shed pounds and keep them off.

1. Forget fad diets

One of the most important things to remember about weight loss is that there is no magical fix or one diet that works best.

Studies have shown that diets like a low-fat, low-carb diet, Weight Watchers, Atkins, and South Beach all have the same modest results over an extended period of time. No matter the diet, on average, people lose five to seven pounds in a year and eventually regain some of that weight.

Don’t worry so much about altering your eating habits around a diet that will go out of fashion. Instead, focus on eating in a healthy way that you can sustain over a long period of time and that leaves you feeling satisfied.

Dr. Arya Sharma, the director of the Canadian Obesity Network, says, “The first thing you want to do is eat regularly. If you’re starving, you’re not going to make sensible choices.” She recommends eating more fruits and vegetables rather than filling up on “empty calorie foods” like sugary drinks and processed snacks.

If you’re feeling lost on how to make your current diet plan healthier, you could try the “half plate rule” for your lunches and dinners. To follow this rule, fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, a quarter with protein, and the final quarter with a starch.

2. Keep a food and exercise diary

Obesity physician and the author of Diet Fix Dr. Yoni Freedhoff says, “The most important thing to start with is a food diary. They aren’t sexy or fun, but before you start a diet, you need to know where you’re at to know what you should change.”

If you want to lose weight, you need to know how many calories you are consuming and how many you are burning, and people have a tendency to underestimate how many calories they are eating and overestimate how many calories they are burning.

To get the best picture of what you are consuming, purchase a small scale for your kitchen and use measuring cups. After doing this for a while, you will most likely be able to judge more easily what your portion sizes should be without measuring.

You could also try tricks like serving yourself from the counter rather than off of the table, as Dr. Wansink advises in his book Slim By Design. He claims that this alone can help you to eat 19 percent less. He also recommends using smaller plates, as it can cut an extra 60 calories from your meal.

Between exercising and eating, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you had a side salad, the burger and fries you ate with it were a healthy meal—or that since you worked out this morning, you should eat extra treats. Exercise is not what is going to make you lose weight; cutting calories is. But exercising will help you keep weight off and has many other benefits, so don’t discredit it as part of your weight-loss plan.

3. Motivate yourself (but have reasonable expectations)

When you’re trying to lose weight, you want immediate results, but Harvard’s Dr. Gillman reminds us that, “People have gained weight over a period of years. They are not going to turn it around overnight.” Losing weight is going to take time, commitment, and sacrifice, so you have to be prepared for what you are getting into. Don’t start out by under-eating and over-exercising (or both), because you won’t be able to keep this up for long.

Before you start your weight-loss plan, identify barriers that may get in your way and how you are going to work around them. Do you have a pantry stocked with packaged cookies, chips, and other unhealthy snacks? Toss them out now. Don’t let the temptation sit around in your home waiting for you to crack.

You may have a more serious barrier like genetics, stress, chronic illness, or a medication. Figure out how you will need to alter your diet and workout routine to accommodate this.

You may find as you get close to your weight-loss goal that you are having trouble losing those “last 10 pounds.” But rather than lament that you can’t get the last bit of weight off, celebrate the weight that you have lost. Even if you have only completed two-thirds of your weight loss goal, that is still a big accomplishment. Dr. Freedhoff says, “If the last 10 pounds are more difficult to lose than the rest, that suggests to me they will be regained. If you need to try harder to lose the weight … the pounds will just come back."

4. Follow weight-loss examples

If you don’t trust the experts on their weight-loss advice, at least trust the people who have successfully lost weight. The National Weight Control Registry studies the traits and habits of adults who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a minimum of one year. There are currently 10,000 participants in the study who respond to annual questionnaires, and these people usually have at least a few things in common that you may want to implement into your weight-loss attempts:

  • Weigh at least once a week
  • Exercise regularly
  • Restrict calorie intake
  • Stay away from high-fat foods
  • Watch portion sizes
  • Eat breakfast
  • Count calories

Ultimately, you have to figure out what works best for you. Once you find a weight-loss plan that works for you, stick with it, stay motivated, and celebrate your results.