Simple Strategies for Maintaining Weight Loss

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If you have achieved your weight loss or health goal, you may be looking for helpful strategies for your maintenance phase. After all, it may have taken a lot of time and patience to get where you are, the last thing you want to do is undo all of your hard work.

The good news is, with a little planning and focused effort, you can maintain your weight loss without dieting. While it may seem harmless, yo-yo dieting—or weight cycling—is linked to a number of health problems including insomnia, obesity, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Instead of getting caught in this cycle, here is what you need to know to maintain your weight loss, including why people regain weight and tools you can use.

Why People Regain Weight

It is not uncommon for people to wonder what to do next after they have achieved their goal weight or health goal. In fact, about 80% of people who lose weight are unsuccessful at maintaining their weight loss long-term.

It's important to remember that losing weight, and maintaining weight loss, is simply not just about calories in and calories out, and is actually more complex than that. Your hormones also play a role. Specifically, the hormone leptin—or the hunger hormone. Fat cells release leptin to regulate your body weight. The more body fat you have, the more leptin your body will produce.

When you lose weight, leptin is reduced. This signals your body to think it is starving and causes you to feel hungry so that you will eat. The intense feelings of hunger and appetite can cause you to eat more and regain the weight you lost.

There are many reasons why people regain weight, including medical conditions, hormonal imbalances, and stress. They also might regain weight after following a restrictive eating plans or have not developed eating habits that are sustainable. Some people might even regain weight if they stop working out. If any of these reasons sound familiar, it may be time to rethink your weight maintenance plan. Here is what you need to know about why people regain weight.

Following Restrictive Eating Plans

Restrictive eating plans can wreck weight loss in two ways. First, drastically under-eating causes rapid weight loss triggering a reduction in leptin (the hunger hormone) that then causes you to eat more; and second, when you restrict yourself from eating any one food or food group, you are placing that food on a pedestal and it becomes scarce.

This only makes you crave those foods more. And if you skimp out on food throughout the day, you may end up binging in the evening and eating more than you would have had you filled your day with nutritious foods.

In fact, reducing your calories too much is often the primary cause of stalled weight loss. It is not the number of calories you think you are eating, it is the additional calories you consume when you find yourself in front of the fridge or pantry when you don't feel satisfied.

This is why it is essential to lose weight with a slight calorie deficit—one in which you can still feel full and satisfied while working toward your weight loss goals.

Lacking Sustainable Habits

One major caveat of dieting is the lack of a plan for transitioning off of the meal plan. Most eating plans include what to eat while you're following them, but equally as important is what you eat when you are done. This is why it is better to select an eating plan that you don't go off, but instead can maintain for the rest of your life.

Following an eating plan that is highly restrictive and not something you can see yourself staying on for the long haul is unsustainable and is not the right eating plan for you. Sustainable habits are essential for maintaining your weight loss and breaking the cycle of yo-yo dieting.

In addition, studies show that small changes to your eating plan as well as physical activity are more effective weight management strategies than a big overhaul. In fact, researchers note in an older study that a daily caloric deficit of 200 kcal or less may have the advantage of minimizing the decrease in metabolic rate typically associated with weight loss while not increasing hunger.

Looking for Quick Fixes

Remember. there are no magic pills or quick fixes when it comes to weight loss. Even though it is tempting to pursue these types of promises, it could only derail your goals in the end.

For instance, some people turn to juice cleanses or a fast to jumpstart their weight loss. These solutions are not part of a nutritious meal plan and can create an unhealthy relationship with food. If you are considering a cleanse or fast, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to learn the pros and cons before starting.

Additionally, it is important to consider the effects of losing weight gradually versus losing weight rapidly. People who lose weight quickly lose less body fat and more lean mass than those who take a more gradual approach.

Stopping Working Out

If you used exercise to help you reach your weight loss goals, a sudden stop without making changes to your eating plan could result in weight gain. This happens because fat loss is dependent upon burning more calories than consumed. If you are burning fewer calories, but you are still eating the same amount, weight gain may occur.

Your best bet is to continue your eating plan or something similar after you reach your goals to help you maintain your weight loss. If you feel like you need a break from working out or you are feeling fatigued or bored, a personal trainer or coach can help you develop a plan that gives you the break you need while still maintaining your results.

How to Maintain Weight

Some may find that losing weight is much easier than maintaining weight once it's lost. It takes a lot of time and effort. That's why it is important to develop a plan that can help you maintain your weight loss and reach your health goals.

The key is to avoid abruptly changing your eating plan and workout routine. Instead, make slow adjustments that won't lead to major weight gain allowing yourself about 6 to 8 weeks to get to your maintenance level.

Keep in mind, too, that researchers have found that people who keep the weight off for good are those who continue to maintain a low-fat meal plan with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Research also shows that people who are successful at maintaining weight loss are also exercising more. Here are some additional strategies to help you maintain your weight and transition to the next phase of your health journey.

Exercise Regularly

Whether you used exercise to help you lose weight or not, you could benefit from incorporating regular physical activity into your day. That's because your weight loss was achieved by successfully creating a consistent calorie deficit.

When you make changes to what you are doing, there is the potential that calorie deficit goes away and your risk of weight gain increases. Exercising regularly increases the number of calories you burn helping to ward off unwanted weight gain. This is called energy balance.

The Center for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of strength training workouts. You can spread this out across the week at your discretion. Remember that the best exercise is the one you will actually do—so choose something you enjoy doing.

Be Mindful of What You Are Eating

Often after losing weight, people rebound and return to their old eating habits. This is a surefire way to gain weight and increases the likelihood of weight cycling. The best meal plan is one that you can follow for the rest of your life.

There are a number ways to be mindful of what you are eating. For instance, tracking your food or counting calories can help you monitor what you are eating and help support your goals. But these steps are not recommended for everyone. In some instances, they can lead to unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

If you feel like these practices might be counterproductive for you, it may be helpful to speak to a mental health professional or a registered dietitian. It also may be helpful to experiment with mindful or intuitive eating practices where you pay attention to what you are eating and savor every bite. Additionally, intuitive eating is rooted in freeing people from damaging beliefs about food with the goal of creating judgment-free eating.

When you practice intuitive eating, you are learning to respond to your physical hunger and satiety cues, rather than emotional ones. This practice will also help you learn to identify sensations of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. If you would like to learn more about mindful or intuitive eating, you may benefit from talking to a mental health professional or registered dietitian trained in these areas.

Practice an 80/20 Approach

A sustainable meal plan includes the foods you love. It is a mixture of nutritious foods that keep you full and satisfied, with some comfort foods sprinkled in. The 80/20 ratio means that 80% of the time your meals are balanced and nutritious, while the remaining 20% are less healthy foods.

This might look like balanced meals throughout the week and pizza night on Friday with your family or having a drink or two with your buddies on the weekend. The key is developing the mindset that all food has a place in a balanced diet.

Consider Strength Training

Though many people associate strength training with building muscle, it is also part of a weight loss and weight maintenance routine. That's because more muscle means you burn more calories, even at rest. Plus, strength training encourages energy balance and can help prevent weight regain.

If you are an experienced in resistance training, continue your strength training routine as usual. If you have not tried weight training, discuss this option with a healthcare professional before beginning any new workout routine.

They can help you determine your limitations. Meanwhile, a personal trainer or coach can help you develop a program that works best for you and your lifestyle.

Be Prepared for Setbacks

Setbacks like a plateau or weight fluctuations are to be expected. It's how you respond to the setbacks that make the difference.

Instead of throwing in the towel out of frustration, remain calm and continue on your path. Any changes in body weight will usually subside after three to five days. If the scale continues to go up beyond that point, it could be an indicator of either muscle gain or increased body mass.

Focusing on non-scale victories like how good you feel in your clothes or having the energy to chase after your kids can remind you of your progress. And if you find yourself feeling guilty about overindulging, give yourself some grace. Reminding yourself that a setback is not the end of the world is important for relieving stress and preventing you from giving up.

A Word From Verywell

It feels good to reach your weight loss goals. The last thing you want to do is unwind your hard work by not having a plan.

Seeking the guidance of a healthcare professional like a registered dietitian, nutrition coach, or mental health professional can help you create a program that works best for you and your lifestyle. They can help you change your eating habits and build a healthy relationship with food.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How often do people regain weight after dieting?

    Unfortunately, when it comes to regaining weight, the odds are high that a person will regain the weight they lost. In fact, an estimated that 80% to 95% of people regain the weight they lost after dieting. But if you choose an eating plan you can follow for the rest of your life, you can reduce the likelihood of regaining the weight you lose.

  • How important is weight maintenance to your health?

    Maintaining a healthy body weight is important for reducing your risk of developing chronic health problems. Weight cycling—or losing weight, gaining weight, then losing weight, and gaining it again—is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

  • What is the key to weight management?

    The key to weight management is adherence and sustainability. If you feel restricted by your eating plan or overworked in the gym, there is no way you can maintain that routine for the long-term. In that case, you will reverse your progress at some point. To successfully manage your weight you need to have a healthy relationship with food, learn what works best for your body, and select an eating and exercise plan you can do long-term.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN, CSSD, CISSN
Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN is a Sports and Pediatric Dietitian, the owner of Nutrition by Shoshana, and is the author of "Carb Cycling for Weight Loss." She's been writing and creating content in the health, nutrition, and fitness space for over 15 years and is regularly featured in Oxygen Magazine, JennyCraig.com, and more.