Why is it so hard?
Most people who lose weight struggle to keep it off. If you’ve ever lost weight yourself and re-gained it back yourself, you’re probably all too familiar with the frustrating struggle of weight cycling, commonly known as yo-yo dieting: You lose 10lbs, only to gain it all back when life gets nuts.
Many diets and programs claim to have successful short-term weight loss… But long term, weight loss maintenance isn’t as widespread.
However, there’s good news. Research has shown that approximately 20% of overweight individuals are actually successful at long-term weight loss.1
So: What’s their secret? What do people who keep the weight off do differently?
Today’s article goes over some of the research in the area. It will help you understand why it’s so hard to keep the weight off and what you can do to make sure you set yourself up for long-term success.
First: Why do So Many People Re-Gain the Weight they Lose?
It’s no secret that it’s hard to keep weight off. But… Why? How come some people can do it, and others can’t?
There are a few theories around this. A few of them include:
1. They try and lose weight too fast, in a manner that’s too restrictive:
Very low-calorie dieting can actually decrease your metabolic rate via a process called metabolic adaptation–basically, your body slows down a bit to conserve energy, and burns fewer calories in digestion, too. And since your body is smaller now, it needs fewer calories to sustain it.
When your diet ends and you go back to eating at your pre-diet levels, it’s easier to regain weight since your metabolism is now lower.
Because of this, we don’t recommend extremely low-calorie diets and rapid weight loss programs. A healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss we aim for with clients is around 0.5-2lbs a week.
2. They have the wrong mindset:
A lot of people see weight loss diets as a quick fix of restriction: They tell themselves “I’ll just be miserable for a few months, and then be able to eat whatever I want after.” When the diet ends, they’ve been restricted for so long, that they end up overeating on all the “forbidden foods,” and re-gain the weight that they lost. Not good.
3. They don’t focus on building any sustainable habits:
The skills required to lose weight rapidly are not the same skills required to keep the weight off.
Let’s say you do the keto diet for a few months, and you lose some weight. What happens when you reach your goal weight and go back to your old ways eating? You might still struggle with overeating at restaurants, cravings, stress eating, emotional eating, and a negative relationship with food. You haven’t learned anything about nutrition or built any sustainable habits. All you know is how to remove carbs. Without a focus on long term sustainable habits, you haven’t built any skills to keep the weight off.
Ok – Now that we understand what NOT to do (I.e., quick fix diets), let’s explore: What are the keys to successful weight loss?
The Keys For Successful Long-Term Weight Loss Maintenance
In 1994, The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) was established to investigate long-term successful weight loss maintenance. Ten years later, researchers Thomas et al. reported a 10-year study of weight loss and behavior change in 2,886 participants. These participants had lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least 1 year. And out of that, 87% of participants were still maintaining at least a 10% weight loss after 5 and 10 years!2
This is one of the biggest studies that has been done around long-term weight loss maintenance. It was primarily focused around behaviors (what behaviors do people who lose weight and keep it off maintain?).
Since then, other studies have also explored this topic by looking at the cognitive, psychological, and even personality traits of people who lose weight and keep it off.
There were a few common patterns among people who lost weight successfully. Here are some strategies you can implement from the research findings:
#1 Develop Consistent Eating Habits, even on the Weekends:
The NWCR study showed that people who lost weight and kept it off reported eating consistently during both the week and the weekends.1
It’s tempting to tell yourself you’re going to be “good” all week and then go overboard with food over the weekend… But this often can put you in a caloric surplus and cause weight gain.
My tip? Get rid of the “weekend binge” mindset.
Sprinkle in treats during the week, so you don’t feel deprived by the time the weekend rolls around. Your nutrition doesn’t have to be “all-or-nothing” on the weekends. Instead of “all-or-nothing,” aim for “always something.”
The study also found that people who kept the weight off ate breakfast regularly.
Does this mean you have to eat breakfast every day? It’s unclear: We don’t know if this one is correlation or causation, and other studies actually do not show that skipping breakfast automatically leads to weight gain.3
My two cents around breakfast is that it largely comes down to personal preference.
Personally, I’m a breakfast eater. Eating breakfast helps me stay full and satiated, and prevents me from overeating later on in the day. But I know others who prefer not to eat breakfast. Try it for yourself, and see how you feel.
#2 Exercise Consistently, in a way you Enjoy
When it comes to weight loss maintenance, exercise is something that all successful people had in common. In the NWCR study, participants who kept the weight off exercised daily.1
Other studies have shown that people who do at least 200 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (30 minutes a day) after losing weight are more likely to maintain their weight.4
#3 Monitor Your Progress Regularly
One of the most common characteristics of people who keep the weight off is that they self-monitor their weight: They weigh themselves regularly. This likely helps them catch upward trends in their weight, and course-correct if they see themselves re-gaining the weight back before a major relapse.1
If you don’t feel comfortable using the scale, that’s ok–You can self monitor using progress photos, or even just actively pay attention to how your clothes fit.
Remember, if you use the scale, it’s totally normal for the scale to fluctuate day-to-day, (here are some reasons why you the scale might go up overnight that have nothing to do with body fat). You want to be looking at the trends over time.
#4 Monitor Your Calories & Macros
Don’t fall for the “I’ve lost weight so now I can eat whatever I want” mindset and binge once you’ve reached your goal.
In order to keep the weight off, you have to make sure that your overall caloric intake is at your maintenance level. Monitoring your dietary intake is associated with greater weight loss maintenance.5
When you lose weight, your new maintenance calories are probably a little lower than your previous maintenance–Your body is smaller now, and it requires less energy. Your metabolic rate may have also adapted and slowed down in the process of weight loss.
Our suggestion here would be to monitor your calories, especially when you’re transitioning to maintenance mode. Take a few weeks to track at your maintenance level, and get a sense of what it feels like to eat at that level.
In terms of macronutrients, in the NWCR study, researchers actually found that the participants who successfully kept the weight off stuck to a low-calorie and/or low-fat diet. The people who re-gained the weight back reported eating higher levels of dietary fat.1
Fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient, so if you’re eating a lot of high-fat food without keeping track of things, it’s easy to consume more calories than your body needs without realizing it.
This is interesting, but also keep in mind your personal dietary preference when it comes to macros: If you prefer a higher-fat, lower-carb diet, you can certainly maintain your weight on that if your calories are in check!
#5 Build Strategies to Cope With Stress (Without food)
Research has found that people with poor coping skills to deal with stress tend to re-gain weight the weight they lose, while people with better coping skills keep it off.7
Stress is a big reason why people overeat, or fall off the wagon with exercise. Stress lowers our motivation, reduces our ability to think logically, and increases our cravings for sugary foods.
Stress never goes away in our lives, but we can learn to manage it better. In order to prevent re-gain due to stress eating, focus on developing routines to manage stress and anxiety such as meditation, setting boundaries with work, time outdoors, exercise, or hobbies to unwind.
If you struggle with stress and emotional eating, make sure to download our free e-book: The Binge Code.
#6 Focus on Building Dietary Restraint and Skills to Reduce Overeating
Dietary restraint is a fancy way of saying being able to say “no” to food and control what you eat. People who kept weight off reported higher levels of self-control when it comes to food.2 They also had lower levels of disinhibition, meaning, a tendency to overeat in the presence of palatable foods or other stimuli, like emotional stress.
So – How can you start building more self-control around hyper-palatable foods and prevent overeating?
One strategy is mindfulness.
Focus on observing your thoughts and cravings when they come up. If you feel an urge to eat, pause, and say out loud, “Hey, I notice myself having a craving. Is this what I really want right now?”
Adding a mindful pause can help you take more control of your behaviors.
Again, this will take practice! Just like any skill, it takes time to develop.
We have lots of free resources to help you build more mindful eating skills:
- Here are some more tips to help you build mindful eating skills.
- Make sure you’ve grabbed our free cravings cheat sheet.
- Try this 5 Minute Beat-The-Binge breathing exercise when you feel an urge to eat
#7 Stay Supported
Your environment plays a huge role in your success, and weight maintenance is positively associated with social support.6 When you’re surrounded by people who are also eating well and exercising, you’re going to be more motivated to do so, too.
If your current environment is not conducive to your goals, try finding other communities that can be supportive. Things like a fitness class, local meetups, or groups at your gym can help. This is also why community plays such a big role in The BBR programs. We understand that it’s much easier to change for good when you have a support system to uplift you.
It IS possible to lose weight and keep it off. But, it requires a focus on long-term sustainable habits, rather than short term quick fixes. It also requires a shift in your mindset, and a focus on your overall health and wellness: Managing stress. Managing mental health.
But the good news? Maintaining your weight gets easier over time: The NWCR study showed after individuals have successfully maintained their weight loss for two years, the chance of longer-term success greatly increases.2 The first two years were the most vulnerable to re-gain, and after that it was smooth sailing.
The final thing I want to say on this topic is this:
When you see people post transformation photos on social media after dieting, it’s tempting to want to copy their diet or weight loss plan. But remember: You don’t know what’s going to happen to their body in 6 months. Ask yourself: Does their method seem sustainable long-term? Were they able to maintain their results? Does it seem like something that would work for me long-term?
I’m less interested in people’s before-and-after photos, and more interested in their AFTER-the-after photo. What happens in 6 months? In 6 years? Are they able to keep the weight off?
Long term sustainability > Quick fixes. That’s what we’re all about here at The Boss Body Revolution.
We want to hear from you!
Leave a comment below–What has been your biggest struggle when it comes to keeping weight off?
P.S: Want to get fit together? We’ve just opened up our waitlist for Summer Coaching Spots. Women on our waitlist are the first to know when spots open, and get a special early bird discount. Grab your spot on the list!
- Wing RR, Phelan S. Long-term weight loss maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1 Suppl):222S‐225S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/82.1.222S
- Montesi, Luca et al. “Long-term weight loss maintenance for obesity: a multidisciplinary approach.” Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity : targets and therapy vol. 9 37-46. 26 Feb. 2016, doi:10.2147/DMSO.S89836
- McCrory MA. Meal skipping and variables related to energy balance in adults: a brief review, with emphasis on the breakfast meal. Physiol Behav. 2014;134:51‐54. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.05.005
- Donnelly JE, Blair SN, Jakicic JM, et al. American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults [published correction appears in Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Jul;41(7):1532]. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(2):459‐471. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181949333
- Guare JC, Wing RR, Marcus MD, Epstein LH, Burton LR, Gooding WE. 1989. Analysis of changes in eating behavior and weight loss in type II diabetic patients. Diabetes Care 12:500–3
- Wadden TA, Butryn ML, Byrne KJ. Efficacy of lifestyle modification for long-term weight control. Obes Res. 2004;12(Suppl):151S–162S.
- Latner JD, McLeod G, O’Brien KS, Johnston L. The role of self-efficacy, coping, and lapses in weight maintenance. Eat Weight Disord. 2013;18(4):359–366.