Understanding weight loss: how to maintain your weight once you have reached your goal.

As tough as it is to shift excess pounds, many people find that keeping the weight off is even harder. 

One of the problems many people have is getting so caught up on the process, they actually don’t know what to do when they reach their goal.

Obviously, if you have worked hard to lose weight then the last thing you want is to let it all creep back on.

If this sounds like a familiar story, then this article is for you.

Why does it go back on?

In short, this comes down to habits. When we overly restrict and suffer to lose weight, we are not actually dealing with the habits and behaviors that caused us to regain weight in the first place.

Tie this in with a lack of forward thinking (after all getting ready for that wedding or holiday is the goal, right?) and we have a perfect storm for weight regain.

So, what do you need to do?

Well, the answer somewhat unsurprisingly is the opposite.

Developing an understanding of the basics of nutrition as well as the behaviors that potentially led to weight gain in the first place is key to begin with.

After this, it is important to make sure that any nutrition approaches used are not overly restrictive and there is an exit strategy in place.

It is essential to consider these things so you can make sure that once the weight comes off, it stays off.

What does research say makes a successful weight maintainer?

A recent study scoured the current scientific literature to assess the key factors in maintaining weight after weight loss. But before they looked at this they actually decided to define what weight maintenance is.

On face value it might seem obvious, but the problem isn’t so much the weight loss component. But for how long it has been sustained (within a certain percentage) before it can be deemed successful.

The unfortunate fact is that many studies simply do not track people for long enough in order to determine their success. When looking at periods over 1 year the figures are quite bleak, with many people relapsing into weight regain.

However, the good news is that there is a distinct subset of people that have managed to reach and sustain their weight loss for longer periods than typically expected.

Although there are many factors that combine to determine weight loss success, here are our top 5 factors that are going to make you a ‘maintainer’.

Our Best 5 Tips for Weight Maintanence

  1. Achieve your weight loss goal

In order to build motivation to keep maintaining a healthy weight, it may actually be important to reach the weight loss goal in the first place.

Many people fail to achieve their goals and thus feel that they have failed, therefore losing motivation and returning to previous habits. This inevitably leads to weight regain.

It is important when setting goals to make sure that they are specific, achievable and most importantly realistic, within a given time frame. Many people fall short of reaching their goals because they set themselves up with unrealistic goals and are inflexible if it appears, they might not achieve them.

Consistency and persistence are key until the goal is reached. Setting ‘micro’ goals to help you reach bigger goals may also help, especially if they create short-term easy wins.

We know that that if we can create more wins, we become more motivated. This helps us to gather more momentum and confidence that we can and have changed.

Examples of micro goals include hitting daily step targets, using portion control and drinking enough water.

  1. Focus on nutrition, dietary intake and eating pattern

Having an understanding and an awareness of the nutritional value of foods allows you to appreciate how a balanced, healthy diet should look.

Successful dieters also tend to snack less and are more mindful of their eating behaviours and patterns.

Successful dieters are also consistent with their eating patterns (although these patterns may be highly individual) and this is probably linked to their understanding of how to control hunger and cravings.

  1. Self-monitoring

In short, this means having an awareness of your habits and behaviors.

This could be achieved by weighing and measuring food regularly to increase awareness of the amount of food eaten. Food diaries and food logging apps can also be a good way to stay accountable.

Those who identify that they need to be more mindful of the food they eat during and after weight loss - and make a conscious decision to record more healthful habits or behaviors - are more likely to maintain weight in the long run.

  1. Motivation and control

If we are motivated to sustain weight maintenance in the long run, we are more likely to succeed at losing weight.

Motivation can be gathered by setting and achieving goals, celebrating small victories and ensuring social support is in place. Plus, creating accountability for ourselves from both internal and external sources.

At the heart of many theories of motivation is owning the fact that we are in control over our own lives. Even if at times we do inevitably struggle and find things challenging, the belief that we can overcome these barriers is important to help us stay on track.

Most importantly, if we do veer off track, we must be able to get back on track before we regress back into previous unhealthy patterns. If we believe that our results are somehow out of our control, then it is easy to convince ourselves that weight loss or maintenance is out of our control.

This has the negative power to not only justify engaging in more unhelpful behaviors but also encourage us to search for reasons not to succeed.

  1. Self-efficacy and autonomy

Having self-efficacy and a positive mindset is similar to having self-confidence, higher self-esteem and a belief that we can be successful. 

This positive thinking and inner belief can stem from the approach taken when trying to lose weight. The more opportunities there are for success, the more wins can be created and the more confidence will be gained.

This shows that the approach to weight loss is just as important as the weight loss itself. You are more likely to maintain your weight loss if you have learned helpful techniques, developed your self-confidence and improved your mindset from the outset.

Ironically, despite the fact we know that on your own two feet is important for motivation, weight loss and maintenance; many dieters still want quick a quick fix. Choosing supplements or diet plans that actually cause the opposite effect.

Your chosen weight loss diet should encourage flexibility, increase knowledge about foods and most importantly help you to stay in control. Relying on weight loss crutches is rarely helpful because they can’t always be there in every situation and they are unsustainable for a number of reasons.

Let’s face it, who wants to be on a diet forever?

You may achieve short term success from the “quick fix” type of strategies which can be motivating. But those hard earned results are likely to dissipate rapidly if you do not take ownership of your nutrition and work to develop strategies that work with you, not against you.

What your weight loss journey might look like…

Start off with a specific, achievable goal in mind and choose a flexible approach that is focused around making small changes in behavior. While losing weight, monitor your food intake, body measurements and adopt a mindful approach when it comes to eating.

You will then start to learn about the value of food and put your entire diet into context. You should realize that there are no good or bad foods, but instead find a balance between foods you should eat more of and less of.

This is taking personal responsibility for your behaviors and maintaining a positive mindset, even if things go wrong. Which allows you to adopt the attitude of ‘we don’t fail, we learn’ and persevere to achieve your goal.

You should also try to increase your activity levels and exercise where you can - understanding that you don't need to be in the gym to get results. As your fitness levels improve you will find exercise more enjoyable and easier to fit around your daily life.

It's not about the weight you lose, but the weight you keep off

Through a little patience and trial and error, you will identify when you are struck by hunger or food cravings.  And can develop strategies to deal with it.

Once you have reached your goal, you should continue to monitor your body composition, habits and food intake. As well as maintaining exercise habits and committing to achievable goals each week.

Hopefully, you can now see that weight loss is only part of the journey.  It is not just about the amount of weight lost and the time frame it was lost in, but also the approach taken.

An important part of this is taking time to understand the habits and behaviors that were problematic to weight gain in the first place.

You can then work towards adopting new, helpful ones along the way that will mean once you have lost weight; it will stay off for good.

References:

  1. Weight maintenance: Self-regulatory factors underpinning success and failure https://doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2013.799162
  2. Who succeeds in maintaining weight loss? A conceptual review of factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2005.00170.x
  3. Increased Physical Activity Associated with Less Weight Regain Six Years After “The Biggest Loser” Competition https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.21986