Why weight maintenance can be so hard – and what you can do about it
For many, weight maintenance is a lot harder than losing weight in the first place. Five weight maintenance tips to help you stay at a weight you’re happy with … without driving yourself crazy.
When it comes right down to it, weight loss is a fairly straightforward proposition. Making better food choices, cutting back on your calories and getting more exercise pretty much sums it up. But once you’ve lost the weight, you might find that weight maintenance is a lot more difficult. Maybe you are so “done with dieting” that you just can’t wait to go back to eating the way you used to. Maybe you feel that you lost weight because you’ve been eating so carefully – and now you’re worried you’ll put it all back on if you eat any other way. Maybe you’ve met your target weight, but you don’t look quite the way you expected you would… and you don’t have a clue as to what you should do next.
You’ve Lost the Weight – Now What?
When you’re in the process of losing weight, you have a task at hand. You’ve got a goal to reach and – as long as things are going right – you’re moving closer to your goal all the time. And you’re getting great feedback – you see changes in your body and on the scale. Your clothes are getting looser. Your friends and family are encouraging you to keep up the good work. And, as you’re losing, you’re focused every day on change – like making better food choices, changing your exercise habits or changing the way you deal with stress. Every day you’ve had a goal you wanted to reach.
Now that you’ve “crossed the finish line”, though, the compliments and encouragement are becoming less frequent. Now that your weight is stable, you no longer have the thrill of buying smaller and smaller clothes. Now that you’ve reached your goal, the scale doesn’t move (much). While you were losing weight, you got very used to change – and now, your goal is not to change. Your goal now is for things to stay just as they are. Every. Single. Day.
So part of the problem is this: the goal of “keeping everything just as it is” is harder to grasp than the goal you had before, which offered a reward – in the form of reaching a particular weight, or size, or shape. Maintenance, in other words, may not feel all that rewarding.
Why Weight Maintenance Can Be Harder Than Losing
It’s important to have the right mindset once you’ve reached your goal weight. If you’re thinking, “I’m so glad that’s over with”, a little attitude adjustment might be in order. Yes, you’ve reached your goal, but you never really “cross the finish line”. Weight maintenance after weight loss can be so challenging because:
• You have to keep working hard at making the right food choices and getting plenty of exercise in order to keep the weight off … maybe even harder than someone who weighs exactly what you do now, but who has maintained that weight all their lives.
• You realize you can’t go back to your ‘old’ way of eating.
• Your calorie needs may not be as high as they were – since calorie needs are based, in part, on your body size.
• You have a new body that feels different than the old one, and you may not feel comfortable in it yet.
• Your body doesn’t look the way you expected it would.
• Your weight loss may not have changed your life as much as you thought it would.
Tips to Help You With Weight Maintenance:
• If you feel like you know what you need to do to lose weight, but you’re not so sure what you need to do to maintain that loss, keep in mind that weight loss and weight maintenance are really two sides of the same coin. It’s not as if you’ve crossed some invisible finish line (and that your diet is ‘over’) – and you’re now free to shift gears and do something else. What you did in order to get your weight down is more or less what you’ll need to continue doing in order to maintain that loss.
• That said, if the diet you stuck to during the weight loss phase was very restrictive, you’ll want to work towards eating more normally. Part of this process involves learning to do things like making wise choices in restaurants, dealing with cocktail and dinner parties, working in a treat from time to time, or lightening up your cooking style. As you practice eating normally, you’ll learn that you can trust yourself to manage your weight.
• Keep your expectations reasonable. When we see photos of celebrities who have dropped 30 pounds in 30 days, we expect we should be able to do that, too – and that our bodies should look like theirs when we’re finished. But not only is crash dieting an unhealthy approach to weight loss, it’s not an approach you can – or should – adopt for the long term. Accept that slow and steady is not only a safer way to lose weight, it also gives you time to practice making the positive lifestyle changes that will help you to look and feel your best in the long run.
• Rather than setting a single number as your maintenance weight, allow yourself a modest range of a couple of pounds or kilos. Most people’s weight fluctuates a little bit – and as long as your average weight over time doesn’t shift, you’re doing a good job at maintaining. The best weight for you is the one you achieve once you’ve established a healthy eating pattern and an active lifestyle that you can maintain for life.
• Since weight loss itself is so goal-oriented, you’ll want to set some new goals for yourself during weight maintenance. Think outside the box a little bit so you’re not just focused on the scale. Maybe set a new fitness goal, like mastering a new yoga pose or shaving a few minutes off your morning run – or a food-related goal, like cooking more meals at home, or revising some recipes to make them healthier.
Written by Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., F.A.N.D. – Director, Worldwide Nutrition Trainingat Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.