As someone who lost and then gained weight multiple times through my teenage and early adult years, I'll post what finally worked for me to enable a reasonable and consistent weight range for the last near decade now.
Motivation; habits; mindset.
This is what it really takes. A clearly identified and strong motivation to make the necessary changes. A recognition that only changes in habit will deliver long lasting results. A positive mindset.
Here's the story I wrote in early 2008 while the changes I had made were still fresh in my mind:
On April 10th 2007, I weighed 272 pounds (5'9" male). I remember that specific day, because it was the day I decided that I had to make several changes. My body was talking to me and the things it was telling me were alarming. I had joint pains, occasional back pain, minor shortness of breath, and severe heartburn whenever I ate anything remotely spicy or while trying to enjoy a nice glass of red wine. Sometimes, I would even have heartburn just trying to go to sleep even though I hadn't had anything but water for the last few hours. My diagnostic self-check had returned the results of utter fail and I didn't need a doctor to tell me what I already knew...I was killing myself.
With a sense of urgency, I stopped making excuses for why now wasn't the appropriate time to make changes and abandoned the thought process of "I can lose weight anytime I want." Anytime had to become right now. I gave up fast food entirely and still haven't had any. I stopped consuming products with caffeine like diet sodas and coffee until, 4 months later, I eased it backed into my diet after I was convinced I had rid myself of the addiction. I started drinking a lot of water. I reduced my calorie intake and started thinking more critically about all of my food decisions including any drinks with calories. I asked myself questions like "How am I going to get enough protein for today?", "How am I getting my vitamins and minerals?", and "How am I going to get enough fiber for today?". These questions were in stark contrast to my former mode of operation..."What do I want to eat today that tastes good?"
I became more physically active with each passing month and slowly increased my calorie intake (though still reduced) to mirror the increasing levels of physical activity. I started with walking, weight lifting, and mild jogging in the spring, canceled my cable in May, added tennis in June, started to run in July, and joined a gym in August. In September, I began running longer distances (approximately 5k) and started cross-training with a stationary bike at the gym. In late September, as an experiment, I cut out all meat other than fish and shellfish from my diet and have maintained this dietary change since.
In late October, I made the decision to train for and enter the 3M half marathon. This was a big deal for me, because the longest continuous run I had ever done in my life was 4 miles and because I had arthoscopic knee surgery on my right knee in March 2005. I convinced my best friend to train for it with me. I set up a 12 week training program that involved 2 mid-week short runs, a weekend long run of increasing distances, occasional recovery weeks where the long run decreased in distance, and lower body weight resistance training. My initial goal was to complete it in 2:15:00. As the training progressed, I revised the goal to 2:10:00. I entered a couple 5k races to get familiar with road racing format. On the day of the race, my goal had become 2:05:00. The weather was ideal that morning and I completed the race in 1:56:37.
I've had people ask me if I want to do a full marathon now. It's not in my current plans, but I do want to do things to explore new levels of fitness that I've never been to. I'm training now for the Texas Round-Up 10k with a goal time of less than 50 minutes. I'm also training for a 26 mile hike through the Grand Canyon in May benefiting The Hunger Project.
I now weigh 160 pounds. I feel more fit than I ever have before in my life. Even while simply standing, sitting, or laying down, I reap the benefits of my new fitness level every time I take a breath and that breath feels easy. The memories of the way my body felt when I was on the brink of morbid obesity are still fresh on my mind. As more time passes, I'm certain those memories will fade, but I can never forget. I'm much more interested in fitness now and that interest goes beyond just my own diet and exercise. In early January, I had my first ever physical. I enjoy seeing other people who are interested in fitness -- at the gym, at one of the Austin area's many parks, or wherever they happen to be. When people ask me how I lost the weight, my response is diet and exercise. More often than not, this response causes the other person to be dismayed. Most Americans seem to prefer some miracle solution when it comes to weight loss and this saddens me. One person's response to my diet and exercise story was, "There's hope for me yet. I can do that too." And that fills me with joy.
4/10/07 - start lifestyle change (272 pounds)
5/10/07 - 17 pounds lost (255 pounds)
6/10/07 - 33 pounds lost (239 pounds)
7/10/07 - 47 pounds lost (225 pounds)
8/10/07 - 60 pounds lost (212 pounds)
9/10/07 - 73 pounds lost (199 pounds)
10/10/07 - 87 pounds lost (185 pounds)
11/10/07 - 98 pounds lost (174 pounds)
12/10/07 - 105 pounds lost (167 pounds)
2/20/08 - 110 pounds lost (162 pounds)
5/1/08 - 116 pounds lost (156 pounds)
Ever since, I've kept my weight in the 152-167 range. Today, I weigh 161.