Losing weight is not a desired process for our bodies. Because of how we are wired, our bodies desire to hold onto fat (for survival purposes), not lose it.
When we lose weight, a lot happens on a physiological level. To keep it simple, our bodies processes favor weight regain by doing such things as slowing down metabolism for example.
Our bodies have just been put in a state in which food is scarce and stored energy has been lowered. What would you do if the food in your house was running low and you were 2 weeks away from your next paycheck? Be conservative with what you have and restock your shelves, right?
Well, your body does something similar, which for us who want to lose weight and keep it off, is not ideal.
Most of us are no longer in a position where food is scarce, but our bodies do not realize that so they are still in survival mode (wanting to better use energy and store the highest yielding energy source, fat).
The struggle to keep weight off is multifactorial. Biological and/or physiological mechanisms, our environment, behavior patterns, social group, and genetics all play a role in our weight loss and weight loss maintenance.
Knowing this (that maintaining weight loss is so complex/multifactorial), we must prepare with each of these aspects in mind.
We must do our best to control our environment, change (if need be) our social group to favor our goals, practice behavior change strategies, and be mindful of our bodies desire to hold onto fat (to do our best to control the physiological changes that occur through weight loss).
The latter being the hardest to do as well as (to my knowledge) not having specific nor set rules on going about it.
So, what can we do? How do we take control of these contributors of weight regain so that weight maintenance can be a more easily achievable goal?
Physiological & Biological
I put this one first because it is the one in which we can control the least. I don’t have a background in biology nor an extensive background in physiology, but rather a basic understanding and knowledge on both, so I would not do anyone a disservice by trying to explain the mechanisms of weight regain as if I am an expert nor as if I fully understand them.
Having said that, simply put, it seems that the more we shock our bodies with extremely low calorie diets and excessive cardio (huge deficits) the worse off our metabolism and hormone regulation will be. For this reason it is wise to go slow/take our time losing weight to prevent such a negative impact on our body (physiologically).
It must be noted, however, that weight loss is not a desired process for our bodies (slow or fast), i.e, for survival purposes our bodies want to hold onto fat (the most energy abundant nutrient), not lose it, so it has some “defense mechanisms” in place that make it hard to keep off any weight that is lost (decreased metabolism, increase and decrease in certain hormones, etc).
Our environment plays a key role in our ability to maintain weight loss (or continue any behavior change that produces a desired result). Imagine living in a food court at the mall and having no fresh produce for miles. How likely do you think it is that you would be successful in your weight loss goals? I know personally (no matter how much self-control I’d like to think I have) I’d be at Chick-fil-A 3 times a day, everyday. Likewise, things like not having a sidewalk/a safe place to run, a gym nearby, etc decreases your chances of exercising.
We need to do our best to make our environment positively influence our goals. The easier it is to continue a behavior, the more likely it is that we will keep doing it long-term.
Keeping healthy foods in your home and unhealthy foods out of it will positively influence your diet. Making a small home gym, getting a gym membership at a gym on the way home from work, etc are ways to make your environment work for you, not against you (as far as exercise is concerned).
Think of ways in which you can make your environment positively influence your goals and/or make continuing the new behaviors easy, as well as removing anything that would negatively influence them. The harder it is to do something new, the more likely it is that we will drop the behavior and fall back to our old ways. Every situation is different, however, the general goal is to make our environment work for us not against us.
“You are the sum of the 5 people you are closest to”. If the main people in your life are eating out every night, eating junk food constantly, and not being physically active, you can be sure that you’ll be doing the same (or similar) things.
Do an audit on your social group and aim to be around those who will encourage your goals and/or who have the same (or similar) ones.
As far as family goes, we have to do the best we can. We are not going to stop seeing our kids, leave our spouse, etc just because their goals are different from ours. We can however, make them aware of our goals and ask them to do their best to help support them and/or not negatively influence us to break them (intentionally or not).
Behavior Maintenance Strategies
Self-monitoring: Studies have shown that those who monitor and regulate their new behaviors (as well as their progress) are more likely to continue them. “In a multiple regression equation, each category of self-monitoring contributed significantly to the prediction of weight loss. Furthermore, the independent analysis showed a significant association between each self-monitoring behavior and weight loss. Overall, the use of self-monitoring was found to have a high impact on weight management.” (2) Things such as doing frequent self-weigh ins, tracking daily steps, being aware of your emotions during times of relapse (as well as when passing up temptation), and keeping a food log are some examples that may help you lose more weight as well as increase your chances of keeping it off. Remember, however, that what works great for some will work poorly for others. Some find weighing themselves once a day effective, while others find that unnecessary and sometimes turns negative (through confusion or frustration by weight fluctuations). The key with any advice you receive is to find its effectiveness for YOU and/or to keep what works and discontinue what does not. Regardless of the particular way you choose to monitor your new behaviors (exercise, nutrition, physical activity, etc), it would be wise to do so.
-Keep a food log (not necessarily counting calories, just tracking the food)
-Check your weight once a week, comparing the numbers every 4 weeks
-Use a pedometer throughout the day to track your daily activity
-Track your workouts, strength and/or endurance progress
-Keep a journal, diary, etc tracking your relapses and the emotions, situational context, etc before, during, and after you slipped up
Maintenance motives: In order to sustain a behavior, you must have a sufficient enough reason to continue it. If YOU see no reward or benefit being produced by the new behavior, it is highly unlikely that you will continue it (notice the emphasis on you). The reward has to be sufficient for you personally. Preferably, a strong, emotionally connected reason. We are highly impacted by instant gratification, so a dull, impersonal motive will not fair well with that temptation to skip a workout, eat that box of cookies, or drive past Mcdonald’s on the way home from work.
With each change, truly seek out the personal benefits and how it positively impacts your life. Make yourself aware of these in times of struggle/temptation (using a card with these points on it can be a great way to remind yourself the true benefits of your behavior change in hard times).
Resources: The more abundant and relevant the tools are, the easier the task becomes. Think, a nail gun vs a brick. A brick will pound in some nails, however it would be very inefficient and takes hours, possibly days to do the same job a nail gun would. For the current topic, we are talking about both physical and psychological tools (or resources). Developing the proper knowledge, skills, and strategies can make a night and day difference when it comes to weight loss (and preventing weight regain). Many are unaware it is such a complex and common issue. They figure, I’ll lose the weight and go on my merry way and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, it does not work that way. Though knowing is only half the battle, it is a significant aspect (and half the battle!). Resources can also be physical, such as having proper gym equipment to do the workouts you have planned, purchasing a food scale if you plan on precisely counting calories, etc.
Habits: The easier a new behavior is to do, the longer we will likely do it. And the longer we perform that behavior the easier it becomes. Making habits out of the behaviors that produce the results we want is key to behavior change maintenance. One of the biggest issues in the fitness world is seeking quick fixes which provide short-term results. It is developing habits that will provide long-term success. On average it takes 66 days to develop a habit (make a behavior automatic), with the beginning period being crucial for consistency (3). Consistency is very important in the early stages of developing habits, having less of an effect on automaticity (doing a behavior with little to no thought) early on rather than the later stages. The timeframe it takes to develop a habit does, however, depend on the particular behavior that you are attempting to adopt. For example, drinking a glass of water before or after breakfast is going to be easier to make a habit than exercising 3 days a week.
Environmental and social influences: (both covered previously in Environment and Social Group section)
I want to thank you for reading and I hope this article can aid you in planning for and/or preparing for weight regain after weight loss.
Email me [email@example.com] for the pdf of this article to download and read/refer back to whenever you want.