Maintaining Weight Loss

This advice column was written for www.stuff.co.nz published 12 December 2017

I’ve worked really hard this year and lost over 30kg, mostly through diet and walking each day. Lately the weight loss has stalled even though I’m still sticking to my plan and I’ve just increased the amount of exercise to kick start it again as I only have another 5-10kg to go. Once I get there will I still have to maintain the diet and exercise I’m currently doing to maintain it?

Firstly, well done for your efforts – it’s not easy to change eating, exercise and lifestyle habits of a lifetime. Maintaining your achievements is another challenge.

The fact is many people who lose significant amounts of weight find the reality of keeping that weight off challenging and end up regaining lost weight. In 2005, research found 20% of overweight people successfully lost 10% of initial body weight and maintained it for at least 1 year. That’s not great news for the other 80%.

In the United States, the National Weight Control Registry tracks over 10,000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for long periods of time. They found that those who successfully maintain weight loss share some common behaviours:

Exercise daily: 90% of those on the Registry exercise on average 1 hour a day. Whatever physical activity you choose to do, make sure it’s something you enjoy doing – if you have to force yourself to do something you hate, it makes it harder to maintain.

Calorie control: Successful maintainers stuck with a low-calorie diet. However, rather than focusing on calorie counting, focus instead on choosing nutrient dense, unprocessed wholefoods and your calorie count will take care of itself. Paying attention to the amounts of fat, carbohydrate and protein you’re eating, and your portion sizes also helps with long term weight control.

There’s a fine balance between calorie control and excessive calorie restriction which can slow metabolism, shift appetite-regulating hormones and lead to weight regain. Extreme restriction can also lead to feelings of deprivation, challenging your willpower and causing binge behaviours and guilt.

Eat breakfast: 78% of successful maintainers ate breakfast every day. It’s worth noting that while eating breakfast is generally associated with healthier habits overall, equally skipping breakfast doesn’t inevitably mean you’ll gain weight or have less healthy habits. The evidence is mixed when it comes to the significance of eating breakfast and this indicates it’s a very individual thing. Find out for yourself what works best for you.

Weigh in: 75% of successful maintainers weighed themselves every week. I’m not a great fan of weighing in, as it’s easy to become obsessed with the numbers, but I do think keeping track of your weekly exercise, food and sleep habits as well metrics such as how your clothes are fitting, your energy levels and mood keeps you in check and gives room to adjust behaviours week to week for long term maintenance.

Less than 10 hours of TV a week: 62% of successful maintainers watch less than 10 hours of TV a week. When you’re watching TV you’re mostly sitting still, or mindlessly snacking which doesn’t bode well for maintaining weight loss.

The bottom line is, that once you’ve literally worked your butt off, it generally means there’s no going back to your pre-weight loss lifestyle. Maintaining your new weight requires constant effort, focus and continuously implementing your new healthy behaviours over the long term.