If you have worked hard to lose weight, you will want to enjoy your new healthy weight for the rest of your life. Here are ten tips for achieving lifelong weight maintenance:
1. Monitor Your Weight
Weigh yourself once a week (do not weigh yourself too often it is natural for your weight to fluctuate daily). Use your bathroom scales, or find a pair of pants that are comfortable at your goal weight and identify if they get significantly tighter or looser.
It is normal for your weight to fluctuate by 1-2 kilograms, but if you notice your weight increasing on two or more consecutive weeks try one (or a combination) of the following three actions:
1) Decrease your calorie intake
2) Increase the duration and / or frequency of your exercise sessions
3) Change any areas of your lifestyle, behaviour or environment that could be hindering your weight management efforts.
You should set an upper and a lower limit on your weight (a Dietitian can help you set appropriate limits). If you hit your upper or lower limit, seek professional help from a Dietitian as soon as possible. And do not procrastinate for too long - it is much easier to reverse a 1-2kg weight gain than it is to reverse a 5-7kg weight gain!
2. Monitor Your Eating Patterns
It is important that you maintain a consistent eating pattern for the rest of your life - do not change it too drastically on weekends or when you go away on holidays.
Documenting what you eat is a great habit. By keeping a food diary you can ensure that you are eating the right amounts of food from each of the five food groups and check that you are eating regularly (that means not skipping any meals).
Hopefully you engaged in regular exercise while you were losing weight. To maintain your weight you need to exercise at a moderate intensity (a rate at which your heart rate is elevated but you can still carry out a conversation) for at least 150 minutes per week (1). A great way to achieve this is to walk for 30 minutes on five days of every week. For the fitter members of the audience, you can try vigorous cardiovascular exercise such as jogging for 20 minutes a day on three days of every week.
If you want to change the shape of your body or strengthen your muscles, try resistance training. Resistance training is performing exercise against an opposing force such as water, free weights, weight machines, a theraband, a fit ball or even your own body weight. Resistance training offers many benefits: it increases the proportion of lean body tissue (muscle) in your body contributing to a higher metabolic rate. Plus it improves your posture, flexibility and strength. If you are interested in starting a resistance training program, it is best to have a program designed by an Exercise Physiologist or a personal trainer.
4. Continue to Set Goals
The goal of weight loss is change, whereas the goal of weight maintenance is no change. It can be harder to eat well and exercise when you do not see results for the effort you are putting in. To account for this, try setting other life goals that are better enjoyed at a lower weight (e.g. joining a community fun walk or going travelling).
5. Reward Yourself
When you were losing weight you were probably enjoying the associated rewards the complements from other people, the excitement of fitting into smaller clothes and the joy of jumping onto the scales and seeing a smaller number. So you will need a new set of rewards for maintaining your weight. Perhaps you can treat yourself to a massage, buy a book or have a manicure of pedicure at the end of every month. Continue these rewards for at least the first few years after weight loss.
6. Enlist Support
While you were losing weight you probably received encouragement from family, friends and health professionals. Weight maintenance can be just as difficult as weight loss at times - and it can be a more isolated process. But it does not have to be that way. Tell the important people in your life that maintaining your healthy weight is important to you, and that you would like their support and encouragement for the long term.
7. Remain Vigilant
It is easy to get complacent when you achieve your weight loss goal. People sometimes fall into the trap of thinking, "I can have that extra scoop of chocolate ice cream for dessert because I have lost a lot of weight and I am feeling really good". Just because you have lost weight it does not mean that extra calories do not add up anymore.
It is important to treat yourself from time to time, but it is also important to recognise when extra treats are creeping into your diet too often. By keeping a food diary (or just listing the extras you are having on a notepad) you can identify how frequently you are treating yourself. You should consume no more than 2-3 treats per week, and whenever you consume a treat limit yourself to a 200 Calorie portion.
8. Be Organised
It is hard to manage your weight when the rest of your life is in chaos. Leave plenty of time for relaxation, sleeping, shopping for healthy foods, preparing healthy meals and exercising.
9. Maintain your Self Esteem
Maintain a healthy level of self esteem - do not link how you feel about yourself to your weight. Be happy with you weight and proud of the weight loss that you have achieved.
10. Do Not Use Food to Stabilise Your Moods
If you are feeling stressed or upset, find a non-food related way of calming yourself - go for a walk, take a bath or call a friend.
Lastly, do not forget that weight maintenance can be just as challenging as weight loss (if not more so in the first two years). But it gets easier with time, and by following our advice you will be well on your way to success.
(1) Donnelly, J et al. 2009, 'Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults', Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41 (2) pp 459-471