Losing weight isn’t easy but maintaining the weight you lose is even harder! Studies show that more than 80% of people who lose a significant amount of body weight regain it. Those aren’t favorable odds! Typically, weight loss peaks at around 6 months after starting a weight loss program and begins to slowly move back up unless you take steps to maintain it. But, we know that 20% of people successfully maintain the weight they lose. A successful weight loss maintainer is defined as someone who loses at least 10% of their body weight and keeps it off for a minimum of one year. Unfortunately, 8 out of 10 people are unsuccessful at doing this – but why?
The reasons for weight regain varies. If you were on a highly restrictive diet, you might discover that it’s impossible to maintain and the weight slowly creeps back on as you relax your eating habits. You might also stop monitoring your weight as closely as you did when you first started watching your weight. Although it isn’t healthy to be obsessed with the scale, research shows that daily weigh-ins help with weight maintenance. When you weigh frequently you can react quickly to changes in body weight or body fat percentage before they become less manageable. Also, when you lose weight, your calorie requirements decrease. Many people don’t take this into account and continue to eat as they did when they weighed more. Even the calories you burn when you exercise are fewer because your body is lighter. Plus, you lose metabolically active muscle, especially if you aren’t strength training.
The Biggest Risk Factor for Weight Regain
So, how can you tilt the odds of maintaining the weight you worked so hard to lose in your favor? A study published the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at this issue. This study showed that a lack of physical activity explains 77% of weight regain during the first year after losing weight. That’s a big chunk! That’s why exercise is critical not only for health but for maintaining the weight you shed. In fact, a study found that people who, on average, perform at least 30 minutes of exercise per day are more likely to maintain the weight they lost.
More exercise is better, up to a point. One study found that an hour of exercise daily is the best way to make sure those extra pounds of body fat you lost don’t come back. Yet another concluded that 200 to 300 minutes per week was optimal, greater than the recommended guidelines for health. That would be around an hour a day if you only exercise on weekdays. Of course, this depends on the intensity with which you exercise as well. You don’t need an hour of exercise daily if you’re doing time-efficient, high-intensity workouts.
It’s also essential to have the right mindset for weight loss maintenance. Realize that there isn’t a short-term “quick fix” for weight control. You must continue to be mindful of your dietary choices, resolve to stay active, and document how well you’re staying on course over time. In fact, the Framingham study found that people who successfully lose weight and maintain the weight they lost have certain characteristics:
· They devote an hour each day to moderate-intensity exercise of some sort.
· They move as much as possible when they aren’t exercising.
· They limit the time they spend watching television to less than 16 hours per week.
What Factors Determine Successful Weight Maintenance?
Another study published in the International Journal of Obesity that followed 8,000 young women for 4 years found that women who successfully maintained the weight they lost had certain characteristics in common. For one, they were more likely to not be married and not have children. Other factors that predict successful weight maintenance include not having an eating disorder such as binge eating, not smoking, and not drinking a lot of alcohol.
Other studies point to other factors that make it more likely that someone loses weight maintains it. These include having a self-help or support group, consuming a nutrient-dense but low-calorie diet, eating breakfast, and managing stress. Small steps like replacing processed foods and starchy foods with colorful fruits and vegetables will upgrade nutrient density without adding lots of calories.
Why is weight regain so common after weight loss? From a physiological standpoint, experts believe that the setpoint theory has something to do with it. Your body has a setpoint, a weight that it tries to maintain. Your body’s particular setpoint is influenced by factors such as hormones, physical activity, eating habits, and genetics. But, your body puts up a fight to maintain this weight, as deviating too far from it is a threat to what it sees as normal.
So, when you lose a significant amount of weight, your hormonal patterns change and, unconsciously, you move less and feel hungrier. These are your body’s attempts to protect you from starvation. The longer you were at a particular weight, the stronger your set point is and the more your body tries to get you back to it.
The Bottom Line
A variety of factors determine the likelihood of successfully maintaining lower body weight, but exercise is likely the most important one, as it accounts for around 77% of weight gain. So, make sure you’re not letting your motivation to exercise diminish over time. Change your workouts around to stay motivated. Alternate short, high-intensity workouts with longer ones. Make sure you’re strength training too. Body composition matters, and in the absence of weight training, you’ll lose muscle along with body fat. That’s a net loss of metabolically active tissue. Keep your workouts balanced, be committed to work out long-term, and eat a whole food diet and you’ll have much better odds of maintaining your weight loss.
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