Top tips for maintaining weight loss for a lifetime, from my personal experience in keeping off 20+ pounds for 12 years and from my science/nutrition background.
Today I wanted to share with you a little about my own experience with weight loss and offer you some personal but also science-backed ideas for long-term weight loss maintenance.
First, a brief run-down of my back story. (Or you can skip right to the tips.)
I bounced around a bit in college, weight wise, but nothing extreme. Most of my teen and young adult life, I was a size 8 — sometimes a 6, sometimes a 10 — and I graduated college closer to the 10 side. It was all those mango martinis and late-night snacks that last semester when we were out celebrating. 😉
After college, and especially after I moved to D.C. later that summer, I started walking more, just around the city. I also started cooking more, here and there. Then I started to get back into exercise. (I’d been really active growing up and through high school but had slacked off a bit in college.)
As I started to lose weight, I started adopting more and more healthy habits. Ordering more healthy when we went out. Passing on some of the treats they had at work. Making more of my own meals and snacks. Exercising more regularly.
Getting results was encouraging and over the next year, I lost more than 20 pounds.
And I’ve kept it off for almost 12 years now, including through two pregnancies. And whew, was it harder after the second baby than the first!
In addition, I’ve worked in the health and nutrition field that whole time, so I’ve seen a lot of the science behind weight loss and weight maintenance.
So are you ready to think about maintaining weight loss for a lifetime?
Great! Let’s start with the good news.
You lost the weight! That’s amazing! You worked hard, you stuck with it, you bounced back from setbacks and you reached your goal weight (or you are almost there and are very smart to be thinking ahead to the next phase)!
Woo hoo! Let’s celebrate! 🎉🥂
But maybe with a high five, a pedicure and a long walk rather than food or drinks. 😬
See, as hard as it is to lose weight, it can be just as hard — or harder — to keep it off over the long haul.
That’s my bad news. I’m just trying to be honest and maybe this is something you already know to be true. Yo-yo dieting happens for a reason and it’s because while it’s no walk in the park to lose a chunk of weight, it’s seriously difficult to keep that weight off for a significant amount of time.
All that work you did day in and day out over the past weeks, or months or years even to lose the weight? It doesn’t stop.
It doesn’t ever stop.
Let’s take a look at why.
Once you lose weight, you are considered a “weight-reduced individual.”
And as such, your body literally resets. Your hormones change. Your metabolism is different. Hunger increases and your ability to self-regulate decreases. It’s kind-of a perfect storm for gaining all that weight back. And sometimes a little extra.
Some describe it as your body desperately trying to get you to gain the weight back. It’s pulling to reset you at the higher weight. (Which was maybe useful for our long-ago ancestors who were facing periods of famine, but not so useful for the modern-day dieter.)
And you may think that after a year or two, or maybe even 5 or 10 years of maintaining that weight loss, that pull will go away. That your body will stop fighting you and accept the new, lower weight. Sadly, science doesn’t bear that out.
Neither does my personal experience. If anything, it gets a little harder as time goes on because our metabolism naturally slows as we age so in addition to being at a lower set point after losing weight, we continue to need fewer calories.
(I just turned 35 and the struggle is REAL. I gained a few extra pounds this holiday season, which doesn’t usually happen. I’m not overly worried or concerned about it, I’m just gonna continue to chug away to get it back off. But yeah, it never ends and it kinda sucks.)
One particularly memorable visual I saw to illustrate this was of two women of the same size sitting at a restaurant. (This was from HBO’s Weight of the Nation documentary, which I’ve watched several times. It’s compelling stuff.)
These two friends weigh the exact same, let’s say 140 pounds. Woman A has always weighed that. Woman B weighs that now after dieting and losing 10% to 20% of her original body weight.
So now Woman B is a weight-reduced individual and as such, she requires 20% fewer calories than her friend who is the exact same weight.
So if Woman A needs about 2,000 calories a day, Woman B needs just 1,600. She lost the weight and now she has to eat 20% less every day than someone who was always that weight. And she always will.
If you’re feeling a little defeated and hopeless, please, please don’t.
I’m here to tell you maintaining weight loss for a lifetime IS possible. I just felt the need to explain some of the scientific evidence so you would know what’s happening and why. Knowledge is power, right? Well now you’re armed and ready and can do what’s necessary to keep the weight off for good.
So here are my top tips for the maintenance phase of weight loss. These are gathered from my personal experience, the findings from the National Weight Control Registry of other people who have had success with long-term weight maintenance, and my science/nutrition knowledge from years of reading about this news.
10 tips for maintaining weight loss for a lifetime:
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat breakfast.
- Weigh yourself often.
- Have a good reason.
- Deal with your demons.
- Eat the same foods daily.
- Plan your meals and snacks.
- Stay hydrated.
- Keep your screen time to a minimum.
- Don’t let a setback throw you off.
I feel like these all need much more explanation, so let’s do a deeper dive on these tips for maintaining weight loss for a lifetime (or just a really, really long time):
- Exercise regularly. Most people who successfully keep their weight off for a long period of time commit to at least an hour a day 5 days a week. That’s my routine – I do at least 1 hour on the treadmill 5 days a week, plus light weight lifting and stretching. Week in and week out. No one ever said this would be easy. Maybe you can get away with less, but regular exercise is a must.
- Eat breakfast. I’ve always been a breakfast eater – I’m hungry in the morning! – but about 80% of the people in the registry do the same, so researchers think eating breakfast helps.
- Weigh yourself often. I didn’t pay much attention to the numbers on the scale until I was trying to keep them steady. It really helps to weigh yourself multiple times a week (if not daily, which research supports) so you can keep a close eye if the numbers creep up and adjust accordingly.
- Have a compelling, personal reason to keep the weight off. If you’re slimming down for swimsuit season or for an upcoming event, it’s going to be hard to maintain your efforts once the deadline has passed. It helps to have a bigger, lifelong goal and to have it be for YOU, not for anyone else.
- Deal with your demons. If food has been a source of stress-relief, a boredom-buster or an emotional crutch, you’ve got to find some ways to handle those emotions without turning to eating. Try some easy self-care ideas, find a supportive friend, see a dietitian or counselor – whatever is needed to deal with the underlying issues so they don’t come back to haunt you and sabotage your hard work.
- Eat the same foods daily. Before you say BORING!, hear me out. I thought this was a me thing. I had a standard breakfast, lunch and snacks that I ate most days, with little variation. (Dinner was mostly where I’d switch things up to make sure I was getting a variety of different foods and nutrients.) Turns out, most people in the registry do the same to some extent. You can vary and you can go through stages (every few months I’ll switch out to something new), but it really does help keep your weight in check to eat the same foods on repeat. Personally, I think part of this is that we are so inundated with food choices every day that having some go-to ideas takes a little of the guesswork out and keeps you on track without wearing down your willpower.
- Plan your meals and snacks. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to being overly hungry and not having anything on hand to make a healthy meal. It’s too easy to turn to convenience foods that can quickly send you over your daily calorie needs. Try to have a plan, shop with your list and stick to healthy choices. (You can check out my official guide to meal planning for tips.)
- Stay hydrated! Drinking lots of water — flavor it with citrus or ginger if you like — can make a big difference in your overall health, your feelings of fullness, your digestion and your body’s ability to operate at it’s best.
- Keep your screen time to a minimum. Staying active and staying away from the TV is another common thread in people who keep their weight off long-term. Everyone loves a good Netflix binge, but don’t make it a regular thing. 😉
- Don’t let a setback throw you off. We all have times of stress, times of celebration, times of getting off our normal routines. Don’t throw in the towel and throw away all your hard work! Just go back to your healthy eating and exercising plan and get back on track. Slow and steady wins the race.
Long story short, it’s not easy. I’m sorry, I really wish it was. It takes a lot of work and it doesn’t let up. But if you can adopt healthy, sustainable habits, make healthy eating choices your norm and stay committed, you can absolutely do this!
Here’s a few last key tips for maintaining weight loss for a lifetime:
- Start small. Baby steps, my friend, baby steps. Don’t try to make a ton of changes at once. I eased into my weight loss and weight maintenance by walking more, then cooking more, then exercising more, then making healthier eating choices, then cutting back on eating out, etc, etc. Just tackle one area at a time and it’ll feel much more do-able.
- Find a support system. It can make a world of difference to go through this with a friend or to have someone who understands to help motivate you along the way.
- Try tracking your food and calories. I’m not big on counting calories personally, but I think it can absolutely help when you’re getting started. Food journals have been shown to be super effective and a lot of people in the national weight-loss registry faithfully track their calories. (Some even weigh their portions.) It may be useful at first and after you’ve got the hang of portions, you can back off a bit.
- Celebrate your success. Find ways to mark milestones and to recognize your hard work. Appreciate how far you’ve come and all the healthy choices you are making for yourself!
- Be kind to yourself. This is a journey. There will be good days and bad days, good seasons and bad seasons. Treat yourself with the love you would show a friend and then get back to it and try again. 💕
What are your best tips for keeping weight off? I’d love to hear from you so we can support each other!