So much attention is focused on how to lose weight that once the weight is off, we’re left wondering: now what? Weight maintenance is an equally big challenge. It can be nerve-wracking to increase your calories, especially since research shows more than 80% of people with obesity who lose weight regain it. Even if you’ve never dieted, maintaining your weight through vacations, holiday seasons and stressful times can be more difficult than expected.
While day-to-day weight fluctuations are normal and to be expected, it’s important to keep an eye on your weight if maintenance is one of your goals. In addition to stepping on the scale, nutrition pros share simple-yet-creative ways to maintain your weight:
ASK: “WHAT WOULD A HEALTHY PERSON DO?”
“This is a great tip from James Clear, author of ‘Atomic Habits,’” says Samantha Attard, PhD, a nutrition expert and health coach. “If you’ve just lost a bunch of weight, it’s time to redefine your identity as this lower-weight person who is committed to healthy eating and living.”
Here’s the gist: Remind yourself frequently that being a “healthy person” is now part of your identity. “When you are making choices like eating in versus out, or going for a second round of dessert, you can ask yourself: ‘What would a healthy person do?’ and then act in alignment with that identity.”
DON’T MAKE FOOD OFF-LIMITS
In general, restricting yourself leads to binging, says Marla Thomas, RD. “By allowing yourself to have that cookie or piece of pizza, you’re less likely to have that guilty feeling that leads to overeating.” While an occasional cookie or slice of pizza might be a high-calorie inclusion in your diet, sticking to one serving probably isn’t going to push you over the edge.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BODY’S HUNGER SIGNALS
Incorporating mindful and intuitive eating principles into your daily life is an important weight-maintenance strategy, according to Penny Wilson, PhD, RD. “Ask yourself: How hungry are you when you start eating? If you’re not hungry, then figure out why you’re eating. Is it boredom? Stress?”
It’s also important to know when to stop eating, she adds. “Most of us stop when the plate is empty. I recommend pausing a few times when you’re eating and checking in with yourself. Are you still hungry? If yes, keep eating. If not, then stop. If you’re not sure, then pause for a couple of more minutes.” By only eating when you’re really hungry, you’ll avoid consuming extra calories.
KEEP A FOOD LOG
Tracking your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal is a great way to check in with yourself and see whether the amount you’re eating aligns with your goals. “If you don’t want to log on a daily basis, it’s a good idea to at least log a few times a month to maintain your weight,” says Lisa Garcia, RD. “Or log on the days and during the times of the year when you are at most risk of weight regain. This helps you avoid consuming too many calories and falling back into old unhealthy habits.”
USE “GOOD” DAYS AS A GUIDE
Here’s another way to make food logging work for you: “When you’ve had a day where your meals and snacks fit well with your weight-management plan and you’ve enjoyed what you ate, keep a record,” suggests Garcia. That makes it easy to go back and refer to it when you don’t have time to plan or are looking for meal ideas that work well for you. “This especially helps when the season changes and you’re dealing with different foods or temptations,” she adds.
MANAGE YOUR STRESS
“Not only can stress fuel cravings for unhealthy foods, but it can also increase the body’s tendency toward fat storage,” explains Maria Rose Capecelatro, a master nutrition therapist. “When you are under stress, cortisol is released into the bloodstream. In the presence of high cortisol levels, glucose from the food you eat may be stored as fat instead of used for energy, as the body tries to build its energy stores. This leads to hunger, cravings and fatigue.” Whether you start practicing yoga, meditation or focus on getting more sleep, there are plenty of ways to reduce stress in your life.
USE SMALLER PLATES
You’ve probably heard this tip before, but there’s a reason it’s so frequently recommended. “Not only have portion sizes been inflated over the years, but so have the plates and bowls we use,” says Thomas. “By using the suggested plate size of 9 inches in diameter, food looks fuller on your plate. This leaves you feeling full and satisfied while consuming fewer calories.”
KEEP ADDING NEW RECIPES TO YOUR ROTATION
“Boredom with what you are eating is a huge risk factor in regaining the weight you have lost,” notes Garcia. Think about it: How many times have you heard someone on a diet say, “If I eat one more meal of grilled chicken breast with steamed vegetables, I’m going to scream.” When you eat the same thing and don’t try new recipes, foods that tempt you most are likely to work their way back into your diet.
“Having a variety of foods and dishes you enjoy helps avoid this,” says Garcia. “It also helps you avoid potential nutrient deficiencies and maintains diversity in your gut microbiome, which can also affect your weight.”
KEEP UP WITH YOUR EXERCISE ROUTINE
Regular movement is just as important for weight maintenance as it is for weight loss. “I suggest finding realistic ways to build more movement into daily life,” says Hailey Crean, RD, a specialist in obesity and weight management. “If going to the gym five days a week and spending 40 minutes on the treadmill is not something your schedule will allow for long-term, I wouldn’t suggest making that the goal. Instead, you might consider taking a 60-minute dance class two nights a week then maybe three nights a week, or going for a 30-minute walk after dinner.”
PRIORITIZE PROTEIN AND FIBER
This may be a strategy you used during weight loss, and it works well for maintenance, too. “Focusing on getting enough protein and fiber will keep you full for longer, lowering the likelihood that you’ll reach for that coffee break donut at work,” says Julie Mancuso, a registered nutritionist based in Toronto. “The more in control you are of your indulgences, the greater chance you have of maintaining your weight.”