How To Lose Weight and Keep It Off
How to lose weight and keep it off — a challenge many of us struggle with. Losing weight is the easy part. Your diet is structured, your motivation is high, and the feedback is immediate. Each time the scale flashes a smaller number, or your clothes feel bigger, or someone mentions how great you look, you feel better about yourself.
Eventually, your body fights back. Research by Kevin Hall, Ph.D., at the National Institutes of Health shows that weight loss usually stalls after a few months, due to an increased appetite and decreased satiety.
Hall's research found that for each pound of lost weight, your body burns 10 to 15 fewer calories per day while making you hungrier for 50 more calories of food.
So imagine that you’ve lost 20 pounds. Your body responds by burning 200 to 300 fewer calories and increasing your appetite to the tune of 1,000 calories. Each day.
Now imagine how difficult it would be to try to lose 10 more pounds while your body fights back against the 20 you’ve already lost. What’s the alternative?
Maintain Your Weight Instead of Losing More
“Not gaining weight is better and healthier than losing weight,” said Jason Karp, Ph.D., a running coach and author of eight books, including Run Your Fat Off.
It sounds counterintuitive, but consider this: The average American gains a pound or two a year, and more than 20 pounds between early adulthood and middle age. Granted, most of those people aren’t exercising in any serious way, much less training for a Spartan race. But studies have shown that even dedicated runners gain weight over time; they just gain a lot less than people who aren’t as dedicated.
Moreover, by focusing on holding the line at your current weight, you don’t have to worry about a ravenous appetite or slower metabolism. Nor will you deal with the daily stress of a body fighting to weigh more than you want it to.
The following are tried and true ways to keep your weight where it is now.
Strategy #1: Exercise
Want to know how to lose weight and keep it off? Start sweating, Dr. Karp says.
“The research is pretty clear,” said Karp. “Cutting calories gets the weight off, and exercise keeps it off.”
How much exercise? In 2009, the American College of Sports Medicine recommended at least 250 minutes a week to maintain weight loss. That's just 35 minutes a day. The National Weight Control Registry consistently finds that its members average close to an hour a day of exercise.
Any type of serious, consistent exercise should work. But if you like to run, it’s hard to beat it for weight control.
“Running is perhaps the best way to maintain lost weight because of its huge caloric burn, and because it’s a very sustainable strategy,” said Karp. “People don't start running to lose weight and then stop. They continue with it for the rest of their lives because they get caught up in the lifestyle and the community.”
Strategy #2: Weigh-In Weekly
Three-quarters of the weight registry’s participants weigh themselves at least once a week. That may seem like a lot to those who hate or fear the scale.
But lots of research shows that the more often you weigh yourself, the easier it is to maintain. Whether you're avoiding packing on pounds in a tricky situation (like a 2014 study of college freshman) or prevent lost pounds from coming back.
Strategy #3: Create Habits
If you’ve ever been described as a “creature of habit,” it probably wasn’t a compliment. But people who know how to lose weight and keep it off are very much defined by daily routines. Among the weight-stabilizing habits identified by the registry are these:
- Regular meals. Most registry members eat breakfast every day. That doesn’t mean that a morning meal has magical properties. But it does show the benefit of controlling when you eat, rather than waiting for hunger to control you.
- Home cooking. The more meals you prepare, and the less frequently you eat away from home, the easier it is to monitor both the quantity and quality of your food. Here are six ingredients to avoid.
- Limited variety. Like daily weighing, a monotonous diet sounds bad, but research shows it’s easier to manage your daily calories when you eat more or less the same foods. If nothing else, it makes your life simpler; once you hit on a combination that gives you enough energy to train hard without gaining weight, you’ll spend a lot less time planning meals and shopping for ingredients. And food prep will be easier and less stressful.
The best news about weight management is that it gets somewhat easier over time. Research on weight registry members shows that the first year of weight loss is the most perilous. Those who start regaining before the year is out are least likely to keep it off long-term. But those who can hold the line for at least two years are the most likely to keep their weight steady long into the future.
As for those who’ve never lost weight, the same tactics should guarantee that you never have to worry about it.
Need some fresh workouts? Download the Spartan Bodyweight Workout Plan.