WHEN YOU’RE DEDICATED to changing how you eat and how you exercise, dropping pounds isn’t actually all that difficult for most people, especially those who are already overweight.

The real test comes when you’ve reached your goal weight—or get close enough—and you start backsliding, stopping for fast food again, or slacking off at the gym.

In fact, only one out of six overweight dieters achieves long-term weight loss, a sobering 2010 study found.

So: How do you get the fat to stay off? In a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers tested out a weight loss intervention strategy to reduce the recidivism among 222 obese patients who lost an average of 16 pounds after a 16-week weight loss program.

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In the experiment, researchers separated dieters into two groups: One that got 42 weeks of weight maintenance strategies, or one that just received the usual check-ups, like a physical and weigh-ins.

Those in the weight loss maintenance program got three group meetings and eight follow-up phone calls—both chock-full of tips on keeping calories in line, how and when to exercise, ways to solicit help from friends and family, and weighing themselves consistently—for the full 42 weeks, and then had no intervention for the last 14.

When the final 56 weeks were up for both groups, researchers found that about 59% of the patients who got the weight loss tips and support didn’t gain any weight or only gained a bit back, while the non-intervention group saw 73% gaining some or not gaining at all.

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Overall, the maintenance folks averaged about 1.5 pounds of regained weight, and the other group saw about 5 pounds total put back on.

Bottom line: “Patients can slow the rate of weight regain through sustained contact with a dietitian who focuses on behavioral skills for maintenance of weight loss, such as regular self-weighing, planning in advance for situations in which they might go back to old eating habits, and enlisting social support from someone in their network,” study co-author Corrine Voils, Ph.D., a research career scientist at the William S Middleton Veterans Memorial Hospital in Madison, WI, recently said in an interview.

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