Keep the weight off for good
Reaching your goal weight is surely a cause for celebration, but are you also a little worried about regaining the pounds you’ve shed? Once you’ve lost the weight, it’s time to put fear aside and focus on the next step: Maintaining your weight loss over the long term.
David Lau, MD, who specializes in obesity and is a professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Calgary, says keeping off the weight may mean bidding adieu to your old, bad habits. “We’re talking about helping people to change their habits on a permanent basis,” he says. If you regress to your old habits, you’ll gain the weight back. Here are six ways to make sure that doesn’t happen.
1. Know the reason for your overeating
Looking back, can you see what lead you to overeat in the past? It’s important to understand if you turn to food when you’re stressed or want comfort.
Sometimes the triggers for overeating can be linked to hormones. For example, the hormonal changes of PMS can make women crave sweet or salty foods. Another factor could be your mood. “A typical example is depression,” says Dr. Lau. “When people are depressed, they may become physically inactive. And when they’re down, they turn to something that will make them feel better, often foods that can be addictive.”
2. Plan for success
Plan your eating for the day by making a daily budget for your meals that includes snacks. Dr. Lau suggests the main meal of the day should be a plate of food with a protein source such as meat or legumes on a quarter of the plate, a starch such as rice or pasta on a quarter of the plate, and two servings of different-colored vegetables on the other half of the plate.
According to Lau, feelings of hunger may be influenced by the kind of food you’re eating. “Don’t overdo the carbs,” he says. “Eat more proteins.” That’s not limited to animal proteins, though—be sure to include some proteins from plant sources such as legumes and nuts as well.
3. Keep portions in check
Whatever you’re eating, watch the portion sizes: enjoy one scoop of ice cream, not five. Over time, you can gain weight even by eating healthy foods if you take in too much. “A serving is one fist. A medium-size apple is bigger than a fist, so it’s two servings,” says Dr. Lau. “The smaller the person, the smaller the fist, the smaller the portion.” Dr. Lau doesn’t usually prescribe counting calories to his patients, but he notes that the individuals who are most successful at maintaining their weight keep a food diary.
4. Use your scale
The National Weight Control Registry, a study tracking more than 5,000 people who successfully lost weight and kept it off, revealed some interesting secrets of weight-maintainers. Notably, 75 percent of people weigh themselves once a week—a recommendation that Dr. Lau agrees with. “If you’ve gained one or two pounds, [you’ll know to] watch the portions,” advises Dr. Lau.
Sometimes it’s tough to know when a higher number on the scale means you’re retaining water, rather than truly gaining weight. If you’re retaining fluid, your rings or shoes will feel tight. However, a tight waistband on your favorite jeans could reflect either a water gain or an excess of food. Step on the scale regularly to keep weight in check before it has a chance to creep up again.
5. Get at least half an hour of exercise, daily
Yes, it’s true—you still need to get a good sweat going if you want to maintain your weight. Studies such as the National Weight Control Registry have shown that people who keep the weight off rely on regular exercise as one strategy to avoid regaining the pounds.
Dr. Lau suggests women exercise for a minimum of a half an hour a day, doing both aerobic exercise and resistance training (think weights or isometric exercise). “Women should do things they enjoy,” says Lau. “Gardening can be just as strenuous as going to the gym.” Dr. Lau suggests increasing the intensity and the duration of your physical activity when you’re ready for a challenge.
6. Follow the 80/20 rule
If all of this sounds like a lot of effort and not enough cheesecake, just remember that you don’t have to be perfect all the time. The key is moderation.
Dr. Lau says he believes in the 80/20 rule: if you practice healthy habits 80 percent of the time, then you can relax 20 percent of the time (but take it easy—one particularly unhealthy meal could undo all the hard work you did for the week). “If you’re a goody-goody for the whole week, you can have that glass of wine on the weekend,” says Dr. Lau. “It’s empty calories, but it’s a treat, it’s the enjoyment of drinking wine.”
Remember: It’s all about balance
Although it’s not always easy, finding your own ways to maintain your weight loss can make you feel good about yourself. “Finding the right balance is very important,” says Dr. Lau. “Have an active mind and an active lifestyle.”
And remember: you’ve already made it this far—so just keep going, stay positive, and you’re sure to succeed!