— Dawn M. Sweet, Ph.D.
Once you reach your goal weight, try these strategies to prevent gaining it back.
You’ve worked hard and built healthy lifestyle habits that have resulted in achieving your weight loss and overall health goals. You feel great because your overall health has improved, and you like your routine of eating healthy and increased physical activity. But you are also concerned about regaining the weight you worked so hard to lose. How do you now transition from a weight loss mindset to a weight maintenance mindset?
The transition from actively trying to lose weight to actively trying to maintain a healthy weight can certainly be a fraught journey. However, the good news is that there are strategies for helping you maintain the weight loss you worked so hard for.
Reframe Your Thinking
While you were actively trying to lose weight, you may have found yourself thinking about your food choices (which may have been quite restrictive due to the “diet” you were following). Now that you’ve reached your weight loss goal, instead of thinking about your daily food intake as a “diet,” think about it as your “healthy eating plan” where you make informed decisions about all the foods can include as part of this healthy eating plan. You are now reframing your thinking, or reappraising your thoughts, around your eating habits.
Shifting from the language of “diet,” where there are connotations of short-term restrictive behaviors, deficits, or denying yourself different foods, you are now thinking about your daily food intake in terms of a long-term plan that involves all the foods you are choosing to eat to maintain your healthy lifestyle.
Build Sustainable Habits
Create a routine that works for you. This may be making a list of all the healthy and nutritious foods you enjoy and then building a weekly meal-plan around them. Your plan should include snacks in between regular meals. Create a routine that you can sustain long-term. Most importantly, consider all the foods you can include as part of your healthy eating plan.
Part of maintaining a healthy weight is regular exercise. As you build strength and endurance, you may find that you need to revisit your exercise program and make adjustments to ensure you are optimizing your energy expenditure. Be sure you are balancing aerobic exercise with weight training or resistance training to build lean mass (muscle). Lean mass increases your resting metabolic rate, which means the more lean mass you have, the more calories you burn while sitting around not doing anything.
Look into your company’s health insurance plan — does it include a gym membership or a personal trainer? Look into classes in your town’s or city’s recreation department. Talk with a friend about becoming workout buddies so that you hold each other accountable. Physical activity will complement a healthy eating plan.
Protein promotes satiety — it makes us feel full! Protein also requires energy to break down, so your body is burning energy as it breaks down the protein. You can actually burn calories by eating protein. Protein also fuels muscles, which can be beneficial for weight training or resistance training. For optimal results, be sure to select lean protein.
Track What You Eat & Your Workouts
Consider starting a food journal to track what you eat each day. You can also make notes about whether a particular day was more stressful than usual or if there was anything going on that disrupted your routine. Also consider keeping track of your workouts. Having a weekly workout plan will help you stay focused and organized at the gym or wherever you work out.
Sometimes life happens and no matter how motivated we are or how hard we try, sometimes things happen that disrupt our routine. Tracking situations or events that happen during the week could help you plan ahead. For example, if you know the last week of the month is especially busy for you at work, think about what changes you may need to make this week in order to stay on track. If you know that you feel too tired to work out after work, think about where else in your day you can schedule your work outs.
Daily fluctuations in weight are normal. Instead of weighing yourself every day, identify a day of the week as your weigh-in day. Weigh yourself at the same time each week in the same conditions, fully clothed and ready to face the day or first thing in the morning when you get out of bed. Track your weight each week and don’t panic if you gained a pound or two. Look at your food journal and work out journal to see what was going on the week before — maybe the previous week was super busy or super stressful and you just couldn’t eat regular meals or get your exercise in.
Remember, we are human, and we all stumble from time to time. If you experience a setback, that is OK. Be kind to yourself and recognize that one setback is not going to derail your plan. Tomorrow is another opportunity to work your plan.
Healthy Weight Range
Instead of staying focused on a specific number on the scale, consider a healthy weight range. If you find that you are getting to the upper end of your healthy weight range, revisit the eating and exercise plan you created. Reflect on what changes you can make. If you are concerned, talk with your doctor. Your doctor might have some suggestions for how to adapt your weight maintenance strategy.
Work the Plan, but Find Balance
Follow your plan, even on the weekends. While you certainly don’t want to deprive yourself of dessert or a cheeseburger for the rest of your life, you also don’t want to routinely overindulge on the weekends. If you know you are going to your favorite burger place for dinner, perhaps add another mile to your morning walk. Find the balance between your healthy eating plan and allowing yourself the occasional indulgence. Consistently depriving yourself of foods you enjoy can be just as detrimental as continually indulging. Occasionally allowing yourself an indulgence can help you stay motivated to follow your healthy eating plan and exercise plan.
Lean on Your People
Your friends and family want you to succeed, so lean on them. And be honest with them. Tell them that you’ve met your weight loss goal and you are now working to maintain your healthy weight and healthy lifestyle and you need their support. Maybe this support means having more healthy and nutritious options at your next dinner party or brunch.
Creating and sustaining healthy habits is a lifelong journey and the occasional setback does not have to derail your efforts. Shifting your thinking from a mindset that focuses on all the food you should avoid, think about all the healthy and nutritious food options available to you and that will promote a long-term sustainable and healthy lifestyle. Creating a weekly meal plan and exercise plan can help you stay on track and leaning on your friends and family for support will help you achieve your long-term weight-maintenance goals.
About the Author: Dr. Dawn M. Sweet has over 20 years of experience in the field of communication. Sweet has given several invited talks to and workshops for academic and private sector audiences on the role of nonverbal and verbal communication in achieving positive outcomes and mitigating bias. Her research has been published in several top ranked peer-review journals, and it has been featured on NPR’s River to River / All Things Considered, Buzzfeed, and Science Daily.Her research has also been used to inform expert testimony.