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how to maintain weight loss after losing it

While losing weight can be challenging for many people, the bigger change is in keeping it off. This article will teach you how to maintain weight loss after meeting your goal, so you finally see long-term, sustainable changes.

There are several reasons why maintaining weight loss feels hard, but it is not impossible. Whether you just recently met your goal weight or are striving for it now, you can keep it off. It just takes a few consistent, effective habits that can also prevent old habits from creeping up. 

Let’s explore why weight loss maintenance feels so hard and the practical tips and mindset shifts needed to maintain lost weight successfully.

Why does maintaining weight loss feel so hard?

Here are the top reasons why keeping the weight off can be challenging:

Your calorie needs decrease

This is known as metabolic adaptation. After losing weight, especially over 20-30 lbs, your body’s metabolism slows as it tries to conserve energy. This is your body’s way of protecting you, as it will always try to promote extra body fat storage in the event of a famine. This adaptation stems from thousands of years ago when humans used to hunt for their food, and there were long shortages without it. 

The research shows this adaptation may be even stronger if you lose weight quickly versus a slower, more steady weight loss program. This is why my sustainable weight loss method focuses on gradual weight loss.

Your hunger may increase 

As you lose weight and achieve a lower body weight, your hunger may increase. This happens to many people and is again another way your body tries to compensate to get you to a higher weight to protect you. 

One potential mechanism for this may be that your leptin levels (the hormone that keeps you full) decrease and many people experience what is known as leptin resistance after weight loss. This means you could be eating at the same calorie level but no longer feel full because your body is resistant to the effects of this fullness hormone.

You can lose motivation when you’re no longer seeing results

When you stop losing weight or your weight loss stalls, this can reduce your motivation. It’s easier to be motivated when you see the scale going down. But when this stops, it may be more of a struggle to maintain those same habits because you don’t feel you’re getting any results. 

Also, if you were following a program that included coaching or support, that support often lessens when you reach your goal. You may find yourself seeking internal motivation to replace the external motivation you received while in the active weight loss phase.

Old habits may resurface

Let’s be honest for a second – sometimes, old habits just start to creep back into our lives. You got this far and lost the weight, and you’re probably proud of yourself and are hopefully feeling good. But it’s easy to become relaxed with your habits when you are no longer in the active weight loss phase. You may end up letting your habits slip without being consciously aware of it.

Loss of accountability

As I mentioned above, you may have a reduced level of accountability after meeting your weight loss goal. Maybe you’re in a weight maintenance phase of a commercial diet program. This may mean you have minimal support and are left to your own devices. While many people can self-motivate and continue to practice healthy habits consistently, this is not always the case for others. There is no right or wrong, and you don’t have less strength or willpower if you still need accountability – so don’t beat yourself up if this comes up.

You need to exercise more

Because of the slowed metabolism after weight loss, upping exercise is one of the biggest interventions I recommend to my clients. There are several benefits to this: you increase your calorie burn, helping you maintain that calorie deficit to keep the weight off. 

Exercising more intensely or with heavier weights also helps you build more muscle. This can offset some of the metabolic adaptations and increase your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Your RMR is the amount of calories your body burns at rest, and the goal is to get this higher through strength training so that your body burns calories all day long, even when you’re not exercising!

Environmental and social pressure arises

Our environment is loaded with food cues and temptations that can sabotage even the best weight maintenance efforts. Highly palatable food is everywhere, and limiting it can be more difficult when your appetite hormones are all out of whack. 

You may also have friends who praise you for your weight loss success and tell you to stop being so hard on yourself. They may tell you you can lighten up a bit, stop worrying, or whatever else permits you to move away from healthy habits. While well-intentioned, these comments are not helpful and can lead you astray.

How to Maintain Weight Loss – 6 Simple Steps

motivational quote on maintaining weight loss

While it may seem like everything is working against your best attempts to maintaining weight, there are things you can do to mitigate these effects.

1. Start tracking your habits again

My goal for my clients is not to have them track their food forever. But if you see your weight creeping back up, this is a time to reconsider and see if your eating or exercise habits have changed. Commit to tracking for at least a week to evaluate what you eat in a given day, how much, and if anything changed with your exercise routine. Sometimes you can get so busy with life that good intentions can fall to the wayside without realizing it.

If you don’t like tracking in a calorie-counting app, there are other methods you can use. You can use a mindful eating app like Ate, which is quick to use and allows you to see a visual picture of what you’re eating and why. 

This app asks you questions about why you’re eating, your hunger and fullness level, and more. If all else fails, a good old pen and paper journal works just fine, too, and will have the same helpful effect.

2. Reassess your calorie needs

If you have been following a certain calorie level for some time, this number may change as you lose weight. If your exercise has not increased (or you’re not willing/able to increase it further), your calorie needs will likely need to go down. They may not need to decrease drastically, but it’s important to adjust your calorie deficit to match your new weight. 

In my sustainable weight loss program, I help you do this over time. We do this by adjusting your meals, portions, and calorie needs based on your current activity level.

3. Increase your exercise

As you achieve the weight you want to maintain, you may need to increase your exercise to maintain that weight loss.

This is especially true if you are not willing or able to decrease your calorie intake in your diet further. If you love exercising or have gotten into a solid routine, this route may be the more feasible way to maintain weight loss versus reducing your food intake.

You can increase your calorie burn through exercise by increasing the intensity, duration, or weight of your workout sessions. You can also increase the number of exercise days to increase your total weekly calorie burn. For example, if you’re exercising three days a week, you can increase it to five. Mixing up your workouts also helps to continue challenging your body and keep things interesting so you don’t get bored.

This is why I emphasize how important it is to exercise for the mental health benefits and pure joy of it, (doing something you love), versus exercising for the sake of weight loss. This will make it easier to maintain the habit no matter what, not just when you’re actively losing weight.

And while exercise is always important, it is a bigger factor in maintaining weight loss than actually losing weight.

4. Vary your meals and snacks 

It’s easy to get into a routine of eating the same thing all the time if you find recipes you like and know what works to stay within your calorie goal. But at some point, this can get boring, and you may find yourself craving sweets or other high-calorie foods because you’re not satisfied.

This is why it’s so important to have a bank of meal and snack ideas to rotate to keep things interesting! The meal plan app I use with clients has thousands of easy meal and snack ideas you can choose from that all fit within your calorie and macro needs. All you have to do is click on your meal or snack, click “swap,” and the app will load tons of other choices that are nutritionally equivalent.

And you don’t have to eat boring chicken with salad every day. There are so many balanced delicious options, you just have to find them! 

RD Tip: I recommend keeping a binder or folder in your kitchen with your favorite recipes, so when you get bored or start to lose motivation, you can quickly pull out some old favorites for the following week that you already know how to make.

5. Check in on your stress/behavior

Getting back into tracking can help you reassess your behaviors. When I say behaviors, I’m referring to any stress, sleep habits, or outside factors that may be impacting your eating habits. 

For example, maybe you’re eating too fast because your schedule has gotten busier. This can lead to overeating as you’re not allowing your body to feel full.

Or maybe you took a new job that has a cafeteria, and you stopped bringing in lunch from home. The cafeteria items probably have a lot more calories and fat than your homemade lunches. So, you may want to save the cafeteria lunch as a once-a-week indulgence and to take a nice break from prepping.

6. Trial taking a “diet break”

If you’ve been in a calorie deficit for a while, your body may actually need a break from that. While it may sound counterintuitive, you may actually temporarily need more calories, for a short period of time. This may be for up to a week to bring yourself back to equilibrium. This is called a “diet break.”

This doesn’t mean you overeat or eat way more calories than you’re used to. A diet break is when you bring your calorie level back to a maintenance level. This may be around 500 calories more than you’re currently doing for up to a week, and then return to the reduced calorie level. 

While diet breaks do not appear to be more effective than a continuously reduced-calorie diet, they can be helpful for some people. Namely, they can allow more flexibility and make long-term weight loss maintenance more sustainable. This is a similar approach to an 80/20 diet where 80% of the time you’re eating nutrient-dense, whole foods and the other 20% allows for a few indulgences.

If you try a diet break, it’s recommended that you work with a Registered Dietitian well-versed in this practice to ensure that you are doing it correctly.

Bottom Line

I hope this article on how to maintain weight loss provided you with practical guidance on the core habits needed to increase your chances of weight maintenance success.

The process of maintaining weight loss involves a series of steps. These include tracking your habits, reassessing your calorie needs, revamping your meals and exercise routine, and in some cases, taking a diet break. 

If you want to learn how to lose weight and keep it off and get expert guidance and support, contact me to schedule a free call. I specialize in helping women sustainably lose weight and maintain weight loss through a balanced, real-food diet and exercise plan.