I’d dreamed of losing weight for so long and worked so hard and long to achieve it that I hadn’t given any thought to how I’d maintain my weight loss. It didn’t matter that I’d read a million times that maintenance was so tricky that some 95% of people who lose weight regain it.
That popular 95% statistic about weight regain may not be as accurate as we once thought, and a subset of people (including those participating in the National Weight Control Registry) have had higher success rates in maintaining their weight loss. Still, the odds for maintaining a substantial weight loss aren’t good.
When Weight Maintenance Reality Sets In
I like numbers, so I’d read up on these dismal stats, but I blissfully (and blindly) convinced myself that maintaining my 60-pound weight loss would be relatively easy.
My reasoning? I’d worked so hard for the weight loss; I’d spent so many months doing everything “right.” I ate healthy, whole foods, built up a consistent exercise routine, and developed a support system of friends and fellow gym rats to cheer me on.
I convinced myself that my greatest challenge was losing the weight, not maintaining it. My vision of losing weight ended with me being so over-the-moon happy that nothing (especially weight maintenance) would get in my way.
I imagined strutting my stuff, walking all around New York in my new jeans and fitted tops. The image of this new fabulous self was never interrupted by anything as mundane as weight maintenance. Of course, reality had to set in at some point—and let me tell you, it has.
I was wrong. Weight loss maintenance is a whole other level of hard.
Is Weight Loss Maintenance Possible?
Maintaining a 60-pound weight loss has challenged me to the core. It’s as frustrating a process as weight loss. I know and believe in the notion of calories in/calories out. To lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories or burn more calories through exercise than your body needs.
But, the body does fight you on this, and as you lose more weight, it gets harder to maintain your rate of weight loss. It’s also easier to gain back the weight than it is to lose or maintain it. In simple terms, our bodies adapt and increase appetite to resist continued weight loss, making maintenance harder. There are many reasons for this, but here are some of the main culprits that promote greater calorie consumption and storage, making it hard to maintain weight loss:
- Mouth-watering food is everywhere you go, and highly processed foods are plentiful and cheap.
- Family, cultural and social connections bond us to food, and we plan gatherings around food.
- We form ingrained habits when we connect our feelings (especially negative feelings) to eating and overeating. Overeating can become a major coping mechanism that gets reinforced and triggered by years of habit-forming behaviors.
- Stress and unexpected circumstances can upset the best-laid mealtime plans, and meal planning takes time and effort.
- Changes in body composition and metabolism as we age can make losing/maintaining weight more difficult.
A Weight Maintenance Mindset
What are women to do if they want to be successful at weight maintenance? Build a healthy, weight maintenance mindset around these two principles:
- Focus on Repeating and Reinforcing New Habits We need to get good and comfortable with the healthy eating and exercise habits we formed to lose weight to maintain our weight loss. Then, when we fall off our plan, we need to get right back on it. We need to stop overthinking things, turn off our negative self-talk and take action to return to the healthy behaviors that have supported our weight loss.
- Play the Long Game We need to remember that weight loss and maintenance are part of the same process, and both are built on a long game. There is no end in sight, so finding and sticking to sane weight loss and maintenance approaches must be a goal. We must build life-long healthy eating/exercise patterns because we understand the value they bring to our lives and the potential they have for adding more to our lives than they take away.
Your Weight Loss Journey is the Foundation of Maintenance
If healthy, sustainable habits fueled your weight loss, it probably took you quite a while to lose weight. During that time, you changed your habits, and from those changes, your lifestyle transformed. That transformation is the foundation of your maintenance. There isn’t some new maintenance plan to start. You’re already on that plan. You are living your new life, your new relationship with food, and your new fitness habits. Hold onto those beliefs, actions and achievements as you move forward into weight maintenance.
There will be times of struggle. Did you eat too much at a party? Do you feel trapped in the grips of overeating again? Continue on and pivot from that indulgence (which doesn’t have the power to change much of anything). Reconnect with your healthy habits again at the next meal.
Weight Maintenance: Build an Arsenal of Support
Tap into all the tricks, resources, and tools of the trade to build an arsenal of support. Try meal planning, intuitive eating, habit tracking, journaling, accountability partners, group fitness—whatever works to sustain your efforts.
It turns out that subconsciously my website, HodgeonRepeat, has turned into another weight maintenance strategy for me. Writing about my journey helps me maintain my weight loss. What new projects can reinforce your commitment to weight maintenance? Perhaps it’s a hobby such as healthy cooking or photography, returning to school to become a certified weight loss coach, or reducing boredom or loneliness by taking in a new pet or volunteering in your community. Surround yourself with new opportunities that take the focus off food, and put it squarely on you, your interests, and your newfound wellness.
When things go wrong, and you struggle with maintenance, dive back into healthy patterns by taking action (not overthinking things) to reignite healthy habits. Write…eat…move…repeat. My mantra was good during weight loss, but it’s golden during maintenance.
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