Many people think their work is done once they reach their goal weight. However, maintaining weight is often a challenge in and of itself. In fact, many people who lose weight end up gaining it back — and then some.
Follow these four expert tips to avoid regaining the weight:
ADD FOOD BACK SLOWLY
One common mistake people make when they reach their goal weight is to start reintroducing all the foods they weren’t eating during their weight-loss phase. Eventually, people fall back into their old eating habits, and the scale creeps back up.
To avoid weight regain, it’s really important to reintroduce food slowly, says Jeannie Paris, a registered dietitian with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Adding a little bit at a time helps you figure out how much you need to eat — balanced with your exercise program — to maintain weight.
Paris recommends starting out by adding 150 calories back into your daily diet and seeing how your body reacts after a couple of weeks. If you find your weight start to go back up, it’ll be easier to readjust your daily calories if you’re only working with a small amount. If your weight goes down or your activity level increases, you can play around with adding in a little more food.
What you don’t want to do is fall back into the bad eating habits you worked so hard to overcome. “Don’t add those calories back from sweets or sugar sources,” Paris says. Try to stick to whole-food sources whenever possible and focus on making gradual increases. This could mean increasing your portion of whole grains or adding avocados or other healthy fat.
Don’t think that just because you’ve reached your goal weight exercise no longer serves a purpose. After all, exercise strengthens your bones, muscles and other tissues, and it boosts mood and functional ability, according to the CDC. Not to mention, physical activity accounts for 15–30% of your total daily caloric expenditure. So, if you want to maintain your weight without slashing more calories, stay consistent with your exercise program.
You can always tweak your existing regimen if it’s too much to handle. You might, for example, cut back on cardio. Just keep in mind that your activity level influences your daily calorie needs.
Hitting your target weight is also a great opportunity to reexamine your fitness goals, says Sarah Gawron, a personal trainer in New York City. “Is there anything else you want to accomplish with your workouts?” she asks. Maybe you’re interested in learning a skill, like boxing. Or training for an obstacle race with friends.
However you decide to train, make sure you actually enjoy the exercise. “There are so many different ways to stay active,” Gawron says, “so long as you find something you enjoy, you’ll stick with it.”
PRACTICE MINDFUL EATING
Chances are you used mindful eating tactics during your weight-loss effort; don’t abandon these tactics now that you’ve reached your target weight.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of mindful eating or you need a refresher: Mindful eating is a method of bringing full awareness to your food, experiences and physical cues in relation to eating. By paying attention to what you’re eating, how much you’re eating and how you feel before, during and after your meal, you can better distinguish between actual hunger and emotional eating, and note how your body is affected by different foods.
An easy mindful eating strategy you can use to help you gauge when to eat and when to stop is a simple 1–10 hunger scale, Paris says. On this scale, “1” indicates starvation while “10” signals extreme fullness. Aim to eat when you’re at a 3–4 on the scale (i.e., your stomach is growling and you start to feel a dip in energy), and stop when you reach a 6–7 (i.e., you’re satisfied but not uncomfortable).
And though it may be challenging, try not to eat when you’re distracted or on-the-go, as this makes it hard for you to actually enjoy your food and notice when you’re no longer hungry.
TRACK FOOD TWICE A WEEK
According to Paris, food tracking is often one of the first habits to go when people reach their target weight. And while that may work for some people, most people would benefit from continuing to track their intake — even if it’s just a couple days per week. Checking in occasionally can help you ensure you’re not slipping back into bad eating habits.
Paris recommends tracking one day during the week and one day during the weekend, as our eating habits tend to be different throughout the week. And, if you need a break from inputting your meals, try taking a picture instead. This way, you’re still taking note of foods and portion sizes while easing off the tracking a bit.