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Losing weight can be challenging, and for many people, maintaining that weight loss can be equally challenging. But it’s possible. Through adopting certain daily habits like eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, and engaging in exercise that you enjoy, you may find that maintaining your weight is easier than you think.
What does it mean to maintain weight?
Weight maintenance is keeping your body weight around a specific weight range, as opposed to one set number.
It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate throughout the day from fluid shifts, eating, and changes in muscle and fat tissue. Because of these daily changes, weight maintenance is often defined as a weight change of less than 3% of someone’s current body weight (Stevens, 2006).
So, for someone who typically weighs about 150 pounds, weight maintenance would be staying between 145 to 155 pounds.
How to maintain weight loss
Maintaining weight loss can be challenging for several reasons, including:
- Restrictive diets: Some people are more likely to overeat after following a restrictive diet. And extreme calorie restriction may cause shifts in your metabolism and appetite-regulating hormones, which may make you more likely to regain weight (Rosenbaum, 2010).
- Mindset: Thinking of diets and lifestyle changes as short-term changes may make you more likely to regain weight than when you view the changes as new, long-term habits.
- Return to old habits: Some people base diets on using willpower for a set period rather than incorporating healthy habits daily. When you view your diet as a quick fix, it may be easier to drop the rules once it’s over and return to less healthy habits.
To set yourself up for success, try to view weight maintenance—and even weight loss—as long-term lifestyle changes. Find pieces of your weight loss plan you enjoyed and focus on adding those habits into your daily life.
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Consider asking yourself: What healthy foods and eating habits help you feel good? What exercises do you enjoy doing? What are some fun ways to add more movement to your daily life?
Exploring habits that help you feel better and that you enjoy doing will make them easier to follow consistently. Making these healthy habits just a part of your daily life makes it easier to maintain a healthy body weight.
Tips for healthy nutrition and weight maintenance
Here are some tips to help you maintain your weight through diet and lifestyle habits:
Regular workouts play an essential role in maintaining weight.
Research shows strength training or weightlifting supports a healthy metabolism. A review of research found that increasing muscle was associated with improvements in blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes (Al-Ozairi, 2021).
Studies also show that vigorous exercise improves risk factors for chronic diseases like reducing the fat around organs, improving glucose and insulin levels, and improving cardiovascular health (Swift, 2014).
Add more movement throughout the day
Most people have heard of the recommendation to get around 150 minutes per week of physical activity (Swift, 2014). But some research suggests working in more movement throughout the day is also beneficial for long-term health.
Physical activity is any movement that uses energy, while exercise or workouts are a form of planned physical activity. Research suggests physical activity may be an essential part of maintaining weight (Cox, 2017).
A 2014 study found that people who consistently got more than 150 minutes of physical activity each week regained less weight than less active people (Moholdt, 2014).
When it comes to the benefits beyond weight maintenance, such as reducing your risk of heart attack, diabetes, and other conditions, it doesn’t really matter whether you exercise in one continuous 30-minute session or break it up into smaller segments.
Do whatever way works best for you, and not all of your physical activity needs to be vigorous exercise. Even taking the stairs or going for a walk can come with health benefits (Saint-Maurice, 2018).
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Try to eat consistent meals
Eating consistent meals can look different for everyone. There isn’t one best eating pattern because it depends on how your body responds to food, how much you exercise, and if you want to build muscle.
Many people claim breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And there are some research studies to support that eating breakfast was protective against weight regain (Brikou, 2016). However, other research suggests skipping breakfast may be better for weight maintenance for some people (Zilberter, 2014).
Ultimately, the best eating pattern depends on the individual.
If you’re skipping breakfast and find yourself extremely hungry later in the day and overeating, maybe try eating a meal earlier in the day.
But if you’re not hungry in the morning and don’t feel like breakfast helps support your weight goals, try delaying your first meal to see how you feel without breakfast.
Manage stress levels
Managing stress can have a big impact on your weight. Stress can lead to changes in several hormones that influence weight, like cortisol, neurotransmitters, and adrenaline (Ranabir, 2011).
For example, chronic mental stress may lead to decreases in fullness hormones and increases in the appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin. These changes in hormone levels and metabolism have led some researchers to believe stress is one of the contributors to the higher levels of obesity (Ranabir, 2011).
Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage your stress, like exercising, meditating, or journaling. And if you find that stress greatly impacts your daily life and your relationships, talking with a mental health professional may help.
Stress eating: what is it and how do you stop it?
Eat lots of fiber
Fiber is a part of plant foods that isn’t fully digested. Instead, it helps to promote regularity in bowel movements.
It can also help you feel fuller longer, which could make it easier to stick to eating fewer calories and smaller portion sizes.
A 2019 study found that dietary fiber intake helped promote weight loss and adherence to a calorie-restricted diet (Miketinas, 2019).
Some foods high in fiber include:
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens
Eat lots of protein
A higher protein diet may support body weight maintenance.
Research shows a high protein diet during weight loss helps support more fat tissue weight loss while preserving muscle tissue. The 2015 research review suggested eating 25–30 grams of protein per meal may help improve appetite, weight maintenance, and cardiometabolic risk factors (Leidy, 2015).
A few foods high in protein include:
- Red meat
- Dairy products
9 vegan protein sources to help you round out your diet
Be careful with excess sugar and highly processed foods
A higher intake of highly processed foods with added sugar may lead to weight gain (Morenga, 2012).
Usually, processed foods tend to be higher in calories and lower in other nutrients, like vitamins and minerals. Sometimes, people refer to these types of foods as “empty calories” because they offer less nutritional value while providing a lot of calories.
However, researchers haven’t established a link between the amount of processed foods consumed and weight gain. Study results do show higher intakes of processed and sugar-sweetened foods increase the odds of gaining weight, but there is no exact amount known to cause weight gain (Morenga, 2012).
So, don’t stress yourself out over trying to have perfect eating habits. Enjoying an occasional treat to satisfy a craving or to celebrate a loved one’s birthday is likely fine. Moderation is key.
Consider planning meals in advance
Creating a plan for what foods you want to eat may help prevent impulsive food choices that don’t align with your healthy weight goals.
A consistent eating pattern and building a habit of choosing nutritious foods can help support your overall well-being.
Having a plan for what you’re going to eat may make it easier to stick to healthy habits when stressful days happen.
Keep healthy snacks on hand
During a busy day, it can become challenging to prepare or cook healthy foods. Keeping healthy snacks easy to grab makes it easy to opt for a nutritious choice.
Try to keep some fruits and vegetables washed and prepped so it’s easy to grab them for a snack when busy. And if you don’t have time to get produce ready, consider keeping nutritious, convenient foods on hand, like nuts.
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Try some more active hobbies
How you spend your leisure time can influence your weight.
One research study found watching less than 10 hours of TV per week was associated with better success at maintaining weight loss long-term (Raynor, 2006).
Consider trying some new, more active hobbies like:
- Hiking or walking
- Playing sports
Drinking enough water may help support weight loss and your overall health.
By swapping high-calorie beverages with water, you can reduce your calorie intake. Staying hydrated can also help you feel fuller by increasing the volume of liquid in your stomach (Bracamontes-Castelo, 2019).
Get enough sleep
A 2021 study found that better sleep was associated with greater weight and fat loss (Kline, 2021).
Trouble sleeping: causes and what you can do
And the benefits don’t stop there. Lack of sleep is associated with high risks for (Worley, 2018):
- High blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
- Heart disease
- Mental health disorders
Getting enough high-quality sleep is important for weight maintenance and overall health and wellbeing. If you struggle with sleeping through the night, try adopting some good sleep hygiene practices like not using your cellphone in bed and limiting your caffeine intake.
Grow your support system
The people in your life can influence your habits. Growing a support system of people who also follow healthy habits and maintain a healthy weight can help your weight maintenance efforts.
A 2015 study found people are more likely to make and stick to a health behavior change if their partner does, too (Jackson, 2015).
Practice mindful eating
Mindfulness is a practice of slowing down and building awareness of the present moment.
Often, people eat while distracted, like watching TV or working. Mindless eating could lead to more compulsive eating and overeating.
Practicing mindful eating could help people slow down and bring more awareness to their meals. The increased awareness may help lower compulsive eating and help people notice when they feel full (Janssen, 2018).
Consider tracking food
Tracking the food you eat, either in a tracking app or by writing on paper, helps build awareness of how much you’re eating.
Many people have a hard time remembering what they had to eat a few meals ago. So, they may not be aware of how much food they are eating.
Tracking your food can help keep you on track and aware of the types of food you eat.
Food journaling and mindful eating: benefits and how to practice
Create sustainable habits
The goal is to create long-term sustainable habits that help you stay healthy throughout your life.
Many people view diets as a short-term fix to reach a goal, and they may fall into an all-or-nothing mindset. In an all-or-nothing mindset, it’s common to flip between doing everything “perfect” and giving up if you eat one food that’s off your eating plan. People with this mindset tend to overeat or binge eat with the goal of restarting tomorrow.
Try to remember that if you eat one food that you consider less healthy, it doesn’t mean the whole day is ruined. Instead, view your healthy diet as a long-term goal. Aim for consistency and balance. One food doesn’t have a big impact on your weight. It’s the foods you eat consistently that influence your weight.
So, eating a piece of birthday cake or one dessert is okay when you focus on most of your meals being full of nutritious foods.
Maintaining your weight: the bottom line
Diets and short-term weight loss plans can be restrictive and not build the habits that lead to long-term success.
When your goal is to maintain a lower weight, you want to build sustainable habits and promote your health and weight-management long-term. Setbacks can happen. Try to view them as a chance to learn and use them to make small changes to support your health.
The 8 first steps to healthy weight loss: setting you up for success
While it can be challenging, it is possible to keep the weight off by focusing on taking care of your health by getting enough sleep, managing stress, eating nutritious foods, getting social support, and moving your body regularly.
If you’re experiencing challenges with weight management, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider or a dietitian for support in creating a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
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Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.