How to maintain weight loss after a diet: Essential tips backed by science

Heather Campbell
 min read

How to maintain weight loss after a diet is just as important as losing excess weight in the first place.

How to maintain weight loss after a diet: Essential tips backed by scienceMany people manage to lose a few pounds. Unfortunately, a large group falls back into old habits and gains weight again after a while.

As a general rule, people who manage to lose excess weight often find themselves slowly piling on the pounds again once they stop dieting. Make sure to keep yourself occupied during stressful periods, plan your meals, eat at home, organize your workout schedule and stick to it.

What can you do about this? Read on to find out about the risk factors that throw a spanner in the works and are responsible for a yo-yo effect.

We’ll also discuss some helpful methods and tips for maintaining your ideal weight constantly.

How to maintain weight loss after a diet: Introduction

For months you mercilessly denied yourself every glass of beer and piece of cake.

Instead, you stuffed your lunch box with salads, fruit, lean chicken, and so on, and you drank plenty of water.

You have also increased your sports activities and with success! Your hard work has produced the desired results, and you are back at your target weight. Fantastic news, isn’t it?

Yet the hard work must continue. After all, achieving the right weight is one thing. But how to maintain weight loss after a diet is at least as big a challenge.

Maintaining your weight: why is it so hard?

Research on dieting, slimming, and weight loss efforts yield depressing numbers.

Of those who succeed in losing weight, over 50% are back to their starting weight (the weight before they started a diet) after a year.

Worse still, some people are even heavier after a diet than when they started. But how does this come about? Why is staying at weight apparently so tricky?

The main pitfall? People celebrate too early and count their chickens before they’ve hatched.

Once they have lost weight to the target weight, they think they can now go back to normal and eat everything again as it was before the diet and they forget how to maintain weight loss after a diet.

But that old eating pattern was precisely why they initially gained too much weight! And so, by picking up those old eating habits again, you’re just asking for trouble.

Risk factors for regaining weight after losing weight

Let’s discuss some of the leading causes of the yo-yo effect and relapse after slimming efforts.

Being dissatisfied with the target weight

You may feel tremendous relief the moment you reach your target weight. And it may also be that after a few days, you then find that you had actually expected more from it.

Suddenly you realize that reaching that target weight might leave you feeling  without further purpose, and maybe you’re still suffering from those love handles and that stubborn cellulite.

In short, dissatisfaction is what can be your downfall, and disappointment and disillusionment can cause you to fall back into old eating habits.

Unrealistic or too vague plans

Too vague plans can also contribute to you slacking off in terms of eating habits or putting off activities.

So one solution is to formulate and set clear goals for yourself and do so both in terms of nutrition and in terms of activities and sports.

Black and white thinking

The all-or-nothing principle means that you think that suddenly nothing matters anymore because of one misstep or one adverse event.

This effect can occur during vacations, with a sports injury, or after overeating.

After a relatively small relapse, you can fall back into old eating habits, which is undesirable to maintain your target weight. An important factor on how to maintain weight loss after a diet is by consistency more than perfection.

Too much stress and too little balance

Stress is a significant risk factor for gaining weight back after you have reached your target weight.

In fact, many people experience a strong urge to eat extra during stressful moods. Do you experience a lot of stress due to work, the kids, or a sudden crisis situation?

Then it is essential to continue to engage in enough activities that can give you energy and a positive feeling.

This will help you cope better with stress and maintain healthy behaviors for longer. And remember that eating fatty snacks is not the answer to your problems!

Skipping meals

A less consistent eating pattern often leads you to slack off and fall back into old eating habits. You often see this before and during vacations or on weekends.

However, skipping meals is wrong and not the best way to maintain your target weight.

Lack of self-efficacy

Failing to sustainably change your behavior, such as your eating habits, is often due to a lack of self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy in this context means that a person is confident that they will succeed in performing a specific behavior in a given situation.

For example, we feel confident ordering a salad at a restaurant instead of a giant steak with fries and sauce.

A lack of self-efficacy then means that, in practice, that person fails to eat healthier and still gets tempted by that delicious steak and French fries.

But there is also good news! You can build and create more self-efficacy by achieving smaller, intermediate goals.

Matching success experiences time after time and reaching the next goal step by step will give you confidence and lead to longer or even sustainable changes in your eating habits.

The number of times you have followed a diet

People who have been on a diet before have a greater risk of gaining weight afterward.

A significant cause for this effect is fat cell stress. During weight loss, the fat cell loses fat, causing it to shrink.

The skeleton of the fat cell must shrink, but adjusting the structure takes a lot of energy. So the fat cell becomes stressed.

The easiest way for the human body to get rid of that stress is to let the fat cell grow back.

The body has several methods to accomplish this. One of these ways is a decreased secretion of leptin (a hormone that inhibits the feeling of hunger).

This, therefore, means an increased feeling of hunger, which can persist for up to 2 years after you have lost weight. And this lack of leptin can lead to increased energy intake, which means more food, and thus more weight.

Related post: Low body fat risks: Dangers of having a low body fat percentage

Tips for maintaining weight

So simply maintaining your weight is still an effort, just like losing weight itself.

Of course, it gets easier the longer you manage to keep it up.

After all, new habits and routines will naturally wear off. But especially in the beginning, some discipline and enough perseverance are required!

So what exactly do you need to pay attention to for maintaining your weight after a successful weight-loss regimen?

Here are some essential tips for maintaining weight:

Get enough exercise every day

In addition to nutrition, exercise is a crucial component in maintaining your weight.

Numerous studies have shown that most people who maintain their optimal weight move every day. In other words, activities and exercise help maintain your target weight.

Exercise doesn’t have to be a fanatical sport program right away. A brisk walk in the local woods or park can go a long way. Or try to cycle or swim more often because that will also get you half an hour of physical activity!

It is vital to choose an exercise pattern that you can sustain in the future. Focus on at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day.

Watch your calories and monitor your eating habits regularly

Be aware of your eating habits. In fact, at some point, you may have unconsciously fallen back into old eating habits and are eating more than necessary.

Several smartphone apps can help you better understand your diet and count your daily calories so see which one works best for you.

Weigh yourself regularly and quickly intervene if you regain weight

Another critical factor that helps keep from gaining back weight is weighing yourself regularly.

It is pretty standard for your weight to fluctuate by 2 to 4 pounds. But do you find that you have gained more weight over time? Then intervene in time to maintain your target weight.

Undetected weight gain is your main enemy. You will often not regain all the pounds within a week. But many people slowly evolve back to their old weight over months or even years.

To avoid this, it is best to weigh yourself with some regularity. Not daily, but weekly or every two weeks is a good idea.

Keep track of your weight and pay attention to unexpected weight gain. Minor fluctuations are not a problem, of course, but gaining 8 pounds in a few months is!

Introduce a regular eating pattern

Eat at regular intervals because routine is your best friend.

Staying at weight is a long-term goal, and you don’t keep things going if you have to constantly think about everything! So healthy habits really need to sink in.

One of the points that can significantly help you maintain your target weight is eating at regular intervals.

Scheduling your meals at set times avoids hunger and subsequent binge eating. Routine and a set schedule also make it easier to prepare your healthy meals on time.

This means not entirely deviating from your healthy eating pattern, even on vacations and weekends.

A day of deviation is okay once in a while, but don’t go completely off the rails for a week and gain 4 to 6 pounds.

Prepare mentally for difficult situations

Sometimes you are invited to a party, and it is difficult to make healthy choices on the spot.

Prepare for challenging situations as best you can and make an if-this-then-that plan for yourself.

Making healthier food and drink choices at parties, eating out, or get-togethers is not impossible, and with a little bit of good will can become automatic.

In any case, you’re sure to find yourself in situations where, after your diet, you will be seriously tempted to break your good resolutions.

And, of course, that can happen occasionally but preferably not all the time. Therefore, it is wise to prepare for it a little in advance.

How will you prevent yourself from downing 6 heavy beers or Irish coffees at that party?

Or from the guilty pleasure of the office daily donut in the afternoon at work?

Those kinds of situations are still as insidious as they were during your diet, so be sure to think carefully about a well-thought-out prevention strategy.

Be satisfied with the lost pounds

Be realistic upfront about what you wish to accomplish with your weight loss efforts and diet.

A healthy self-image is essential here. Discuss this with those close to you and/or talk to a nutrition coach.

Learn to deal with stress effectively

Another critical factor is whether you can deal with stress effectively.

Suppose you ate too much once… What do you say to yourself? How do you deal with your guilt? Can you forgive yourself and motivate yourself to do better next time?

Or suppose things don’t go entirely the way you want… How do you pick up the thread? How do you remain on the straight and narrow?

The longer you maintain your target weight, the easier

The longer you have already maintained the desired behavior in terms of exercise and nutrition, the less likely you are to relapse into old, less desirable habits.

The first 2-to 3 years after losing substantial weight takes the most energy and requires the greatest mental effort.

Diet gradually and not extremely

Staying at a consistent weight actually starts during the dieting process itself.

In fact, the type of diet you choose has a great deal of influence on the development and evolution of your weight when you are ready and have reached your target weight.

For example, are you doing a radical crash diet? If so, you lose a lot of muscle tissue with it, and it slows down your metabolism so much that a yo-yo effect is almost inevitable.

In other words, the more regular and gradual your diet, the more likely you are to be able to maintain your weight.

First of all, eat a little healthier. Eat more fruits and vegetables and eat a little less meat. Then you can switch to dishes with fewer calories.

That way, your body stays as healthy as possible, and the switch is less drastic and more gradual.

Keep eating healthily

The most crucial point of all: keep eating healthily. After a solid diet, of course, you’ve earned a reward.

But enjoying a reward once in a while is very different from falling back into bad and unhealthy eating habits.

After dieting, it is essential to maintain good discipline. And many people go wrong in that area. So try to respect your new eating habits.

Finally, a helpful tip: If you want to maintain weight after dieting, Pareto’s 20-80 rule is an important guideline in terms of healthy nutrition.

Eighty percent of your diet should consist of healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grain carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.

The remaining twenty percent allows for some rewards and less healthy dishes. So for this 20% of your diet, it is best to loosen it up a bit but make sure it stays at a maximum of 20% of your diet!

Cook at home for more control

One of the best ways to keep your diet responsible is to cook for yourself as much as possible.

In fact, most ready meals often contain all sorts of unnecessary junk and preservatives that make you gain weight faster.

The same goes for many processed snacks and other foods. These often have a lot of sugar, unhealthy fats, and added salt and are exactly what you need to avoid to keep healthy and at a good weight.

Make targeted plans

The more specific you are, the better. For example, don’t resolve to cook for yourself “most of the time.” Planning is a key factor in how to maintain weight loss after a diet.

Agree that you will dive into the kitchen yourself, for example, 5 or 6 days a week, and can eat out a maximum of one day a week.

Don’t go for “I will exercise more often,” but go for targeted and scheduled exercise on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, for example.

And if you don’t live far from work, you can always consider biking to work.

The more focused and concrete your plans are for reaching your target weight, the better you can control whether you keep yourself to it.

And the better you can control yourself, the less likely you are to start making excuses to get out of it anyway.

So start with a clear strategy and planning, and then staying at weight will become much easier!

How to maintain weight loss after a diet: Conclusion

Maintaining your weight loss is just as important as losing it in the first place. This article has shown how easy it can be to fall off the wagon, but also how easy it can be to stay on it.

Planning is key, and with a little bit of will and strength, you can continue to enjoy your healthy weight forever!

How to maintain weight loss after a diet is based on consistency, so a relapse here and there is acceptable, but it’s important to get back on track as soon as possible.

Bonus tip: It’s also easier to maintain your weight if you’re having fun while doing it. Check our other article for practical information: How can I have fun with losing weight? The happy way of losing weight

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More