There are tons of diet plans and products geared towards helping you lose weight, but there’s less focus on how to keep the weight from coming back once you’ve lost it. Weight maintenance is just as difficult as losing weight, and for many people, it’s more challenging. Why is it so hard to keep the weight from coming back once you’ve lost it?
Why It’s So Hard to Maintain Weight Loss
When you lose weight, your body fights back by trying to bring you back to your “set point,” the genetically-determined weight it wants you to maintain. It does this by subtly slowing down your metabolism, increasing hunger and decreasing how active you are.
Another reason weight maintenance is hard is because you lose some of your initial enthusiasm and drive for eating healthy and working out once you’ve shed those extra pounds. It’s easy to slip back into old habits, eating a few extra desserts and snacks here and skipping workouts. Ever so slowly, the pounds start to creep back on.
What’s the Most Important Factor for Maintaining Weight Loss? Diet or Exercise?
According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, staying physically active is most important for keeping the pounds from reappearing. People who put on more than 13 pounds in the year after they lost weight were less likely to be physically active than those who regained less than 4 pounds. According to this study, lack of physical activity accounts for 77% of the weight gain that occurs after weight loss. The take-home message? Don’t put away your exercise shoes just because you’ve reached your ideal weight.
How much exercise do you need? According to studies, you need between 60 and 90 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise to prevent weight regain. The good news is activities carried out at a moderate-intensity like brisk walking, mowing the lawn and vigorous cleaning all count, and you can space your activity out over the entire day.
What hasn’t been as well-researched is the role high-intensity exercise plays in weight maintenance. If you boost the intensity of your workout by doing interval training, heavy weight lifting or running, you activate fat-burning hormones that keep your metabolism in high gear for longer periods of time. Shorter periods of high-intensity exercise may be more effective than an hour or more of moderate-intensity exercise for maintaining weight after weight loss.
Tips for Maintaining Weight after You’ve Lost It
Make exercise a set part of your daily schedule, a part of your to-do list. If possible, exercise first thing in the morning, so there’s less chance of finding a reason not to do it. Do high-intensity exercise sessions two or three times per week and strength training. Strength training builds lean body mass and kicks up your metabolism.
Motivate yourself to be more active throughout the day. All the activity you do from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed counts. Strap on a pedometer to remind yourself to take more steps. Spend as little time sitting as you can. You burn 30 more calories per hour when you stand than when you sit in a chair.
Weigh yourself at least once a week. This way you can identify weight increases early enough to take quick action. The pounds can slip up on you if you ignore the scale. If you do strength training, follow your body fat percentage using a body fat scale instead.
Continue to track your calories, and keep a food journal for accountability. Eat lean protein at every meal, and choose fiber-rich carb sources in vegetables and whole grains over high-glycemic ones. Research shows that a high-protein, low glycemic diet is most effective for weight maintenance. Make sure you’re getting the correct number of calories for weight maintenance. When you lose weight, your calorie requirements go down.
The Bottom Line?
Don’t become complacent and fall back into old habits. Maintaining weight loss takes a lifelong focus. Stay on course – and stay slim.
Los Angeles Times. “Women Should Exercise an Hour a Day to Maintain Weight, Study Says”
On Fitness. May/June 2011. page 14.
Los Angeles Times. “Study Identifies Foods That Promote Weight Maintenance”