What does it take?

Most of us know how challenging it can be to lose weight. All of the exercise and eating better paid off. So, how do you keep the weight off? Often, this can be even harder. Why is this the case? Are there specific reasons this happens? What can you do to preserve the weight loss?

Maintaining Weight LossWe all know that being a healthy weight provides numerous benefits, such as lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar, lower blood pressure, less stress on bones and joints, and less work for your heart. When it comes to losing weight, most doctors recommend not dropping more than ½ – 2 pounds per week because this helps avoid any health risks that can occur with drastic weight loss. By taking this slower approach, you also have time to learn new habits that will encourage you to maintain the weight reduction. If you don’t know where to start, there are many professionals who can help you, such as a primary care provider, personal trainer, dietitian, or therapist. They can assist you in learning vital skills, such as portion control, healthy snacking, exercise techniques, and reading nutritional labels. To obtain long-term health advantages, it’s necessary to maintain the weight loss. This can be incredibly hard to do. Why?

According to research, most people who lose a large amount of weight have regained it in 2 to 3 years. It’s estimated that about 20% of dieters maintain weight loss after a diet, but somewhere between one third to two-thirds of people who lose weight gain back more weight than they originally lost. You’ve probably also heard that 95% of diets fail. The problem isn’t really with the diets, but our thoughts about them. All diets are based on the concept that you’re limited on what you can eat. Initially, this doesn’t feel too restrictive because you’re motivated by wanting to lose weight. However, over time, you start to feel like you’re missing out and when we feel that we can’t have something, we tend to fixate on it. Since willpower isn’t an unlimited resource, you eventually cave. Some of us probably even end up binging. The other issue with dieting is that the whole concept implies that in the future, you’ll be off the diet. The notion is validated by the fact that many diet programs are specifically designed to be a fixed length of time. During this period, you lose the weight that you want to, but after a while, you grow bored and want to be able to enjoy food rather than be restricted. Once you go back to your old habits, you regain the weight you lost, which makes you go back on a diet and the process starts all over again. This method is called weight cycling or yo-yo dieting. It comes with health risks, like high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, and high cholesterol. A misconception about weight cycling is that you’ll have a more challenging time losing and maintaining weight loss than a person who hasn’t gone through the up and downs. This idea isn’t accurate because weight cycling doesn’t increase the amount of fat tissue or increase fat distribution in your body.

Some people fear by restricting calories at low levels to induce weight loss will permanently damage their metabolism, the process by which your body converts food to energy. It’s divided into three main groups. Resting metabolism is the energy used to keep your organs functioning enough for you to stay alive and accounts for 50% to 70% of the total calories you burn. Thermic effect of food is the energy used to digest what you eat and turn it into fuel and is about 10% of the calories you burn. Physical activity is the movement you get throughout the day and makes up about 30% of your calorie burn. Everyone’s metabolism is different because it has to do with the composition of fat versus muscle in the body. Since men naturally have more muscle on their bodies, they usually have faster metabolisms than women. As we age, our metabolism slows. The main factor influencing your metabolism is your current weight. When you lose weight, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) decreases because it takes fewer calories to move around a smaller object and your body becomes more efficient at extracting energy from food. This lowering of your BMR can make it challenging to maintain weight loss, especially after a normal diet is resumed or if you have less daily activity. The most common reasons behind weight regain are poor calorie control, not knowing what a proper maintenance diet should look like, and not keeping up with an exercise routine.

Another change that happens in your body when you lose weight is your hormones alter your appetite. There are many different hormones involved in hunger. One of the most prominent is leptin, which is released by fat cells and tells your brain when to eat and when to stop. When you lose weight, your fat deposits decrease, resulting in your leptin levels dropping and this signals to your brain that you’re “starving.” To get rid of this feeling, your brain sends the cue that you need to eat even more than you were before. Another impact of this is your brain sends indicators to your muscle tissues that they should become more efficient or burn fewer calories. This is where the lowering of your BMR occurs. Besides these changes, the area of your brain involved in the reward feeling you get from eating food becomes more active; whereas, the regions involved in restraining eating become less active, which means your appetite increases and overconsumption of food compared to the calories you need can occur. Your body is trying to defend its fat stores, thus making it much harder to keep weight off. The take away from this is that it isn’t a matter of lack of willpower or effort, but biology. You’re essentially fighting a system that’s hard-wired to regain lost pounds. The good news is there are steps you can take to combat that process.

To keep weight off, you have to adjust. The first thing to tackle is your mindset. Change is hard and to be successful, you have to accept that you won’t return to your old ways. You’re going to be figuring out what your new “normal” is. This will involve learning new skills and practices that are different from the ones you used to drop the pounds. To maintain weight loss, you need a specific focus. The key is to start with the process and concentrate on that, not the outcome. By having a sound system, the effect will follow. When you’re losing weight, you need to decrease calories and increase energy expenditure. When you’re maintaining your weight, you need to figure out how many calories you need a day to stay at your current weight and remain consistent with that amount. Consistency is critical to keeping weight off. By tracking your calories, you’ll have an idea of what you normally take in and how much treat foods can impact your daily caloric intake. Since the goal isn’t to make your life challenging, you shouldn’t have to track every single day forever. However, when undergoing any diet changes, like when trying to lose weight or learning how to maintain weight loss, the concept of tracking calories will teach you about nutrition and your eating habits. It’s the easiest way to stay constant and to hold yourself accountable. By having structure, you will develop framework and guidelines, which will lead to not having to obsess over calories and portion sizes while managing your appetite, energy levels, and overall diet better. Just like figuring out how many calories you need a day to lose weight, you can do the same to maintain your weight (only without a calorie deficit). The first step is to multiply your current weight (lbs.) by 10 (women) or 11 (men). Next, add in exercise and daily activity by multiplying by 1 (little to no exercise), 1.1 (light exercise or training 1 to 3 days per week), 1.2 (moderate exercise 2 or more days per week), 1.4 (hard exercise 3 or more days per week), or 1.6 (working out 2 or more times a day). If your maintenance calories aren’t close to your current intake, or you’ve been on a very low-calorie diet for a few months, it can be challenging to increase your calories to the maintenance level right away. Instead of jumping right to it, start by slowing increasing your calories by about 200 calories a day and give it a few weeks. If your weight stays pretty stable after three weeks, add another 100 to 200 calories a day and repeat until you reach your maintenance level. It’s essential not to make abrupt changes because this can result in weight gain. If you’re having trouble finding a balance, a nutritionist can help. Ultimately, a healthy, long-term diet should include mostly nutritious foods that you enjoy eating with the occasional splurge. The goal should be to eat the right foods 80% of the time and give yourself some wiggle room for the less perfect meals or days. Remember, one day of overeating isn’t going to ruin everything. Some research indicates that the occasional cheat might even help your progress. Overall, the diet that works best is the one that you can stick with.

Food is the most critical factor when it comes to losing weight. A popular saying is that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. This is backed by a 2014 review that found while exercise is excellent for health, without caloric restriction, it won’t cause clinically significant weight loss. It’s also vital to realize that not all calories are created equal. If you’re craving something sweet and eat a cookie that has 100 calories, it’s far different than if you eat a banana that is 100 calories. Studies suggest that certain types of foods can reduce hunger without providing a huge number of calories. Higher protein diets have been shown to curb cravings, which can help you control your intake. It also can suppress appetite and promote lean muscle development. Your goal should be to get at least 30% of your calories from protein each day. Another great option is vegetables because they’re the opposite of empty calories (those that lack nutritional value or health benefits). They provide a large number of nutritional gains with minimal calories, so you get much more out of your diet. By having larger portions veggies, you’ll feel more satisfied without adding significant quantities of calories. Fruit is a great option if you’re craving something sweet. They are more nutritious and aren’t empty calories. Another factor that can help is fiber. Even though it’s a type of carbohydrate, it’s not absorbed by your body, which allows you to feel full, so you’re less likely to overeat. You can find it in plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes. Fiber also assists in keeping things moving digestively by drawing water into your gut. Foods that contain large amounts of empty calories and are often loaded with sugar, so you should avoid them, are ones that are heavily processed. Several studies have reported your body could potentially burn twice as many calories digesting simple foods than those that are heavily processed.

There are several other tips when it comes to your overall diet. The first is to drink more water, which won’t necessarily cause weight loss on its own but will help reduce the number of calories you take in from drinking other beverages that are high in them. Besides, when you’re better hydrated, your appetite is better controlled. Some experts recommend drinking a large glass of water before every meal to help reduce overall calorie intake. The second important consideration is to eat breakfast every morning because it can set the tone for the rest of your day. To be of most benefit, make sure it includes whole grains and a lean source of protein since this has been linked to improved appetite, blood sugar, and calorie control throughout the day. The third vital thing is to plan your meals. This will help you to remain consistent. If you don’t plan your meals, when you’re hungry, you’ll be more likely to select something that isn’t the best for you. To prevent boredom with your meals, it’s a good idea to have a few standard meals that you can easily modify. A good example of this is salad because depending on the toppings you select, it can completely change the flavor. Part of planning your meals means that you make a list before you shop at the store and don’t deviate from it. It’s also a good idea not to shop when you’re hungry to prevent impulsive buying. The final item is to eat the same number of meals a day. It doesn’t matter the number or how you break it up; you can’t skip a meal or snack. If you do, it disrupts your hunger cues, which puts you at risk for eating things you should avoid or overeating when you finally do eat.

While most of us could lose weight based on changing just our diets, to maintain weight loss, you must get some form of physical activity. As a society, we spend large amounts of time on our tablets, phones, computers, or TVs. One study found that, on average, we watch 28 hours of TV per week. All of this screen time tends to be idle time. Not only that, it’s easy to overeat while distracted in front of a screen. To combat this, set limits for yourself on how much time you’re going spend in front of a screen each day. The other component is to increase your physical activity level. To maintain weight loss, it’s recommended that the average adult uses 1,500 to 2,000 calories per week in some form of physical exertion. The length and duration of exercise needed each day depend on the person and the type of activity. Some studies say that you should get 30 – 60 minutes of moderate exercise each day. Others indicate you should participate in 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity 3 – 4 times a week. The thought is that high amounts of exercise not only burns calories but also helps prevent the body’s metabolism from slowing down, which means you burn more calories when you’re at rest. There’s good news if you don’t like or can’t do high-intensity workouts. Research has shown that even non-rigorous exercise, such as walking and using stairs, provide positive effects. In addition to cardiovascular exercise, it’s vital to do strength training because it helps you build and maintain muscle. When you have more lean muscle mass, you slightly increase your metabolism and burn more fat in the long run. The key is to follow a consistent routine that makes you want to keep working out. Remember, you don’t have to destroy yourself every time you exercise, but you must “show up” and do it. To encourage accountability, it can be helpful to set a monthly goal for workouts. One problem with exercise is that some people overestimate how many calories they’ve burned and then overeat. Don’t exercise so you can “earn” a piece of chocolate cake. The goal is to reap the many long-term benefits besides weight loss, like better mood, better sleep, and reduced anxiety.

Besides diet and exercise, there are several things that you should focus on to help you maintain weight loss. The first is getting adequate amounts of sleep each night. Many studies have linked sleep deprivation with weight gain. If you aren’t sleeping enough, your body isn’t functioning as well as it should, which could cause you to crave unhealthy foods. Also, when you’re tired, you tend to move slower and get less physical activity during the day. To avoid these issues, try to get at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. An additional practice to follow is weighing yourself daily. You also need to have a plan on what to do if your weight is higher than you want it to be. By taking action promptly, you’ll prevent the numbers from climbing even higher. However, keep in mind the numbers on the scale aren’t the only factor. You should also be paying attention to how you feel and how your clothes are fitting. If you’re eating right and exercising, you should be keeping off pounds from fat, but could be gaining weight from muscle.

The most powerful tool you have to help you is your mind. Subtle shifts in your attitude can have significant effects on your feelings and behaviors. Your desire to maintain your weight has to be driven by something that’s deeper and consistent with your internal values, which is why you should take time to think about what’s important to you and how your weight ties into it, such as living a long, healthy life to be able to spend time with your children and grandchildren or continually participating in a physical activity that you genuinely enjoy and wouldn’t be able to if you weight more. Keeping long-term goals front and center will provide the incentive you need to hold on and stave off gaining weight. Motivation is easy to sustain when you see progress as you shed pounds, but once you reach your target, it’s much harder. Part of having the right attitude is believing in yourself that you’ll succeed. It’s equally essential to continue to challenge yourself with new goals. These goals don’t have to be related to weight loss, diet, or exercise. By achieving both short-term and long-term goals, you’ll keep your confidence level high, which helps perpetuate the right viewpoint. This doesn’t mean that you don’t continue to learn about a healthy lifestyle, but it shouldn’t be all that you do. Surrounding yourself with reminders of what living a healthy life means is crucial. A great way to do this is to become a mentor to someone else who is just starting their weight loss journey. Speaking of support systems, we all need them because it aids us in staying accountable. The support can be emotional or logistical, depending on your needs. Try teaming up with family, friends, or co-workers. If these don’t work, you can sign up for a weight loss support group, which can be useful to do even if you’re already at your goal weight. By staying connected to your sources of support, it’ll be easier to stick to your healthy habits and maintain your weight.

Research shows that occasionally rewarding yourself is vital to your mental and physical wellbeing. However, it’s easy to get carried away. If you do return to old habits, don’t see it as a failure, but an opportunity to learn and do better. The key is to identify situations that triggered your moment of weakness and use alternative methods of coping. An issue that many people have is eating in response to stress. High-stress levels can alter your hormones leading to increased appetite, cravings, low energy, lack of sleep, and poor mood, all of which can negatively affect your ability to stick to a healthy diet. If this is something you have trouble with, you must learn new ways to handle your emotions. There are many different options, like gardening, walking, working out, doing yoga, meditating, participating in a hobby, or connecting with a friend. Alternative reasons people overeat are vacations and holidays. The key for these is to plan accordingly for meals, make time for exercise, and reduce stress. People also eat when they’re bored, so it’s critical to find something else to do rather than eat.

When it comes to maintaining weight loss, you don’t have to take just my word for it. Data from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) is very supportive of the concepts that we’ve discussed. The NWCR was started in 1994 and has tracked over 10,000 people who’ve lost 30 or more pounds and kept it off for over a year. Participants have to take detailed surveys on their eating habits and behaviors. The majority of the people have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off an average of 5.5 years. To accomplish this, 94% of the registrants increased their physical activity. According to the data, 55% of registry participants used some type of program to achieve their weight loss. Most people in the registry are active for about an hour a day, with walking being the preferred activity. Participants also report weighing themselves regularly, with most weighing themselves at least once a week and just over a third weighing in daily. Another critical point is that nearly 80% of Registry members say that they eat breakfast. Other habits they follow are limiting the amount of TV they watch, keeping a food diary, and following a low-fat, low-sugar, low-calorie diet.

After going through all the hard work to lose weight, it’s understandable that you’re worried about regaining it. There are several things to keep in mind. The first is your weight fluctuates daily and it’s normal to have changes in weight throughout your life. Another essential thing to remember is that maintaining weight loss takes a different approach than losing weight. Weight maintenance is done by finding a healthy balance between changes in eating habits and exercise. The most successful way to accomplish this is to make it less challenging by practicing habits that you can live with and don’t make you miserable. Weight maintenance is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s no quick fix, despite what any diet may suggest. To achieve and maintain your goals, you’ll need determination, perseverance, and a sustainable plan, which means finding whatever diet and exercise routine that works best for you and sticking to it. By keeping your eye on the long-term benefits, you’ll be not only meeting your goals but surpassing them with ease.