Be the Biggest Winner at Maintaining Your Weight Loss
By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
If you’re like most Americans, there’s a good chance that at one point or another in your life, you successfully lost some weight. But whatever weight-loss diet or method you used, there’s a good chance that you ultimately gained back some (if not most) of the weight. As tough as it may be to lose weight, keeping weight off long-term seems to be, for many, much more challenging. But why is it so hard?
After You Lose
After weight loss, your metabolism tends to slow down; when you weigh less, your body needs less energy (fewer calories) to maintain that lower body weight. Unless you exercise more—and especially do resistance training to build lean muscle mass—weight gain is likely to occur eventually. Adding insult to injury, if you are far less restrictive after weight loss—perhaps you eat things you avoided during weight loss--that can slowly up your calorie intake. Perhaps you drink more, or exercise less. All of these variables can certainly stack the odds against maintaining weight loss long-term.
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Minimize Weight Regain
The good news is that there are things you can do to up your chance to keep weight off, or at the very least, minimize weight regain. In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in December, 2011, researchers looked at how changes in dietary consumption affected weight loss and weight loss maintenance in two phases. During Phase I (weight loss), researchers asked 1,685 subjects to consume a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet for 6 months. Subjects were specifically encouraged to increase fruit, vegetable, low fat dairy, and whole grain intake. During Phase II (weight maintenance), subjects who successfully lost at least 4 kilograms (~9 pounds) during Phase I (828 subjects) were encouraged to continue with a diet similar to Phase I for 30 months.
More Fruits and Vegetables
Researchers found that although participants regained 52 percent of the weight they lost during Phase I, they were able to maintain an average of 4 kg (~almost 9 pound) weight loss, on average. Subjects who increased fruit and vegetable intake (compared with their pre-Phase I food frequency questionnaires) lost weight during both phases. Similarly, they also lost weight during both phases when they substituted carbohydrate for fat and protein for carbohydrate. Subjects lost significant amounts of weight during Phase II (not Phase I) when they increased dairy intake. The researchers concluded that increasing fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy may help achieve weight loss and long-term weight loss maintenance.
What Weight Loss Maintainers Do
In another study published in International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in June, 2012, researchers looked at the habits of 419 adults who successfully lost at least 10 percent of their body weight over the past year. The researchers found that:
- Having regular meals (daily breakfasts, lunches, and dinners) was associated with greater recent weight loss and greater intake of fruits and vegetables;
- Watching more TV and eating while watching TV was associated with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) and greater intakes of both fat and sugar;
- More meals eaten away from home was associated with higher intakes of fat and sugar, lower intakes of fruits and vegetables, and less physical activity; and
- Greater use of weight control strategies (e.g. writing down calorie content of meals, using meal-replacement products, and planning meals and exercise) was associated with lower BMI, greater weight loss over the last year, lower fat and sugar intake, higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, and higher levels of physical activity.
Keeping it Off Long Term
Although the real keys to long-term weight loss maintenance have yet to be discovered, the National Weight Control Registry—a database of people who have successfully lost weight and maintained it for an average of 5 years—continues to research and document strategies and habits of so-called successful losers. These include eating breakfast, sustaining a high level of physical activity, and being consistent with eating on weekdays and weekends.
For now, it’s prudent to realize that we can’t expect to follow one way of eating to lose weight and another to maintain weight loss. If you really want to lose weight and keep it off, you need to find the food, fitness and lifestyle behaviors that aren’t extreme, and that fit into your life. Of course you can and should tweak your behaviors over time to reduce boredom and to take into account any changes in your health status, food preferences, and lifestyle. And you need to commit to these behaviors, which hopefully become second nature, not for a week or a month, but for your life. Simple, or sexy, this is not. But it’s sensible, no?
Have you lost weight and kept it off? What are the secrets to your success?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and award-winning author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com. Sign up for the free weekly ZIED GUIDE™ newsletter for nutrition tips and news you can use (go to right side of home page at elisazied.com). Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.