Maintaining a Healthy Weight After Weight Loss

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2023

Losing weight is a significant achievement that requires dedication and effort. But the real challenge lies in maintaining that weight loss over the long term.1

To avoid the frustrating cycle of weight loss and regain, you likely will need to adopt sustainable lifestyle habits, choose effective diet strategies, exercise regularly, and embrace mindful practices.1,2

The challenges of maintaining weight after weight loss

Countless people lose weight only to regain it all back. In fact, between 80 and 85 percent of people who lose significant weight end up regaining the weight. Why is it so hard to maintain weight loss?1,3

Historically, our bodies were meant to store excess calories in case food was not available. Early humans often had to live through periods when food was scarce. So, stored calories helped them fight starvation.4

But in modern-day society, food scarcity is not as big a problem for most people. Thus, the body’s primitive habit of storing calories “just in case” can add to weight gain.4

There is also the fact that as you lose weight and eat fewer calories, your metabolism may naturally slow down. A slower metabolism can make it harder to keep the weight off after you go back to a normal way of eating.1-3

It may seem like regaining weight after weight loss is inevitable. But there are strategies and habits you can adopt to help you maintain weight loss.

Embrace a healthy lifestyle

Maintaining weight after weight loss starts with adopting a healthy lifestyle. The National Weight Control Registry followed 10,000 people who succeeded in keeping their weight off. Of those people, the registry found that:4

  • 78 percent eat breakfast every day
  • 75 percent weigh themselves at least once a week
  • 62 percent watch less than 10 hours of TV per week
  • 90 percent exercise, on average, 1 hour per day

That said, everyone is different. What works for you might not work for another person. Based on studies and statistics, maintaining weight after weight loss usually comes down to the following lifestyle habits.4

Focus on balanced nutrition

Eat a well-balanced diet that includes all 3 macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Opt for complex carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Healthy fats include avocado, nuts, and olive oil. And choose fiber-rich foods like whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.1,2

It is also important to limit the amount of processed foods, refined carbs, and sugary drinks you consume.1,2

Exercise regularly

Engage in regular physical activity that you enjoy, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week. Do a combination of aerobic and strength training exercises. Activity that burns 1,500 to 2,000 calories per week is recommended for weight maintenance.1,4

Prioritize sleep

Good sleep is crucial for weight maintenance. Lack of sleep can disrupt the hormones that control hunger and fullness, leading to increased cravings. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night.5

Manage stress

Chronic stress can trigger emotional eating. Find stress-management techniques that work for you. These may include meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or hobbies you enjoy.1,3,5

Eat mindfully

Pay attention to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you feel satisfied, not overly full. Avoid mindless eating and emotional eating by staying present during meals and snacks.6

Control portion sizes

Be mindful of portion sizes and avoid oversized servings. Use smaller plates and bowls to create an illusion of a fuller plate.2

Seek support and accountability

Surround yourself with people who support you and share similar health goals. Join a fitness class, find a workout buddy, or consider online support groups to stay motivated and accountable.1,3

Studies have shown that people who continued attending weight loss programs and support groups even after they reached their goal weight were more likely to keep the weight off than people who did not.1,3

You also can meet with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to create a personal maintenance plan that suits your needs. They can provide valuable guidance, meal planning assistance, and ongoing support.

Should you continue counting calories or weighing yourself?

While calorie counting is not necessary for everyone, it can be helpful to gain an understanding of the calorie content in foods. Focus on nutrient-dense choices and avoid excessively high-calorie foods.2

If you have reached your goal weight and want to get back to a more “normal” eating plan, try adding in 200 more calories of healthy, low-calorie foods per day. If you can maintain your weight, add more nutrient-dense foods to your diet.1

It may take some trial and error to discover the exact amount of calories your body needs to maintain its current weight. Working with a dietitian and keeping a food diary can help.1

On the other hand, some experts suggest shifting your focus from calorie counting to mindful eating. Prioritize the quality of the food you eat, paying attention to hunger, fullness, and overall satisfaction.6

Weighing yourself periodically can provide feedback on your progress. It can give you insight into areas that you may want to tweak, such as making changes to your diet or switching up your exercise routine. But avoid becoming too fixated with the number on the scale. Instead, pay attention to how you feel and how your clothes fit.4

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