The most common struggle I see in my nutrition practice is not losing weight but keeping it off over time. I believe this happens in large part because we underestimate the motivational power of working toward a goal. We don’t realize the impact of having momentum on our side. Whether it’s an upcoming wedding, a beach vacation, a 10K or fitting into new clothes, meeting a goal is the catalyst for staying on track while losing weight. The problems start to creep in when the glitter fades and the “reason” for losing has come and gone. Losing weight may have been a challenge, but keeping it off is an entirely different ball game.
One of my theories for why maintaining weight loss is so tough goes back to motivation. When you were fully invested in weight loss and temptation arose, it was easier to say no just by reminding yourself of your end goal. That compelling reason for wanting to lose weight was the greatest motivator in keeping you on track. Once the goal was achieved, making better choices began to feel more like work. And without a goal to keep you motivated, you were left alone, armed only with your waning willpower while staring down a bag of chips.
Keeping the weight off doesn’t have to be so hard! Below are a few of our best tips to help you maintain your weight loss long after you’ve met your goal (willpower not required).
Know Your Big “Why”
Go deeper with your “why.” You still need one or maintaining your weight loss has no meaning. Unlike your weight-loss goal, your maintenance “why” must be rooted in emotion not achievement. Create a reason for wanting to stay healthy that means more to you than a superficial outcome. Go deep here, and ask yourself how keeping the weight off would make you feel about yourself five or 10 years from now. Ask yourself what it would cost you not to keep the weight off. Get really clear here so that when you’re faced with temptation, you’re able to access these emotions in the moment. Over time, the ability to access your “why” makes it easier to stay on track.
Clear the Path
My second tip is to get out of the path of temptation. Studies show even the most motivated people are tempted by just the sight of the office candy jar or a pantry full of tasty favorites. To keep your head where it needs to be, clear a healthy eating path for yourself. This means getting rid of the junk food in your house (or hiding it). What you don’t see won’t tempt you. If driving by your favorite fast-food place is too much of a temptation, it may mean you need to take a different route home. You might also have to change your path to the copy room or politely ask your co-worker to move her candy, allowing some distance between you and the bowl. Over time, these mindless calories start to add up, so keeping them at bay will make a difference in your weight for the long term.
This may sound super-basic, but it’s a powerful tool in weight management. The idea here is that if you plan for it, you will eat it. If you have a plan for dinner when you leave for work in the morning, you’ll be much less likely to stop and pick up greasy takeout. Same goes for lunch. And, yes, planning out your snacks will avoid an impromptu trip to the vending machine or a pit stop when you’re out and about. All of this planned eating leads to less eating of whatever is around. It’s one of the most effective long-term strategies for keeping off that weight you worked so hard to lose.
Stay Within Budget
Don’t give in to the idea that you have to keep whittling away at your intake in order to keep the weight off. Once you get to your ideal weight, you can stay there by eating within your calorie budget each day. You probably already know how many calories you need to lose weight, but do you know how many you need to maintain your weight? Apps like MyFitnessPal are helpful for figuring this out, and they also keep you within your caloric needs each day. Most of my clients overly restrict when they’re in maintenance mode. Over time, this leads to episodes of overeating and bingeing. That’s no way to live! When you constantly feel like you’re on a diet, it’s hard to enjoy food. Don’t skimp on calories when you don’t have to.
The 20% Rule
A great way to keep yourself in check is the 20% rule. Studies on mindless eating show that our brains and our stomachs don’t really notice when we take away about 20%. This means if we reduce our plate size, our portion size, our coffee size or even our ice cream size by just 20%, we won’t feel or notice the difference in calories. Over time, this slight reduction in intake can make a big difference in not just losing weight but keeping it off.