What could be more discouraging than getting down to your ideal body weight and gaining it all back – and more? The reality is it’s usually harder to maintain a lower body weight once you lose it than it is to lose the weight in the first place.
Why might this be? When you lose weight your body works to get you back to your “set point” weight. Statistics on how many people regain weight once they lose it vary but it may not be as high as originally thought. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, about 20% of individuals that lose 10% or more of their body weight are able to maintain their weight loss for at least a year. Not as bleak as the 90 to 95% weight regain rate cited by some studies!
Researchers in this study also identified factors that make it likely you’ll be successful at maintaining your new weight. They did this by gathering data from the National Weight Loss Registry. This is a registry of people who have lost at least 30 pounds and maintained that weight loss for at least a year. Sounds like a good group to get tips from, huh?
Factors That Make It More Likely You’ll Maintain Your Weight Loss
What’s the single best factor determining who successfully maintains their weight loss? The answer may surprise you. Based on information from the registry, the best predictor of successful weight maintenance was how long participants had already maintained their weight loss. Participants who were able to maintain their weight loss for two years or more were 50% less likely to gain back the weight they lost. In other words, the longer you’re successful at maintaining, the less likely you are to put the weight back on.
There are a couple of reasons why this may be. For one, maintaining your weight for two years may be enough time to reset your “set point,” the weight your body fights to maintain. The set point theory is based on the idea that everyone has a pre-determined set point weight based on genetics. When you gain or lose weight, your body makes “adjustments” to try to take you back to that weight. Your metabolism slows and your appetite increases, all in a bid to get you back to your set point weight. There is some evidence that once you’ve maintained a lower weight for a substantial period of time, it may become your new set point.
The study also identified other factors that increase the likelihood of successfully maintaining a lower weight:
Preventing Weight Regain Tip #1: High Levels of Physical Activity
This is hardly surprising. Other studies also show exercise is important for weight loss maintenance. One study showed women who exercised at a moderate intensity for an hour a day were successful at avoiding weight gain. This quantity of exercise isn’t necessarily set in stone but it does show the importance of physical activity for avoiding weight regain. Resistance exercise and exercise that increases your heart rate are both important. Resistance exercise increases lean body mass so you burn more calories when exercising and at rest. Don’t forget about “incidental exercise,” the non-structured movements you do over the course of a day. Moving around more during the day even when you aren’t exercising helps to keep your metabolism out of “hibernation mode.”
Preventing Weight Regain Tip #2: Eating Breakfast
Based on results from the weight loss registry, eating breakfast is key to preventing weight regain. Research clearly shows the importance of starting the day with a clean breakfast, preferably one that’s high in protein. A healthy, high-protein breakfast reduces the urge to overeat later in the day because you feel full and more satisfied.
Preventing Weight Regain Tip #3: Clean and Consistent Eating Patterns
Another characteristic of successfully weight maintainers is they have consistent eating patterns. People who successfully maintained their weight loss were less likely to turn weekends and holidays into a splurge fest where they devoured whatever they wanted. Instead, they ate a consistently clean diet most days of the week. Remember, a whole day of uncontrolled splurging can do a lot of damage and make it harder to get back on track. Adopt a clean diet and eat it consistently. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a cheat meal but get back on track quickly once you’ve indulged.
Preventing Weight Regain Tip #4: Don’t Allow Small Amounts of Weight Gain Turn into Bigger Ones
Other successful maintainers control their weight by not letting a small weight gain turn into a big one. To keep this from happening, you have to monitor your weight closely by weighing at least twice a week and adjust your diet accordingly. It’s easy to “brush off” a pound or two of weight gain, but it can turn into five pounds before you know it. Monitor your weight and adjust your diet and exercise plan to compensate as soon as you see your weight starts to go up.
The Bottom Line?
Now you know some of the factors that help you maintain your weight once you lose it. Consistently clean eating habits without too many splurges and commitment to exercising most days of the week are the foundation of weight loss and weight maintenance. Self-monitoring is important too. When you track your weight closely, you can make quick adjustments to get back on track before manageable amounts of weight gain turn into more challenging ones. Remember, you’re always fighting your set point, so it takes motivation, commitment, and monitoring to avoid regaining what you’ve lost – but it can be done.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. July 2005. Vol. 82. No. 1. 222S-225S.
Los Angeles Times. “Women Should Exercise an Hour a Day to Maintain Weight, Study Says”
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