There’s nothing more frustrating than achieving your dream body, only to see it disappear in a matter of weeks.
It’s akin to winning the lottery, only to realise you left your winning ticket in the pocket of your pants that are now in the washing machine.
Weight cycling, yo-yo dieting, weight regain are all variations on the same theme: the fact that people regularly achieve weight loss, but many see that same weight reappear within a matter of weeks or months (often with interest).
Surely it’s time to stop banging your head against a wall and achieve lasting change based on scientifically based evidence on what it takes to successfully maintain weight loss results in the long term?
Stop seeing your weight fluctuate seemingly at will and feeling powerless to control your body and instead take charge of your body, regain control and achieve long lasting weight loss.
So what sets weight loss maintainers from weight regainers?
Elfhag & Rossner (2004) performed a comprehensive review of the factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain, the summary of which can be seen above.
Let’s look at some of the more important points to consider to maintain weight loss: -
Greater Initial Weight loss: It seems that experiencing early momentum is a huge factor when it comes to long term success. This is something I have also witnessed anecdotally working with clients over the past 12 years. A study by Nackers et al (2010) also illustrates the importance of initial rates of weight loss. In this study participants were divided into 3 groups: Slow, Moderate and Fast weight loss groups
Participants who lost weight at a FAST rate during the first 4 weeks of treatment achieved significantly greater weight reductions at 6 months than those who lost at MODERATE and SLOW rates, and those who lost at a MODERATE rate during the first 4 weeks of treatment lost significantly more weight than those who lost at a SLOW rate. Participants in the present study who lost at a greater initial rate did not experience greater amounts of weight regain post-treatment than those who lost at a slower initial rate.
“We find evidence to suggest that a greater initial weight loss as the first step of a weight management programme may result in improved sustained weight maintenance.” (Astrup & Rossner, 2001)
Physically Active Lifestyle: Being physically active is important for long term weight loss, and not purely because more physical activity burns more calories. Being physically fit allows you to move more and move at higher intensities. Walking, cycling and resistance training appear to be popular activities amongst those studies (Elfhag & Rossner, 2004). However, being physically active is more of a way of living, as a opposed to simply ‘training’ in whatever mode you choose to employ. Given that a given training sessions lasts maybe 45-60 mins, the capacity to burn a huge number of calories is fairly limited. What has a greater impact is our activity levels outside of structured exercise. How many steps you walk. How many flights of stairs you climb etc. All of this activity forms what is known as ‘NEAT’ (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). Having higher levels of NEAT can greatly increase energy expenditure and guard against weight loss.
Dietary Intake: Weight loss maintenance is obviously associated with lower total caloric intake and reduced portion sizes. More speciﬁcally, weight maintenance is also associated with reduced frequency of snacking. Kayman et al (1990) discovered that weight loss maintainers averaged 1.5 snacks per day versus weight regainers who average 4.5 snacks per day. Weight loss maintainers also tended to have a more regular meal pattern, something I advocate with all of my clients.
Social Support: Participating in a mainte-nance support group as well as receiving support from friends and having people available for social support have been related to better weight maintenance
Self-Monitoring: Elfhag & Rossner (2004) define self-monitoring as observing oneself and ones behaviours. Weight maintenance seems to require an ongoing adherence to weight-related behaviours. Regularly weighing oneself is an example of self-monitoring, as is recording the food intake consumed. On the whole, it appears weight loss maintainers are much more aware of their food intake and how that is affecting their weight. Weight regainers, on the other hand, “found it too difﬁcult to remain in the state of prolonged consciousness needed to watch themselves over time” (Elfhag & Rossner, 2004)
Stress & Coping: Research shows that weight regainers tend to have poorer coping strategies than weight loss maintainers. A common characteristic identiﬁed in regainers is that they tend to eat in response to stressful or negative life events and negative emotions that can be evoked by stressors in everyday life and the tendency to use eating to regulate mood. This is what is known as ‘passive coping’. Passive coping means not dealing directly with situations or emotions. Instead, people reach out to others (social diversion) or engage in different activities that ignore the stressor and provide short-term relief such as self-medicating through food or alcohol or via low-demanding tasks such as watching television (task diversion). Weight loss maintainers, on the other hand, are more likely to employ active coping strategies to deal with stress. Active coping means addressing or eliminating the situations or emotions themselves (problem-focused) or manage the resultant emotions (emotion-focused).
Attitudes: Elfhag & Rossner (2004) describe weight loss maintainers as developing a ‘healthy narcissism’ about their appearance and physical condition. Pride in appearance has been rated among the top four factors facilitating weight maintenance by DePue et al, 1995. “Caring about one’s appearance and physical condition can thus be important for the motivation to control body weight” (Elfhag & Rossner, 2004). Research has found that weight loss maintainers are more likely to take responsibility for one’s life, whereas regainers were more like to blame other factors for weight regain.
Practical Advice for Long Term Weight Loss Success
So, having reviewed the literature, here’s what YOU can do to maintain the weight you have successfully lost: -
“Once a problem improves, people often stop doing what caused it to improve” (Dweck, 2006): The first thing to note is that, you cannot stop all of your behaviours and lifestyle changes that brought about the initial weight loss and expect your weight to remain the same. You still haver to continue to do things you did to lose the weight.
Periodically Track Food Intake: Tracking food intake is a useful tool to utilise periodically to ensure you are eating the correct amount of food to maintain weight loss. It will also help reinforce how much food you require so that once you stop tracking food, you can continue to eat a similar amount. It is not something that you need to do all the time. However, tracking food for a week every 3 to 6 months is a highly useful exercise to ensure successful weight loss maintenance.
Remain Accountable to Someone: Having a coach to keep you accountable, provide guidance and feedback, monitor progress and set new goals can be absolutely invaluable to long term weight loss success. “Professional contact may, for example, enhance vigilance and motivation and provide encouragement and support.” (Elfhag & Rossner, 2004)
Continue to Track Weight: “Self-monitoring of body weight and food intake are important factors in weight loss as well as weight loss maintenance” (Elfhag & Rossner, 2004). It’s important to keep tracking your weight, to ensure that you are remaining successful. If you notice your weight beginning to creep up, you can take action to stop regain by tweaking food intake or activity levels.
Stick to a Weight Range: Weight can fluctuate based upon a number of factors including food intake, sodium intake, activity levels, time of day, time of cycle (females) etc. Therefore, trying to stick to an exact weight can prove to be a frustrating pursuit. Therefore, maintaining your weight within a range can be more useful. For example, rather than trying to remain at 80kgs, you try to stay between 78-82kg for example.
Remain as Active as Possible: Seek out as much activity within your day to day life as possible. Can you go for a walk during your lunch break, rather than stay stuck at your desk? Can you meet a friend for a walk, rather than a pint at the pub? Can you get off the bus/train a stop early and walk a little further each day? “A higher number of pedometer recorded daily steps and other measures including everyday activities has likewise been found among weight maintainers.” (Elfhag & Rossner, 2004)