Losing weight is hard enough — it takes a certain amount of discipline to stick to a healthy eating plan, make time for exercise, and adjust your lifestyle (including getting enough sleep and manageing stress). But the hardest part is actually keeping it off. If you've ever lost weight only to gain it back (and then some), you're not alone — it's not uncommon to regain the weight you've lost.
And it's not because people are lazy or just revert back to their old habits; as you lose weight, your body fights against itself to gain the weight back. For one, your metabolism slows down; as you lose weight, your metabolism starts burning calories at a slower rate to conserve energy stores, explained Eduardo Grunvald, MD, program director at UC San Diego's Weight Management Program. This process was identified during a Biggest Loser study that was published in the journal Obesity in 2016 and found that all but one of the 14 former contestants had regained the weight they lost and noticed a drastic reduction in some participants' metabolisms.
Plus, your hormones change as you lose weight, which signals your brain to consume more calories, Dr. Grunvald explained. One of these is leptin, the hormone that suppresses your appetite. When you lose weight, your leptin levels drop, which means your body isn't readily signaling that it's full.
How to Maintain Weight After Losing It
But losing weight does not mean you are destined to gain it back. However, Dr. Grunvald said switching from weight-loss mode to weight-maintenance mode takes extra vigilance. "To maintain that weight loss, you have to maintain whatever calorie restriction you did to get there," he said. "So you have to be vigilant all the time." So if you ate 1,500 calories a day to lose weight, you'll have to keep eating around 1,500 calories a day to keep it off (for a more personalized plan, meet with a registered dietitian, who can help you assess your goals). In addition to that, you also need to increase your exercise.
"You burn fewer calories for the same amount of work," Dr. Grunvald explained. "To compensate for that, you need to actually increase your physical activity, just for the maintenance. So you may have to increase physical activity more than you used to, to lose the weight." In fact, researchers who assessed the National Weight Control Registry, a database of people who have lost 30 or more pounds and kept it off for at least a year, found that people exercised more during the maintenance phase than they did during weight loss.
If that seems intimidating, Dr. Grunvald said that doesn't mean you have to run a marathon or spend hours at the gym every day; it could be as simple as walking more each day. Even adding 30 minutes to an hour a day of walking should suffice.
But the biggest indicator to whether or not someone will maintain their weight loss, Dr. Grunvald said, is if they have a supportive environment. This support system can be from a weight-loss program (like WW), dietitian, health educator, or obesity medicine doctor or clinic. And a healthy environment at home and at work is key; if you make an effort to make healthy choices but your partner orders takeout every night and your kitchen is stocked with junk food, you are setting yourself up for failure.
In general, it's important to keep up the tools you used when you lost the weight in the first place: keep monitoring your progress, whether that's through regular weigh-ins or measurements, keep a food journal (or track it on an app), plan your meals ahead, and limit eating out. Keeping the weight off is possible . . . it's just all about being strategic.