The 7 Can’t Fail Techniques of a Successful Weight Loss Program

By Jim F


Ever wanted to know the techniques and tricks used by those who successfully lost weight, and kept it off?

Thanks to a scintillating survey conducted by popular weight loss site SparkPeople – we’ve now got some road-tested tips to give you the best chance at managing weight.

As part of an updated paperback version of the bestselling book The Spark, (new edition here), the authors at Sparkpeople undertook a comprehensive survey of over 2,000 members. Why do 50% of people report losing momentum within 2 weeks of starting a diet? And why do 18% fizz out within just 3 days?

The answer is the ‘strong start’. These strong starters lost twice as much weight in the first two weeks, and were five times more likely to reach goals than the false starters.

Secrets of the Strong Start

  1. Track Food and Calories

    Both strong and false starters ranked “food tracking” as the one action that made the biggest difference in their programs. 82% of strong starters tracked food every day vs. 65% of false starters, and strong starters were twice as likely to track their calories.
  2. Don’t put certain foods off limits
    Strong starters were less likely to label foods “good” or “bad” and forsake certain foods, and were three times more likely to use portion control techniques that supported consumption of unhealthier foods in moderation.
  3. Spend LESS time exercising

    On average, strong starters exercised for 30 minutes during the first two weeks; false starters for 60 minutes, suggesting that false starters burned themselves out.
  4. Focus on both diet and exercise

    74 percent of false starters made both fitness and dietary changes from the outset, compared to 50 percent offalse starters.
  5. Engage more with others/have a support network

    Strong starters were more than twice as likely to communicate with other members online.
  6. Weigh yourself weekly, not daily
    Most strong starters weighed themselves weekly, while the majority of false starters did so daily.
  7. Focus first and foremost on developing healthy habits, not losing weight
    Most strong starters viewed their #1 goal as “building a strong foundation of healthy habits.” A majority of false starters made losing 3-4 pounds in their first two weeks their #1 goal, which backfired.

Note that these methods worked for many people – but we are all individuals and is it important to find out what works for you.

A big thanks to Sparkpeople and the folks and DailySpark for allowing us to publish this.


  1. Albert123

    Nice post. Well, I think that one should not become too obsessed with weight loss. Rather, it is crucial to have a wholesome approach towards healthy living. This means that one should try to exercise regularly, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, have adequate sleep and be at peace mentally. I agree with no 7 point, which says that it is important to build healthy habits before one starts aiming for weight loss. The healthy habits help one to maintain the ideal weight in the long run.

  2. Vern

    That sounds more like the way I will like to approach the journaling…could you send a sample of what your “blueprint” looked like and how to read/work it?

  3. coachdrs

    As a personal trainer with many years of experience in the fitness industry I have used many of these techniques to help my clients lose weight and keep it off. Items 1,2 and 7 are especially useful.

  4. Kori

    I have to agree-that is an awesome way of looking at it-keeping things normal is good in our minds and good tends to stick

  5. Andrea

    I really like this approach 0. I was a food diary tracker in the beginning, but I think your approach is really smart!

  6. Doug

    These 7 points are absolutely SPOT-ON.

  7. Yeast Free Living

    This is a great list. I think number 4 and 7 are the most important. I know so many people that have been on a “diet” forever but don’t lose the weight they want to lose because they don’t exercise. I have been most successful dropping pounds when I made the goal healthy lifestyle change and not just losing weight.

  8. Dr. Thomas L Halton

    Great article!
    I use a lot of these principles with my weight loss clients.
    The one I don’t agree with is #3. I have found that daily exercise of 30 minutes or less has not resulted in significant weight loss. My clients shoot for a bit more each day, just around 40 minutes. The rest are pretty much spot on!

  9. Dan

    I really didn’t really lose weight that well until I started to ride my bike to work everyday. I was riding sporadically, and maybe losing some weight, but then I would plateau and then gain the weight back. Possibly exercising everyday doesn’t work if someone is cutting their caloric intake down too much at the same time. It is probably better just to temper caloric intake and then increase exercise. I lost about twenty additional pounds by exercising without doing a food journal, but once I did both, I lost weight rather quickly, even though I seldom ate fewer than 2000 calories. I also weigh myself everyday and realize that fluctuations can be because of water weight loss. Also, I don’t deprive myself of treats, but try to eat these only after I eat all the nutritious foods, as well as budgeting for them within the calorie budget. I also try to eat sweets that have nutritional value, such as Clif bars and dark chocolate. Putting healthy habits first is also important.

  10. bijou

    I agree that many times, slow and steady wins the race.

  11. bijou

    I’m not used to it…I just like the idea of maintaining my lowest weight, which I think was 98 lbs. I hover between that and 103.


    I like it, I think is great to switch from diets and work out just to have a mentaly positive and work everyday with out thoughts and that always help me to improve my energy level.

  13. Jim F.

    12 hours per week at the gym is a large amount of time, and for many of us, many other things in life are far more important than exercise.

    I think the study determined that many who started off with great intentions tended to fall off the wagon quickly, rather than those who start with exercise times that were far more likely to be sustainable over the long term.

  14. Spectra

    3 digit numbers freak you out on the scale? You must be really really small if you’re used to weighing less than 100 lbs.

  15. bijou

    All good points, except I disagree with #3. When I first decided to lose weight, I went to the gym 5-6 times a week, for 2 hours at a time. This helped me tremendously because it made such a difference in how I felt and results were definitely palpable. However, I also had the benefit of being in my last semester of college with a light course load. Now I only go to the gym 3 times a week.

    I still track calories religiously and I stay away from weighing myself mainly because any 3-digit number freaks me out and I don’t need the mental distress. As long as my clothes fit comfortably, I know I’m doing okay.

  16. Tom

    Yes, combining exercise with dieting is great advice. However, I think it’s wise to first determine the real goal. Are trying to just lose weight, or is your goal a lean, trim, and toned body? Losing weight does not guarantee a fit body, only less weight. True, for some, that might be all that is needed. For others, losing weight means to curb intake while working your body to tone your muscles. So, if you first determine exactly what your goal is, you will likely increase your chances of success.

  17. Family Help

    Hi Jim,

    Something you said about spending less time exercise really got me. I definitely have to agree with you on that. You just to commit yourself to start a little then eventually move to a higher level. Spending a dramatic time during first days of exercise are just not very effective.

  18. Melanie Thomassian R.D.

    This is excellent. I really like the balanced approach to weight loss that’s being highlighted here.

  19. O.

    One thing that has helped me stay on track is making things seem as “normal” as possible.

    I was never good at tip #1, food journaling, because I wouldn’t normally do that in my daily life. I could never even stick to using a daily planner.

    So instead, I made a “blueprint” of what a typical day on my diet was supposed to look like. How many calories to eat when, when to add a protein or a dairy product, etc.

    Then I stuck it on my fridge. So when it is meal time, instead of taking the time to writing things down at every meal everyday, I glance up at the fridge to make sure I am on track, and that’s all the effort it takes!

  20. Yuji Tai


    No.4 should be ’74 percent of strong starters made both fitness and dietary changes from the outset, compared to 50 percent of false starters.’?

    Please erase this comment after it is emended.

  21. ecardsfun9

    I like it

  22. Spectra

    I was a “strong starter” when I lost weight and I am a “success story”, having kept off 90 lbs for almost 10 years now. Some of the habits that I got into were: food tracking (you’d be surprised at how much food you “forget” you ate), weighing every two weeks (sometimes only once a month, actually), not working out a whole lot at the beginning (I started with walking, then I worked my way up from there), and focusing on diet AND exercise. I basically followed the WW plan, but I didn’t go to the “weigh ins” and figured that if I followed the program for a month, I’d probably lose weight because I was not eating all the junk I had been eating before. I went a whole month without weighing at the beginning and I lost something like 15 lbs that first month. That was a great motivation to keep going, even though that wasn’t my primary goal.