I recently posted a question in my Free Facebook Group and I asked “what do you think is tougher to do, losing weight or keeping that weight loss off long term?”
The truth is, they both present their unique challenges.
Depending on the background of the person, losing weight can be very challenging. Some factors that make losing weight tough:
-Grew up with poor eating habits ( Ex: no meal structure, eat until plate is finished, most meals eaten at fast food or restaurant, etc.)
-Poor sleep hygiene
-No support from those close to them
-High-calorie tasty foods are cheap and convenient
However, most people can suck it up for periods of time and lose weight.
Maybe they have a wedding, or maybe they want to look good for their next vacation, or maybe they had a recent scare that triggered them to go on a diet and lose weight.
But for many, the issue is not with the original weight loss, it’s maintaining the new weight after your goal or event has passed.
A study by Wing (2005) showed that only 20% of people who lost 10% or more of their body weight were able to keep it off for more than a year.
Think about that for a second, only about 1 in 5 people can keep off the weight they lost in the long term, meaning 4 out of 5 people gain it back plus more.
This is a problem.
There is some encouraging news that they found in this study: if you can maintain the weight loss for 2 plus years, you can reduce your risk of regaining by more than 50%.
Despite these not so great stats, you can lose weight and keep it off long term. Lets first go over why its tough to keep it off, and then we will go into how you can keep it off long term.
Fact 1: Hunger and cravings go up the longer and further away you get from your normal body weight and your body burns less calories the more weight you lose
The first couple weeks of a weight loss diet are great, you see the scale consistently go down and you really have no cravings or hunger.
However, the longer and further away you get from where your body is used to/comfortable, the more hunger and cravings will increase. If you want to know more about how to manage these hunger and cravings when dieting read my article here.
As you lose weight, you also burn fewer calories throughout the day. Which I also wrote about here.
But the thing to keep in mind is that the more fat you lose the more your hunger will go up.
Fact 2: Weight loss is only focused on weight loss, not maintenance (short term strict goals, overly ambitious goals).
One of the main reasons its tough for people to maintain their weight loss is because the strategies they used to get there were only focused on short term weight loss, not how they would live the rest of their life or how to maintain it.
Anyone can lose weight in a short amount of time. You can eat next to nothing or try an unsustainable diet protocol and do a ton of high-intensity workouts and the weight will come off. But let me know how you feel after a few weeks of that.
A good example of this is someone who follows a certain diet protocol like keto or carnivore. They follow the diet to a T for a month or two, see weight loss, but while they are doing it they are dreaming of just being done and eating all the cake in the world.
So maybe they lose 10-15lbs or so during that time, but they restricted so much that once they are at their goal weight or think they have lost enough they go in two directions:
1. Go right back to what they were doing before, and the weight comes right back
2. Go to a party or dinner with friends and just go to town on anything and everything in sight, which eventually leads to the diet being over.
Which leads me to the next reason why people can’t seem to maintain weight loss.
Fact 3: Loss of positive reinforcement/no goal
Now that you reached your goal, you no longer have that drive you had before.
It becomes easier to say yes to foods/drinks and tougher to say no because you are not aiming for anything.
You no longer have that positive reinforcement of seeing the scale go down or fitting into new clothes/clothes fitting better etc.
When you are losing weight you are seeing the scale go down, your clothes are fitting better, and you are getting compliments from friends and family.
However, eventually, these things stop and it can be tough for people to see through.
As you can see all 3 of these factors are pulling you in the opposite direction. Weight loss is tough in of itself, but then you add in these factors following the weight loss and you can see why most people gain it back, plus more.
The good news is that there are ways to work around this so you can maintain your progress for the long term.
Below is a combination of how my online clients have maintained their progress as well as what the current research says on the topic.
1. Physical activity
One of the most common factors between those who have maintained their weight loss, is that they continue to have high physical activity levels. In a previous article I discuss how physical activity drops when losing weight.
In a study, (Ostendorf, 2019) they showed that weight loss maintainers relied heavily on higher physical activity levels compared to those who gained it back to combat the inevitable increase in food intake following weight loss.
Higher physical activity levels can also help reduce hunger levels.
With online clients we aim for step counts rather than doing intense cardio, however, a combination is fine. For most people, 8k-12k+ steps per day seems to be best, or 45-90 minutes of physical activity per day.
2. Resistance training
Not only is increasing your physical activity important, but it’s also important to include strength training into your routine as well.
When we lose weight, our body becomes more efficient at every movement you do, meaning you burn less calories per movement compared to when you were heavier. However, resistance training has been shown to reduce this efficiency.
Resistance training also helps shape your body and build muscle.
With most online clients we aim for 3-5days of resistance training per week, and each workout lasts 45-60 minutes.
3. A balanced and flexible approach to nutrition.
As mentioned earlier, people will engage in diet protocols that are not sustainable long term. This is why extremist approaches like keto, low carb etc. generally don’t work long term. They simply don’t allow for enough flexibility.
The truth is that your diet should remain very similar from when you are losing weight to when you are maintaining it, so you have to ask yourself if this is something you can see yourself doing long term.
Moving away from an “all or nothing” mindset is key.
With online clients, we stress the importance of sticking to mostly whole foods but allowing for flexibility. Here is a sample checklist on diet foundations that clients will hit each day, once these are hit then you can add in other foods if you want.
A study (Butryn, 2007) showed that those who regularly weighed themselves were more likely to maintain their weight loss. This was probably due to the fact that by weighing yourself consistently you are better able to catch weight gains before they spiral out of control and then make the necessary adjustments to prevent this from happening.
With online clients we have them weigh in about 2-3x per week so we can take the average of the week rather than just one day.
How to weigh in:
You want to make sure each time you weigh in its under the same conditions.
- First thing in the morning
- Post bathroom
- Pre water and food
- Same scale
Do this 2-3x per week and take your average for the week.
5. Periodize your nutrition
Another common mistake people make is that they are always trying to lose weight.
A helpful tool I have used with online clients is periodizing their nutrition goals.
Weeks 1-8: aiming for weight loss of .5 to 1% of bodyweight per week.
Weeks 9-12: maintaining that weight loss
Weeks 13-21: aiming for weight loss of .5 to .1% of bodyweight per week.
Weeks 22-25: maintaining that weight loss
You can do this until you reach your goal weight. For some, they only need 1-2 cycles of that and then they are happy, others may need a few more cycles. However, the point is that you take the time and learn habits to maintain your new weight, now and in the future. Otherwise, you will be forced to deal with the nasty diet side effects that come along the longer you diet and the leaner you get, things like hunger, cravings, mental fatigue, general fatigue etc.
By taking these maintenance phases you get rid of all of those things so you can go longer.
Who would last longer?
The person who never takes a day off work or the person who takes vacations a few times a year, and takes 2 days off a week to enjoy their weekend?
The last important factor to maintain weight loss is support and accountability. Maintaining will still require work and a focus on your nutrition/health, so it’s nice to have others to help keep you on track. This can be through a friend, coach, dietician, or a support group.
Maintaining can be just as tough if not tougher than the original weight loss. That’s why with online clients we stress the importance of making life long changes, not just 30 days.
If you want more expert nutritional/training guidance, daily accountability, and a
strategy fit to your specific needs and lifestyle, click here to apply for Online Coaching.
Wing, R. R., & Phelan, S. (2005). Long-term weight loss maintenance. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 82(1 Suppl), 222S–225S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/82.1.222S
Ostendorf, D. M., Caldwell, A. E., Creasy, S. A., Pan, Z., Lyden, K., Bergouignan, A., MacLean, P. S., Wyatt, H. R., Hill, J. O., Melanson, E. L., & Catenacci, V. A. (2019). Physical Activity Energy Expenditure and Total Daily Energy Expenditure in Successful Weight Loss Maintainers. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 27(3), 496–504. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.22373
Butryn, M. L., Phelan, S., Hill, J. O., & Wing, R. R. (2007). Consistent self-monitoring of weight: a key component of successful weight loss maintenance. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 15(12), 3091–3096. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2007.368