Last week I talked about how the best diet is the one you’ll follow. Despite many marketing dollars to convince you otherwise, no particular diet is significantly more effective than another.
Since two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, it’s understandable that most people are concerned with weight loss. Getting there is often a crooked line of trial and error or relying on the most popular quick fix. We need guidance.
Weight maintenance isn’t nearly as sexy a subject. It’s vague… in the future. We’re so focused on this “end goal” that we don’t want to think about what changes will be necessary when we’re at that ideal weight.
But unless you want to have a recurring relationship with those same 20, 30, or 40 pounds (or whatever), it’s time to pay attention to what science says about weight maintenance. While weight loss means making temporary behavioral and cognitive changes, maintaining your weight is another matter.
Why Not Simply Keep Dieting?
This is one of the main reasons people regain weight. Most of us cannot realistically maintain a restrictive-calorie diet over the long term. It’s just not easy. Sure, some people continue to track their daily calorie intakes, and that’s fine if it works for you, but surely most of us don’t want to restrict carbs for the rest of our lives, or whatever restriction a diet places on us. The long-term effects of restrictive diets such as low-carb are not clear, although we do know that exercise will be quite challenging without carbs (not good for weight maintenance, as you’ll see next). And if you’re on a restricted-calorie diet forever, well, you’ll have very little lean muscle mass and a slower metabolism. You get the point.
Exercise: A Daily Ritual
While exercise plays a lesser role in weight loss, it’s extremely important in weight maintenance. “Many people need to do more than 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity to meet weight-control goals,” according to Dr. Holly Wyatt, physician and clinical researcher at the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Denver. That’s really not as bad as it sounds – it’s five hours of activity a week (which should include some strength training), as you can see:
Habits of Long-Term Maintainers
Does this mean you shouldn’t watch your diet after you lose the weight? Definitely not – an energy balance is what prevents anyone from gaining weight. But data from the National Weight Loss Registry shows that while diverse, there are certain dietary behaviors that successful people use to keep the weight off for at least five years :
If changes such as these become one’s lifestyle, weight loss can become permanent.
In addition to maintaining a low-calorie, low-fat diet and doing high levels of activity (about one hour per day), NWLR members:
- Weigh themselves at least once a week (75%)
- Watch less than 10 hours of TV per week (62%)
This doesn’t mean you have to do all of these things to keep the weight off. But it’s wise to look at what seemingly small behavioral changes add up to success. There are a vast number of ways for which to lose weight and an equally large variety of ways to keep it off.
Incidentally, how fast you lose the weight doesn’t seem to have an effect on whether you can keep it off, although losing weight slowly can help prevent muscle loss and prevent hormonal disruption.
You’ll notice that in weight maintenance, macronutrients play more of a role. As I said in The Truth About Which Diets Work the Best, research shows that the composition of your diet is less important when losing weight. But for keeping it off, a low-fat diet seems to work best.
On your path to weight loss, become familiar with habits of successful maintainers. The end goal of weight loss isn’t really the end goal at all. Maintaining a healthy weight – and living a long, healthy life – is the longer term goal we should keep our eye on.
Image Credits: All images courtesy of Holly Wyatt, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, Associate Director, Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, CO. “Current Evidence on Weight Loss and Weight Management: What Do We Really Know?” Presented at the Fitness and Health Bloggers Conference, Denver, CO, June 2012.