Losing weight is an accomplishment but it’s actually only half the battle. Studies show that only 20% of people who lose 10% or more of their body weight maintain it for at least a year. Those statistics sound pretty bleak, don’t they? Yet, the 20% who are successful tend to have certain habits that increase the odds they’ll remain at their new, healthy weight. Some of these habits are derived from The National Weight Control Registry, the members of whom have lost significant amounts of weight and maintained it for five years or more. So, it can be done.
For many people, weight loss maintenance is even harder than losing it in the first place. Are you surprised? When you’re initially trying to lose weight, you’re highly motivated. You write down everything you eat and your exercise schedule and read the labels on everything you buy at the grocery store. You’re pumped! But, once you’ve lost the weight, the enthusiasm dulls and you gradually slip back into older habits – visits to the vending machine, a doughnut on the way to work, and a late-night bowl of ice cream – but it’s far from hopeless. Here are some science-backed ways to avoid regaining the weight you lost.
Studies show that people who try to lose weight usually find their weight loss peaks within the first six months before it turns in the other direction. It then slowly begins to reverse unless you have strategies in place to avoid weight regain. Why does this happen? After losing weight, your brain and hormones work against you. Their job is to make sure that you have enough fuel to sustain the many tasks your body has to do to keep you healthy. Significant weight loss is a threat to homeostasis. So, you subtly become less active or eat slightly more to compensate for what’s often going on beyond your awareness. Your body is simply trying to restore you to a “safe” weight. You have to fight these adjustments to maintain your new, lower body weight.
So, what are the habits that help you maintain a new lower body weight?
Accountability is crucial for avoiding weight gain and being accountable comes in several forms – accountability for how much you eat and exercise as well as monitoring and adjusting to your weight. When you first started to try to lose weight, you may have kept a food journal but that practice likely fell by the wayside once the pounds started dropping off. When you stop keeping track of what you’re eating, the calorie content and quality of what you’re eating can slowly creep up. That’s why journaling is important even during the maintenance phase.
Studies also show that monitoring body weight closely by stepping on the scale daily helps with weight control more than weighing less frequently. Why might this be? When you weigh daily, you can adjust to weight changes quickly by modifying your diet or exercise routine. This means small gains are less likely to become big ones that are hard to reverse.
Consume Protein Starting in the Morning
Not all studies support the idea that eating breakfast helps with weight control but starting the day with a morning meal high in protein can help stabilize your blood pressure and reduce blood sugar swings that lead to cravings. Plus, eating something healthy before you leave for work can help you avoid a trip to the vending machine for a mid-morning snack. What does science say? A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating breakfast was effective for weight loss maintenance but only in men. Still, 78% of successful losers and maintainers in the weight loss registry reported eating breakfast every morning, so it’s a good practice. Besides, a little fuel first thing in the morning helps you better tackle the upcoming day.
Successful weight maintainers in the National Weight Control Registry, not surprisingly are more physically active than the average person. In fact, they report exercising an average of an hour per day. Although in the registry, walking was the most common form of exercise, strength training is important for weight maintenance as having more muscle tissue boosts metabolic rate, which helps reduce weight regain. Successful weight maintainers would be best served doing both.
In another study, researchers looked at the dietary habits of National Weight Control Registry enrollees using a food frequency questionnaire. They found that successful losers and maintainers avoid fast food and often eat a diet that contains low-calorie foods and limited food variety. Previous studies show that preparing meals with limited variety leads to less likelihood of overeating. A varied array of foods seems to be a recipe for overconsumption. As your taste buds tire of one flavor, you have more to indulge in. Successful weight loss maintainers are also consistent with their approach to eating. They don’t splurge on the weekend but eat the same, healthy foods day after day.
Stress Management and Social Support
People who successfully lose weight and maintain it have a strong social structure and effective strategies for managing stress. We know that stress is a cause of overeating for some people and successful maintainers are less likely to binge or eat as a way of dealing with turmoil and discord. Managing stress can come in a variety of forms – a mind-body exercise, like yoga, meditation, listening to relaxing music, massage, time spent in nature, and more. It’s important to find what works for you.
The Bottom Line
Losing weight is challenging but maintaining a lower body weight once it comes off is even more demanding. Now you know some of the lifestyle habits of people who lose significant weight and keep it off. With a planning, consistency, determination, and accountability, you can be one of the 20% who improves their health and physique by losing weight and keeping it off.
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