You’ve lost weight and you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished! You should be! It’s not always easy to shed extra pounds. Yet, research shows that maintaining a new, lower weight, once you’ve lost it, is even harder and that’s why weight regain is so common. You probably know the statistics: 80 to 90% of people who lose 10% of their body weight gain it all back – and sometimes more. That’s not very encouraging, is it? It’s not surprising though. When your body weighs less, it burns fewer calories relative to before. If you don’t adjust your food intake, you’ll gradually regain the weight you lost. Plus, it’s all too easy to fall back into old habits causing weight regain – eating too many sugar cookies and not enough veggies when you aren’t monitoring your weight as closely.
Yet, there are things you can do to lower your risk of regaining the weight you worked so hard to lose. According to Eric Plaisance, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise science in the UAB School of Education, the key to keeping the weight from creeping back on is to watch your calories and combine it with high-intensity exercise. In a study published in American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, researchers found that reduced calorie intake in combination with high-intensity exercise was effective for weight maintenance after weight loss in mice and was more beneficial than moderate-intensity exercise combined with calorie restriction.
How was this study conducted? The mice were divided into four groups. One group ate a calorie restricted diet (25% under maintenance) and did moderate-intensity exercise. A second group consumed the same, calorie-restricted diet but, instead, did high-intensity interval exercise. A third group restricted calories only. (25% under maintenance). The final group was a control group that stayed on a high-fat diet but did no exercise.
The results? Though the group that did moderate-intensity exercise and reduced their calorie intake burned more calories when they exercised, high-intensity interval training had additional benefits. The mice that did this type of training held on to more lean body mass. That’s important as it keeps your metabolism from slowing too much. Plus, high-intensity interval training was linked to greater improvements in insulin sensitivity and how cells handle glucose. High-intensity exercise actually remodeled the muscle tissue of the mice and increased its thermogenic capacity.
Why are improvements in insulin sensitivity so important? When you have good insulin sensitivity, your pancreas doesn’t have to produce as much insulin to get glucose into cells. As such, you get better blood sugar control at a lower insulin level. As you know, having good insulin sensitivity is important for metabolic health and weight control. When insulin is high or hangs around in your system too long, it blocks fat burning and promotes fat storage. That’s not what you want if you’re trying to control your weight or stay healthy! Better insulin sensitivity leads to better blood sugar control and less of a tendency toward fat storage.
High-intensity has other things going for it. Research shows through HIIT training, you can get an effective cardiovascular workout in a short period of time, in as little as 10 to 20 minutes. This makes it ideal for time-strapped folks who still want to enjoy the health benefits of exercise. In fact, high-intensity interval training seems to offer greater cardiovascular benefits than even moderate-intensity exercise like jogging. The additional stress that intense exercise places on the heart encourages adaptations that are important for heart health.
Other Ways to Reduce the Risk of Weight Regain
In one of the largest studies looking at factors that prevent weight regain after weight loss, researchers identified five factors that successful weight loss maintainers do to lower their risk of weight regain. These include:
· Eating a low-calorie diet
· Eating breakfast each day
· Monitoring weight closely by weighing frequently
· High levels of physical activity
· Eating the same consistent diet on weekdays and weekend
Most of these items factors are pretty basic and are doable if you’re committed to not regaining weight. So, the keys to not putting the weight back on aren’t complicated, but you have to be consistent with doing them. While this study suggests that more physical activity is better for preventing weight regain, the intensity is likely just as important. Lesser amounts of high-intensity exercise combined with strength training is effective. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity showed that strength-training improves the odds of keeping the weight off.
Attitude was also a factor in this study. People who have a more optimistic attitude and believe they have some control over their lifestyle and environment appear to be more successful at not regaining weight. There’s also the issue of accountability and monitoring. As the previous study showed, weighing frequently is linked with less weight regain after losing a significant amount of weight. Getting the feedback from the scale helps you make quick changes before a small amount of weight loss turns into more. But, you don’t want to come hyper-focused on the scale either. That creates unnecessary stress. Also keep in mind that weight can fluctuate by several pounds daily based on the sodium content of what you eat, how hydrated you are, and factors like constipation.
Keeping a food journal also fosters accountability. Sometimes we lose track of our eating habits and eat less mindfully than we should. A food journal holds you more accountable and forces you to think before you overindulge.
The Bottom Line
Now you know what science says about keeping weight off once you lose it. Chances are you already do some of these things. The key is to be consistent with them over the years, never completely letting your guard up. By doing this, you’ll be rewarded with a healthier body weight going forward and the satisfaction of knowing you lost weight and kept it off!
Science Daily. “Dieting combined with high-intensity exercise helpful in reducing the risk of weight regain, study finds
American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism, 2017; 313 (2): E243 DOI: 10.1152/ajpendo.00445.2016.
Ann Nutr Metab 2015;67:21-32
American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism. Volume 313 Issue 2 August 2017
Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2016; 9: 37–46
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2006, 3:17.