Diets are hard, but keeping the weight off in the long term can be even more challenging. We have identified 4 ways to help you find long-term success!
The Basics of Weight Maintenance
Yes! You did it! You’ve reached your goal body weight… but now what?
We often hear stories of people gaining weight back within a year of a successful weight loss diet. Perhaps it’s even something you’ve been dealing with. This can be so frustrating and demotivating, and can have us questioning why we bothered in the first place.
We then have the risk of getting stuck in a yo-yo dieting pattern which, in the long term, is not healthy either (1) . The fact of the matter is, that in some ways maintaining weight loss can be even harder than the process of losing weight.
This is exactly why we wanted to write this article. We’ve had many clients ask us about weight management, and we’d like to offer you our thoughts and experience on the topic.
It’s important to understand that when you lose weight, your body’s need for calories also reduces.
If you’ve been following us, you’ll know about the classic weight loss equation which states that you need to burn more calories than you consume in order to lose weight. This is known as a calorie deficit.
Weight loss = Calories in < calories out
In order to maintain your ‘ideal weight’, you need to burn about the same number of calories that you consume. This is done by maintaining a healthy balance of diet and exercise. If you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. If you burn more calories than you eat, you’ll lose weight. The formula for Maintaining Weight Loss is:
Maintaining Weight Loss = Calories in = Calories out
We realize this is easier said than done!
But, you can’t just go back to eating the way you ate before you lost the excess body weight.
You need to stay on this healthy track in order to enjoy long term weight goals and health benefits. This may sound tedious and no fun, but there are ways to overcome this by making it part of your lifestyle, and we’re here to help you.
But there aren’t many articles on how to maintain your weight. So here we are!
Below you’ll find 4 reasons that we’ve identified as to why people gain back weight after a successful diet, as well as 4 strategies to help manage and maintain weight loss.
4 reasons people gain back weight following a successful diet, and our recommended strategies to overcome them.
Reason 1: You’re Fed Up with Dietary Restrictions
So you’ve reached your goal weight and want to go celebrate! Good for you, you absolutely deserve it! However don’t let this be the start of going back to old eating habits.
If this is the case, we hate to tell you that you shouldn’t be surprised if you see the number on the scale creep back up. This would be demotivating and you may wonder why you bothered trying in the first place.
It is important to understand that the less you weigh, the fewer calories your body requires to maintain a healthy weight.
Hopefully, at least some of the healthy habits you picked up on your weight loss journey will stick with you. Whilst it’s absolutely fine, and well deserved, to have a treat from time to time, it is important to remember that moderation is key to maintaining a successful weight.
The Strategy: Everything in moderation
You can enjoy a treat from time to time, whilst keeping those healthy habits you picked up on your weight loss journey.
If you go on a very restrictive diet to lose weight quickly, you’ll soon lose the drive and willpower to continue with it, especially if you get close to, or reach, your goal weight. It’s common to think that once you reach your goal weight, you can go back to eating the way you used to, before your diet. But that’s not the case.
If you find yourself thinking, “when can I finally eat normally again?” or, “will I ever be able to eat what I used to eat?” – it’s a sign you are being too hard on yourself.
Our suggestion? Loosen the grip a little. It’s ok to experience a slight weight fluctuation in the short term, but don’t throw in the towel completely.
To help you further, have a look at our article on How to Lose Weight to familiarize yourself with these concepts.
Incidentally, this is why we highly recommend following a diet which promotes slow and healthy weight loss. This is much easier to sustain than trying to maintain weight following a very restrictive diet.
Reason 2: You’re Unaware That Your Weight is Has Crept Back Up
Imagine this scenario – You had a great weight loss success and reached your goal weight last October. Now it’s 9 months later, and you notice that your jeans are feeling tighter than usual.
What do you do? Do you go back on the scale now to see if your weight has changed? Or do you put it down to your jeans being washed on a hotter setting and face the possible reality after the summer?
It may seem like too much effort to rectify now, and you may be wondering why you should. You’ve worked hard for it and now you want to have fun.
Well, unfortunately, the longer you wait, the harder it will become to get back on track. It’s much easier to watch your calorie intake for a few days to get back to your goal weight, than it is to start from scratch after gaining 10 pounds.
The Strategy: Keep an eye on your weight
Weigh yourself regularly, a few times a week if possible.
Weighing yourself at the same time of day, usually mornings before you shower, will give you the most accurate results.
It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate from day to day, but there’s no need to become demotivated or obsessed over these ups and downs. Your weight can change due to any number of factors including water retention, where you are in your menstrual cycle (2) , or if you’ve been eating more carbs and salt than usual. In fact, the average adult’s weight can fluctuate 5-6 pounds during the course of a day!
Our suggestion is to check in regularly, this way you’ll know if the scale is stable, or on an upward trend. You’ll be able to manage a slight weight gain more easily than if you were to gain a few pounds unnoticed, by not weighing yourself after a couple of weeks or months.
We’ve come up with a green, yellow and red zone system to help you!
The idea is that you weigh yourself regularly to monitor your weight. This system allows for a little wiggle room to accommodate regular fluctuations, so you have a bit of freedom without letting things get out of hand.
The Green Zone
Your current ‘goal’ weight (or less) + 3 pounds
If you find that your weight is equal or lesser to your ideal weight or within 3 pounds more, all is good!
You’re obviously making healthy food choices, and the occasional treat is totally fine. Keep moving and being active and keep up the good work!
The Yellow Zone
Your current ‘goal’ weight + 3 to 8 pounds
If you find that you’re 3 to 8 pounds over your ideal weight, it’s time to take a little action. Cut back on treats, second helpings and alcohol until you’re back in the green zone, and add extra physical activity wherever you can.
The Red Zone
Your current ‘goal’ weight + 8 pounds or more
If you find that you’re more than 8 pounds over your ideal weight, it’s time to hit the brakes. Take a moment to think about where you might have gone astray, see if you can pinpoint some bad habits that you may have slipped back into. The further you let it slide, the harder it will be to get back into the yellow and green zones.
Once your weight re-gain hits a certain point, you’re more likely to give up, and think, “Well, this isn’t working for me anyway. I can’t keep this up, I’m calling it a day and I’m going to enjoy life!”
First of all, you’ve worked so hard to get to a healthy weight and make healthier choices! Don’t you feel better and more energized when you’re at your ideal weight? Secondly, who says you can’t be healthy AND enjoy life?
Focus on eating well and exercising more. Cut out unnecessary, empty calories found in processed foods, white carbs, sugar and alcohol. Try some healthy and delicious recipes from our Holistic Meal Plan or look for inspiration in our 30 Day Weight Loss Challenge.
Reason 3: You’ve Experienced a High Impact Negative Emotional Event
A negative event such as a break-up, losing a loved one, or other situations causing extreme stress can lead to emotional eating, which can be a major setback to health and wellness.
Stress can cause the release of cortisol which may lead to an increase in appetite, particularly for so-called ‘comfort foods’, which are high in sugar and fat. Many people find that comfort foods are soothing and help them temporarily alleviate the stressful feelings they are experiencing (3) .
For some people this is more manageable than for others. A one night ice cream binge can be just that, one night. For others, it may become a habit all too easily, particularly if the stress is longer lasting, or they lack the ability to control their cravings. Then this could become a more serious problem and lead to a frustrating cycle of trying to manage cravings whilst self-soothing with comfort food.
Emotional hunger is driven by the head, not by the stomach where actual hunger comes from. This is one way to battle emotional eating, and we’ll cover more on this later on in the article.
The Strategy: Take Care of Yourself
Put your mental health first.
In times of high stress, many people resort to emotional eating as a source of self soothing. If this is the case for you, and a negative emotional event is affecting your weight, first of all, don’t be too hard on yourself.
There are better ways to self soothe than turning to comfort foods. Try finding support with family and friends, or speak with a professional.
You need to process the event somehow, and constructive support will help you more in the long run than keeping it to yourself and trying to ‘fix it’ with food.
Some important things to remember in situations like these are:
- This is a tough time. To keep your strength, take good care of your body with healthy food and physical activity.
- If you do find you’re craving comfort foods, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or is this purely emotional? If it’s the latter, find something to do. Call a friend, read a book, go for a walk.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Give yourself time to process what you’re going through, but don’t let this be a setback that you’ll regret later.
Reason 4: You’re Experiencing a Disturbance in Your Regular routine
Finally, a new routine may also cause a change in eating habits. This is very common with life events such as falling in love, moving to a new city, or going on an extended vacation.
These (happy and wonderful!) situations may mean you go out to eat more, are more careless with your food choices and you think, “So what – I’m enjoying life!” Good for you! And so you should.
However, it’s important to come back to reality at some point and check in with yourself. It will be easier to manage your weight when you’ve regained 5 pounds, than if you’ve regained 15 pounds.
The Strategy: Put Your Needs First
“I need to take care of myself before I can take care of others.”
These (usually) cheerful situations can distract us from our healthier habits and patterns. These are events such as starting a new job, a new relationship, or having a child. All wonderful, happy things, but disruptive nonetheless!
Perhaps your new partner loves fast food, and you enjoy cozy nights together, with take out pizzas and wine.
Maybe your new job has you working long hours, and you find it hard to prepare yourself a healthy meal.
Or you’ve just had a baby, and you just don’t have the time or energy to prepare nourishing meals.
The same goes for college students. Freshman are known to gain ‘The Freshman Fifteen’ – 15 pounds of added weight in the first year due to an unhealthy lifestyle and figuring out how to take care of themselves. That is a pretty good indicator of what an unhealthy lifestyle can result in.
Put your needs first*, feed your body with nourishing foods. If you get take out, order a salad. If you don’t have time to cook, find healthy ready meal options or spend some of your time on the weekends meal prepping. If you’ve had a baby, ask a family member or friend to help you prepare meals or find some quick easy dishes to prepare.
*If you’ve had a baby then of course, you need to take care of the baby as a priority, but remember – If Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy!
As you can see, losing weight is one thing, and maintaining it is a continuation of that program which takes a little effort and getting used to. However, with these simple techniques it is possible to manage long term weight maintenance.
Over time, this will become easier as you get used to incorporating healthy eating habits into your lifestyle.
In short, we need to eat in order to survive, so eating well SHOULD be pretty high up on our list of priorities!
We have some more free tools to help you succeed! Be sure to have a look at our 28 Day Holistic Diet Challenge for more simple recipes, and our article on The 20 Best Foods For Successful Weight Loss.
As always, if you have any questions, or just need a little more motivation, please email me – email@example.com and I’ll be happy to help!
This article has been nutritionally verified by Beth Weiner MPH, RDN