Maintaining weight loss can actually be more difficult than losing it in the first place. Many people who succeed at losing weight end up gaining some or all of it back over time. This is especially true if they lost the weight by following a restrictive diet that’s impossible to sustain long-term. Once they return to their regular eating habits the pounds slowly start to creep back on. People who successfully maintain their weight loss understand that they need to make lifestyle changes to permanently keep the weight off.
Several studies have examined the habits of people who lost weight and kept it off. The National Weight Control Registry followed over 10,000 adults who lost an average of 66 pounds and had kept it off for an average of 5.5 years. Data from this study have led to a better understanding of what behaviors actually lead to maintaining weight loss.
Below are the 6 lifestyle habits that scientific studies have found to be associated with maintaining weight loss long-term.
Eating More Meals at Home
In a study of adults who lost ≥10 % of their weight and kept it off at least one year, eating at home was frequently reported among men who maintained their weight loss.
When you eat out, you are more likely to make unhealthy choices and eat larger portions. When you prepare your own food you have more control over what’s in it and therefore avoid the excess oil, sugar, and salt found in most fast food and restaurant meals.
Meal prepping is one of the best strategies to consistently eat meals at home during the week. Keeping a well-stocked pantry and freezer will also make it easy to throw together quick, healthy meals when your time is limited.
Regular Physical Activity
People who maintain a significant weight loss report high levels of physical activity. In one analysis from the National Weight Control Registry, weight loss maintainers did an average of 41.5 minutes per day of sustained moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults need at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, to maintain weight loss. The guidelines also suggest that some adults will need to do at least 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week to control their weight.
Engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, for at least 30 minutes on most days is important to maintain weight loss. Moderate activity includes walking briskly (4 mph), heavy cleaning (mopping or washing windows), or light bicycling (10-12 mph). Vigorous exercise includes activities like jogging (6 mph), shoveling, or bicycling fast (14-16 mph).
Consistently eating breakfast is associated with keeping weight off. In a study of people who kept an average of 32 pounds off for 6 years, 78% reported eating breakfast every day. Almost 90% reported eating breakfast most days.
Eating breakfast may reduce hunger later in the day. This will prevent overeating or unhealthy food choices due to extreme hunger. Also, if you workout in the morning, eating breakfast will give you the energy to do a more intense workout.
Try to include healthy fat and protein into your breakfast to keep you full longer. Add some nuts to your oatmeal for healthy fat or make a vegetable omelet for a meal full of protein. Have some fruit on the side for added micronutrients and fiber.
Weigh Yourself Regularly
Those who maintain their weight loss regularly check their weight. A study from the National Weight Control Registry reported that 36% of participants weighed themselves daily. An additional 42% weighed themselves at least weekly. Those who weighed themselves daily had significantly lower BMIs than those who weighed themselves a few times per week or less.
Weighing yourself at regular intervals is a form of accountability. This habit helps you notice if you start gaining weight back. Detecting weight gain early allows you to make behavioral changes to prevent gaining additional weight, like exercise more consistently or eat cleaner.
Limit Time Watching TV
Sedentary behaviors, like watching TV, can interfere with maintaining weight loss. In the National Weight Control Registry, a study found that 62% of participants watched 10 or fewer hours of TV per week. About a third (36%) of participants watched <5 hours per week. This is far less than the average 35 hours per week that US adults watch TV.
If you reduce the amount of time that you watch TV, you will have more time to engage in behaviors that promote maintaining a healthy weight. You can use that extra time to be more physically active, cook a healthy meal, or do some meal prepping.
Improve Your Sleep Quality
A study from the National Weight Control Registry found that people who maintained their weight loss had significantly better sleep quality compared to overweight and obese participants.
Adults who were able to maintain their weight loss reported longer sleep duration, shorter time to fall asleep, and better sleep quality. Weight loss maintainers were also less likely to report sleeping <7 hours per night.
Sleep deprivation leads to decreased levels of leptin (a hormone that decreases appetite) and increased levels of ghrelin (a hormone that increases appetite). Furthermore, the fatigue from inadequate sleep may cause some people to reduce their level of physical activity which is important for maintaining weight loss.
If you need to improve your sleep quality, start implementing small changes. Try to consistently go to sleep at the same time each night or start a nighttime ritual to wind down like gentle stretching or reading 15 minutes before bed.
Trying to maintain weight loss long-term can be just as challenging, if not more so, than losing the weight initially.
Maintaining a lower weight requires incorporating new habits into your lifestyle. The behaviors outlined above were identified in research studies as being associated with maintaining weight-loss long-term.
If you have successfully lost weight and are not already incorporating these habits into your day, choose one to slowly integrate into your routine. This will help to ensure that you keep off the weight that you worked so hard to lose.