What if I asked you to choose between two options:
Option A- Lose weight and gain it all back within a year or two
Option B- Lose weight and keep it off for 5 or more years
At this point you may be rolling your eyes at the computer…who wouldn’t choose Option B, given the choice? Although we may all agree that logically there is little value (and indeed some health risks) associated with losing weight only to very quickly regain it, we often behave as if Option A is good enough. I challenge my patients to think about the big picture- not just weight loss, but weight loss maintenance (cue angels singing, because this is the holy grail when it comes to the field of weight management).
Weight Loss Maintenance means maintaining your your new lower weight after weight loss. As many of you can attest, it’s actually more challenging to maintain a new lower weight than to lose that weight in the first place. Many of us have successfully lost weight in the past…few of us have successfully maintained that weight loss over the long-term.
After many years working as a weight management dietitian, here are my top five tips for successful weight loss maintenance:
5) Choose a weight loss meal plan that fits your palate and your lifestyle.
Don’t just “suffer through” a diet while hating every minute of it, even if the scale is moving in the right direction. Remember, there’s no point in losing if you’re going to regain it all back. And you will, if you end up daydreaming about getting to your goal weight just so you can eat your favorite foods again. Before starting a meal plan, make sure it has room for your favorite flavors and that you can follow it while still doing other things you love (like traveling or hanging out with friends). If it doesn’t fit YOU, it’s not a maintenance plan.
4) Re-brand exercise as a non-negotiable.
You know how you’d have to be practically on your deathbed before you’d skip a shower two days in a row? Make activity like that: It’s just what you do. I don’t skip brushing my teeth, I don’t skip sleeping, and I don’t skip exercise. Now before you stop reading this out of disgust with my idealism, know that I’m not suggesting we all spend hours at the gym every day. What about a ten minute walk after one meal a day? That’s doable for most of us. If walking’s not a possibility for you because of injuries or limitations, try chair aerobics like Sit & Be Fit, or check out local water aerobics classes. Our bodies are no more suited to being sedentary than they are suited to flying like a bird. To be healthy, you need to move. Beyond that, research indicates that exercise is even more important than eating choices when it comes to the maintenance phase. Without it, expect regain.
3) Treat your metabolism with kid gloves.
Don’t crash diet or severely restrict calories. Don’t follow any diet that expects you just to be hungry and live with it. Don’t skip meals. When we starve our cells, they fall back into an highly-evolved response designed to keep us alive during legitimate famine, by slowing down metabolic rate (the calories we burn each day) to the bare minimum. When we start eating again (how long can anyone tolerate cabbage soup anyway?!) our metabolic rate is slow to bounce back. Eating a normal amount with a slowed metabolism means weight regain, and usually we gain more than we lost in the first place.
2) Preserve your muscle mass during weight loss.
Focus on adequate dietary protein and resistance training during weight loss and beyond, to preserve your skeletal muscle mass. Muscle burns calories at rest, meaning the more muscle mass, the higher the metabolic rate (calorie expenditure). This makes a huge difference in successful maintenance, because you get to eat more food and still maintain calorie balance.
1) Don’t lose weight doing one thing and expect to maintain doing something else
Remember, weight loss maintenance is more challenging than weight loss itself. If you lose weight on a liquid diet, what do you think is going to happen when you reintroduce solid foods? Not only do you need to use the weight loss phase to practice healthy eating and exercise skills that you then use continuously in the maintenance phase, but it’s also magical thinking to imagine you can do something totally different to maintain that new lower weight (which is harder!) than what you did to lose it in the first place. So don’t choose a method of weight loss that is either 1) not safe and healthy to follow permanently or 2) not sustainable in your life permanently. When the news of the Biggest Loser contestant weight regain came out in the news a few month ago, I was shocked to read that contestants exercised 7 hours per day while on the show. Geez, talk about unsustainable. Remember, hold up every weight loss behavior you’re considering to the litmus test of long-term sustainability. If you know no one could realistically keep up that lifestyle behavior for the long-term, then choosing it as a weight loss strategy is just opting for Option A. You’re worth more than that.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Lindsay Pasdera