How to maintain weight loss

So you’ve managed to release the excess weight, but if you think the work is over and you can relax now and go back to ‘normal’, maybe think again.  The fact is many people who significantly reduce their weight find the reality of keeping that weight off challenging and end up regaining what they initially lost.  Re enrolment rates for some structured weight loss programmes are reported to be up to 85% – indicating short term success followed by long term failure on a large scale.

Before we look at how to maintain weight loss, let’s consider why the weight comes back – there’s a few common themes, mostly related to feelings of deprivation and unrealistic expectations:

  • Restrictive diets: may slow metabolism and alter your appetite regulating hormones ghrelin (the one that increases appetite) and leptin (the one that decreases appetite) impacting on your impulse to eat and ability to stop eating when you’re full.
  • Mindset: if you’re thinking of your diet as a quick fix instead of long-term sustainable change for increased health and wellbeing, you’re more likely to revert back to ‘normal’ behaviours and gain weight again.
  • Lack of sustainable habits: relying in willpower alone will only get you so far – you only holdout for so long before it tires you and if you’re not focused on building new habits you’ll soon be back where you started.

So what does it take to maintain the ‘new you’?

The National Weight Control Registry in the US tracks over 10,000 people who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for long periods of time.  They use annual surveys to assess the strategies and the psychological and behavioural characteristics of those that maintain their weight loss. Their main findings for those that have maintained their weight loss are:

  • 78% eat breakfast every day
  • 75% weigh themselves at least once a week
  • 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week
  • 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day

This all sounds quite simple but it’s not to say that following these will also ensure you’ll also maintain weight loss long term as different things work for different people. For example, breakfast may not work for everyone and I’m not a fan of getting on the scales every week either.

But what this does show is that it takes permanent sustainable lifestyle changes to maintain the results of the hard work you’ve put in. These people did not revert back to the habits that got them to where they started.

When you’re mindful of maintaining your weight loss keep in mind the following:

Regular exercise: remaining active is important not just for weight maintenance but also maintaining good health in a more general sense – improving mental health, energy, mood, sleep, ease of movement or mobility, balance and flexibility, blood pressure, heart health and more. The Ministry of Health recommends at least 2.5hours of moderate or 1.25hours of vigorous physical activity each week for adults. Variation is key. More about defining ‘fitness’ here

Unprocessed wholefoods: eating nutritious food to ensure you’re getting what you need to energise and heal your body will also keep you from reaching for more processed foods. Whether you follow a certain eating philosophy like keto or vegan, or you try a general approach, find what works for you and what you can sustain in the long term. More about personalised healthy eating here

Sleep:  lack of sleep can affect our hormones regulating hunger, decision making abilities and impulse control around food.  Adequate sleep also helps our body repair, function efficiently, build our immune system, and more. More about the sleep/weight connection here

Sustainable habits: habits need to be maintainable for your weight maintenance to be maintainable. Commit to what’s achievable given what you have going on in your life, without trying to achieve unattainable perfection. If its too hard to fit into your life, chances are you’ll give up – it’s not sustainable.

Stress: if your stress levels of out of control, no amount of exercise and food restriction is going to stop you from regaining that weight you lost because stress hormones encourage fat storage. While we can’t avoid stress, and some stress is good in some situations, find ways to manage the chronic stress in your life. More about how stress makes you fat here

Focus on maintaining healthy lifestyle changes to maintain your weight loss results.