Now it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to maintain the new, fitter you for the long haul.
We’ll be honest, it’s not going to be a walk in the park. (But yes, taking walks in the park can help.) Only an estimated 20 percent of dieters reach their goal weight and maintain it, according to nutrition- and weight-management experts. But it’s not by any means an impossible feat.
To help you become a member of the elite crew of long-term losers, we pulled together a list of ways to keep off the pounds. Pick a few of the tips you think you’ll be able to follow and vow to stick to them for life. It’s a big commitment, we know. But it'll be worth it—especially when you don't have to begin a weight-loss transformation all over again.
If you eat when you’re stressed or distracted you’re bound to take in excess calories, which, over time, can lead to weight gain. But not only that, eating while you’re watching the game or finishing a report at work will likely leave you feeling far less satiated than you’d be had you been paying attention to your meal. This happens for a few reasons. “Not only do we eat more quickly when we’re mindlessly eating, we tend not to pay attention to taste, texture, or appearance of the meal. Both of these factors can contribute to overeating,” explains Isabel Smith, R.D., a New York City-based celebrity dietitian and fitness expert.
If your bathroom scale is hiding in the linen closet collecting dust it’s time to take that bad boy out of retirement. People who weigh themselves daily have a better chance of keeping off the weight compared to those who shy away from the scale after they’ve trimmed down, according to Cornell University research. This tactic forces weight-loss winners to be aware of the connection between their diet and weight loss, and helps them make food choices that are consistent with their goals, says senior study author David Levitsky. To ensure an accurate read, step on the scale at the same time each day.
Even if you lost weight without picking up a dumbbell, hitting the gym will help keep off unwanted pounds, says Jim White, P.T., R.D. “When the goal is to maintain your weight loss for a lifetime, you need to plan ahead. Aim to exercise at least an hour a day, almost every day. Ideally, you should weight train three days a week to increase muscle mass and metabolism. You should also fit in cardio and core work five days a week. Everyone’s body will react differently, though, so find your balance and figure out what mix of exercise works best for you,” White says.
While it’s vital to stick to a regular workout routine, if you never change up your program you could wind up slowly but surely regaining the weight you worked so hard to lose. And that’s because your body will adjust to a workout if you do it for too long. That means it's not burning as many calories as it otherwise could, resulting in a plateau or worse, explains White. “Adding variety to your regimen keeps your body guessing and boosts your metabolism as strength and endurance grow. It will also allow your body time to repair itself as you move through the different exercise routines.” White suggest finding workouts online, taking classes, and keeping a diary of your workouts to help prevent repetition and burnout.
No one seems to agree about the importance of breakfast. While some scientific bodies say it’s cool to skip it if you’re not hungry, other research suggests that forgoing the meal can supercharge hunger and cravings, causing weight gain over time. While studies will likely continue to find evidence supporting both sides of the argument until the end of time, there is one thing we can say with certainty: nearly 80 percent of National Weight Control Registry members (an elite group who've shed an average of 66lbs and kept it off for at least 5.5 years) regularly eat breakfast. Researchers haven’t yet uncovered the connection between the morning meal and weight maintenance, but some experts hypothesize it helps those trying to maintain their weight set a healthy tone for the day.
Saying no to a starter salad may seem like a smart way to nix a few excess calories, but it could actually be counterproductive to weight maintenance, according to a study from Pennsylvania State University. Study subjects who noshed on a bed of greens before digging into their dinner actually consumed up to 12 percent fewer calories over the course of their meal. The reason: “Vegetables, like salads, are high volume, low calorie, and a good source of fiber. They will fill you up, so you’ll naturally want to eat less,” explains Smith. “The thing to watch for is the dressing. Be sparse and choosy or you’ll wind up taking in far too many calories before you dig into your main meal.” When you’re dining out, oil and vinegar with some fresh ground pepper is always a safe bet.
We know, we know, we’ve told you a million times before, but getting at least seven hours of shut-eye each evening is a must. Not only will getting adequate sleep help you focus at work, it'll help you give your all at the gym and fend off cravings for fattening foods. “Skimping on sleep causes production of the stress hormone cortisol to rise and that’s been shown to affect everything from weight and immune function to chronic disease risk,” says White. “Lack of sleep also makes sweet and salty comfort foods more appealing, likely because you’re tired so your body's looking for any source of energy it can find. Over time, eating these types of food can cause weight you’ve lost to pile back on.” To stay trim, head to bed on the earlier side and stay away from blue light (the type that emits from cell phones and TVs) at least a half-hour before cozying in. These lights can make it more difficult to doze off.
Even if you’re good about getting to bed at a reasonable hour, that doesn’t mean you’re not pumping out excess cortisol. If you have a high-pressure job, super busy lifestyle, or tend to sweat the small stuff, there’s a good chance you’re regularly flooding your body with the gut-widening hormone. As White noted, this hormone makes junk food seem more appetizing, which is a big problem—and not only for the obvious reasons. When the body is under pressure, it metabolizes food more slowly, which can result in weight gain. To keep your cool under pressure—and maintain your newfound muscles—figure out what helps you unwind. Reading, yoga, deep breathing, and working out have all been found to decrease levels of stress. But hey, if heading to the driving range or playing a round of laser tag works for you, roll with it.
The right kind, that is. In a Harvard University study of dieters, those who snacked on a handful of peanuts or mixed nuts daily (about an ounce and a half) were more likely to maintain their weight loss than those who didn’t munch on a high-fat snack. “If consumed slowly and mindfully with portion size in mind, fat can be very filling and satisfying. It causes digestion to slow and this can help to promote satiety for a longer period of time,” Smith explains.
A recent study of nearly 4,000 couples found that people are more likely to stick to weight maintenance habits like exercise and healthy eating when they team up with their significant other. “Couples who share similar goals will help push each other in the right direction,” says White. “Exercising together is a great way to stay motivated. Walking, jogging, running, weight training, and cooking healthy food as a team are some of the best ways to keep those unwanted pounds off. It makes it seem like less of a chore.” And even if your partner isn’t into the healthy living scene, you can still reap the benefits by pairing up with a friend. “Find an exercise partner who's a little more experienced and motivated than you are so they can push you.”