As a registered dietitian, many of my appointments with patients begin with harrowing tales of weight-loss programs from the past. Patients discuss details about why one worked over another and how much weight was lost in each.
Unfortunately, the majority of these attempts all end on the same note: gaining all, or more, of the weight back. Thousands of references are available to consumers on how to lose weight. However, very few sources identify, perhaps, the most important piece of the puzzle — how to keep the weight off. Here are some tips to help you manage the weight you worked so hard to lose.
1. Increase the exercise and decrease the calories
Imagine picking up two 10-pound weights and taking a 1-mile walk. It would be challenging to accomplish. Your body would have to work harder to compensate for the extra weight. Now drop the weights. Take the same walk. That exercise should be much easier. Your body is now more efficient, and the calories you’ll burn will go down. That’s exactly what happens when you lose 20 pounds.
To keep the weight off, you need to challenge your body by decreasing calories even further in some cases (because your body is not working as hard to get you from point A to point B anymore) and stepping it up on the exercise front. In fact, a 2014 study that followed individuals who lost weight and tracked their maintenance success, found those who maintained the most weight loss reported high levels of physical activity as well as a diet that was consistently low in calories and fat.
2. Weigh yourself often
The same study mentioned above also found individuals who successfully maintained their weight weighed themselves several times a week. A 2015 study found weighing in daily was equally effective, especially in men. The scale may be a good monitor of weight that may be creeping in.
Though if you find that you're obsessing over the number on the scale, you may want to weigh yourself just once a week.
3. Consider a weight-loss program with a maintenance component
There are various methods of weight loss and as many experts to help see you through it. One study, which followed patients for 56 weeks after successful weight loss, found individuals who engaged in group visits as well as telephonic coaching maintained more weight loss than those who had no intervention at all. The study concluded having a maintenance routine in commercial and clinical settings could set the stage for better success at keeping weight off.
The take away? After you lose the weight, find a coach or a dietitian who can keep track of your maintenance habits for at least two years (the time period that predicts even further long-term success).
4. Work on your maintenance skills before losing weight
One study showed if you focus on maintenance behaviors first you’ll be more successful in the end. The study found women who engaged in eight weeks of maintenance skills regained less weight than women who did not focus on these behaviors beforehand. In the group of women who focused on maintenance first, they learned about energy-balance principles including: controlling portions without feeling deprived or dissatisfied, the importance of being physically active, weighing in daily to monitor fluctuations in weight, learning how to make small and easy adjustments to lifestyle habits, and navigating inevitable disruptions with confidence.
5. Up the ante
Research out of Duke found when participants were offered cash rewards for weight loss and maintenance, they were more successful with their weight-loss programs. The bottom line? Engage in workplace weight-loss programs that provide a monetary benefit for weight loss or structure a program yourself.
For every 10 pounds of weight loss, you can set aside a reward that is meaningful to you. For every three months of maintenance, set even bigger rewards such as a trip or a new wardrobe. Additionally, including family members and friends who are willing to contribute to the weight-loss pot (tell them it’s an investment in your health) may increase motivation even further.
6. Get a social communication plan in place
If you’ve ever lost weight, you know not everyone is happy to hear about your success. A 2017 study referred to negative behavior by others as you find weight-loss bliss as “lean stigma.” Researchers also found certain communication techniques could help in maintaining weight loss without compromising relationships. These included saving a “cheat night” for dinner out with friends, accepting unhealthy food options from friends but not eating them, or eating very small portions of unhealthy foods at family gatherings.
7. Don’t give up
This is hard stuff. Don’t throw in the towel if you gain back your weight. Using the "I'm a failure" approach may have you reverting back to bad habits, putting weight on and never getting back on track. Stay on the weight-loss wagon. Don’t lose sight of the hard work you’ve already put in.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, R.D., is the manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, and the author of "Skinny Liver." Follow her on Twitter @KristinKirkpat. For more diet and fitness advice, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter.