Weight loss is hard, but maintaining weight loss can be even harder. It is well known that many dieters regain the weight they have lost after a short amount of time. Today we are going to dive into what makes it so hard to maintain weight loss and what you can do to keep weight off for good.
Why Weight Loss is Hard to Maintain
Changes in Metabolism
The more you weigh, the more calories you burn. As you lose weight, there is less body mass to burn calories, so your metabolism starts to drop. Weight loss also tends to make the body more efficient at using energy, which also decreases metabolism. Research shows that the more weight you lose, the higher the effect on your metabolism. People who have lost weight typically burn fewer calories than expected compared to someone who weighs the same and has not lost weight. This means that if you go on a short term diet to lose weight, and then go back to eating the same way you did before you lost weight, you will most likely gain the weight back. Permanent weight loss requires permanent lifestyle changes.
What You Can Do About It
Make Realistic Changes
In order to maintain weight loss, you need to make realistic lifestyle changes that you can stick with for the long haul. Rather than restricting all of your favorite foods and cutting out entire food groups, focus on small diet changes. While it’s tempting to want to try a diet that promises instant results, most likely stopping that diet is also going to lead to instant weigh regain. Engaging in healthy behaviors, such as drinking more water, eating more vegetables, cooking more at home, mindful eating and portion control can help you lose weight, and keep it off for good. Changing your lifestyle can be overwhelming. Start with one or two goals, like eating a healthy breakfast and walking ten minutes a day, and build on your progress towards bigger goals.
Exercise is crucial for improving health outcomes, such as blood sugar, cholesterol and bone health. Exercise is now considered to be one of the biggest factors in maintaining weight loss. People who exercise regularly are able to keep their weight off, despite having a lower metabolism. According to the National Weight Control Registry, successful weight loss maintainers exercise an average of 60 minutes per day. They are also more active in their leisure time and watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
If 60 minutes of daily exercise seems daunting, start small. Add in a 10 minute walk at lunch or in the evenings and gradually build up your endurance. If you have joint problems, tai chi, pilates, yoga, swimming and biking may be better options than walking or higher impact exercise. The important thing is to pick an exercise you actually enjoy and make it part of your routine. Also, keep an eye on your screen time. If you tend to veg out in front of the TV or computer, try setting a timer to get up every 30 minutes and stretch, do some light exercises or walk around you living room.
Changes in Hunger Hormones
Weight loss can lead to a disproportionate increase in appetite, thanks to hunger hormones, especially ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin, which increases hunger, tends to increase during weight loss. On the other hand, the body may become less sensitive to leptin. Leptin is the hormone that signals the body to eat less and break down stored energy (fat) for calories. High levels of leptin after weight loss are thought to be a marker of leptin resistance, meaning that the leptin isn’t as effective as it should be. This means the body has to make more to compensate. Over time, these changes in hormones can erode will power and lead to eating more calories than your body can burn. The good news is that despite these changes in hormones, it is possible to maintain weight loss without feeling hungry all the time.
What You Can Do About It
Eat More Protein
Researchers have found that eating a higher protein diet and limiting refined carbs may help take the edge off hunger during weight maintenance. If you are maintaining your body weight, aim to consume at least 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight. Spread high protein foods throughout the day. Good sources of protein include fish, poultry, eggs, lean beef, beans, tofu, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt. Also, protein shakes are a quick and easy way to get adequate protein. Try making your own or look for protein shakes with under eight grams of sugar and at least twenty grams of protein per serving.
Modify Carb and Fat Intake
On the flip side, avoiding refined carbs and added sugar, and potentially eating a higher fat diet may also help maintain weight loss. A recent study compared weight maintenance in three different groups following a low fat, high carb diet, a moderate carb diet and a low carb, high fat diet. They found that eating a low carb, high fat diet helped promote satiety and improve levels of ghrelin and leptin. The authors noted that this approach worked especially well in people who were “apple shaped,” which is a sign of insulin resistance. They also pointed out that the quality of the types fats and carbohydrates consumed was important for all groups. The bottom line, no matter what body type you have, the quality of the carbs and fat you consume matters. Avoid sugary drinks and limit foods high in refined carbs, like white bread, white pasta, processed snack foods. Consume most of your fat from healthy plant based sources like nuts, avocado and olive oil, avoid trans fat from processed foods.
Weight Maintenance for Life
Weight maintenance is hard work and requires a lifetime of healthy choices. It’s important to have a support system. Support from your healthcare team, family, friends and even co-workers can go a long way in helping you maintain your weight loss. If you’re struggling with motivation, a walking buddy or accountability partner might help you stay on track with your health goals.
Measure success by how well you implement healthy behaviors, not the number on the scale. Weigh yourself regularly, but not too often. According to the National Weight Control Registry, most successful weight maintainers weigh themselves at least once a week. Pick one day of the week and weigh yourself at the same time of day. Use a journal, app or other methods to track your health behavior goals, not just your weight. Remember to focus on progress, not perfection. Even losing and maintaining a weight loss of 5% of your body weight can have significant health benefits.