The real challenge (and victory) in weight loss is maintaining that slim waist after you’ve shed those extra pounds. Weight cycling, commonly known as yo-yo-dieting, is a frequent problem of many people who lose substantial pounds. A study in the journal Obesity, which followed 14 contestants from The Biggest Loser for six years after the 2009 season, found that 13 of the former contestants regained weight after the competition ended. And four contestants actually weighed more than did when they first joined the show. The researchers who conducted the study say after someone loses weight, the body reacts with a potentially handicapping combination: a stronger appetite and slowing metabolism. So how do you fight back?
Put these 10 simple strategies into play to control hunger, rev up your metabolism, and avoid pound creep from gradual increases in calorie consumption. And while you’re at it, try out these 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.
If you’ve recently shed a ton of weight, you should absolutely celebrate your success—with a tall glass of water! Just kidding. Go ahead and treat yourself. You deserve it. However, if your celebrations involve many consecutive happy hours or big portions of your favorite, fat- and sugar-laden chocolate cakes, odds are, you’ll see the weight creep back onto you before you know it. Remind yourself of this sobering stat before you open a bottle of wine: alcohol can decrease your body’s fat-burning ability by up to 73%!
Here’s a smarter way to celebrate: reward yourself with something you can’t put in your mouth. Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a New York City-based Registered Dietitian, suggests making a concerted effort to not use food as a reward. “I suggest using things like manicures and SoulCycle classes as a reward for all the hard work,” she says. When you eat junk food during times of emotional eating, it “will only lead to unhealthy yo-yo dieting.”
The most important concept to keep in mind after you’ve lost significant pounds is “metabolic adaptation.”
During weight loss, your body’s metabolism naturally slows down calorie burn on a daily basis to hang onto fat. In addition, your levels of leptin, the satiety hormone that tells your body when you’ve had your fill, actually drop after weight loss, so you may feel hungry. The key to avoiding going back to eating the same number of calories you did before you lost weight is to double down on your awareness of calorie content and size of meals. Do that by keeping a daily food diary for at least a week after you’ve reached your weight-loss goal. Studies show that being more mindful of what you eat (and how many calories they contain) will help you to make healthier food choices and reduce snacking on calorie-dense processed foods. Such a casual accounting will also turn the spotlight on how much (or little) fiber you are getting in your diet. A high-fiber diet, primarily from beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables is critical to maintaining weight loss.
Most people who’ve reached their goal weight stop stepping on the scale. That’s a mistake. Although the number on the scale isn’t the only way to judge your continued success, research shows that those who avoid the ritual tend to pack on more weight than those who don’t. Why? The scale keeps you mindful of your diet, and it will quickly tip you off to weight regain. There’s no need to be a slave to your scale; checking in once a week should do the trick. And here’s a tip: Since weight naturally fluctuates throughout the week, researchers say that Wednesday weigh-ins are the most accurate.
These enticing frozen options are marketed as nutritious and convenient, so we can’t say we blame you for grabbing one off the shelf. But many of them are healthy-eating, pound-dropping enemies in disguise. Just because they’re touted as portion-controlled and low calorie, doesn’t mean you should stock up. Like most ultra-processed foods, many frozen entrées from diet programs pack a surprising amount of health-harming sugar—7 grams or more, plus inflammation-causing, processed additives. And as often as possible, make your meals at home from scratch. Doing so can help you banish these added sugars as well as to cut calorie consumption by an average of 200 calories a day, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
After hitting your goal weight, some regimented dietary habits are bound to fall by the wayside. And, if eating adequate amounts of protein is one of them, it may be the reason the weight is starting to sneak back on. While getting enough of the nutrient can keep your muscle from breaking down, not getting enough can slow your metabolic rate. Just maintaining muscle mass helps to burn calories faster, so your body will then torch unwanted fat. Without muscle, you’ll be more susceptible to unwanted weight gain.
Protein intake differs by the individual. However, for many people, consuming 0.8 to one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day should be sufficient enough to help maintain your weight loss. For a 130-pound person, that would equal between 46 and 58 grams of protein. Good sources of the nutrient include low-fat dairy, beans, grilled chicken, fish, lean cuts of beef, pork, grains or nuts, and quinoa.
It may have worked to drop water weight and melt away the pounds at first, but completely slashing your carbohydrate intake will leave you with some not-so-pleasant side effects that can make it hard to go about your daily routine. Your body will start to exhibit signs of exhaustion, irritability, and lethargy—all emotions, which have also been connected with overeating.
“Carbs are essential [in our daily lives] as our brain and [central nervous system] require them continuously to work properly,” says trainer and RD, Tim McComsey. Restricting carbs completely will cause any newly-added, fat-burning muscle mass to be metabolized for energy, rather than carbs. As long as you keep carbs to a reasonable percentage of your daily calories, and choose the right ones, these starches don’t have to hit the curb.
While working out is critical for maintaining your metabolism, if you haven’t switched up your workout routine recently, your body’s main calorie-torching mechanism may have idled down to slow-burn. Wake up your metabolic rate by shocking your muscles, suggests Sean M. Wells, personal trainer and author of Double-Crossed: A Review of the Most Extreme Exercise Program.
“If you’ve been doing the same workout for the past few months, your body isn’t being challenged anymore, meaning it’s not burning as many calories as it otherwise could,” he explains. If you normally ride a bike for exercise, try running or tennis to give your metabolism a kick. Can’t bear to leave your stationary bike? Look for an intense spin class or challenge yourself by changing up your typical route. Work in some steep, long hill climbs to increase resistance.
Antidepressants, birth control pills, beta-blockers, anti-seizure and migraine meds, steroids, and rheumatoid arthritis treatments can all affect appetite, metabolism, and weight. Never stop taking a prescription drug on your own. If you believe a drug is causing your weight gain, inform your doctor; he or she may adjust the medication or suggest an alternative.
Inadequate sleep can slow your metabolism and pile on the pounds. In a study, researchers analyzed more than 500 participants’ weekday sleep diaries and found that losing a mere 30 minutes of shut-eye increased their risk of obesity by 17%! Even mild sleep deprivation causes ghrelin—the hunger-stimulating hormone–to go into overdrive while simultaneously reducing levels of leptin–the hormone that suppresses appetite. In turn, this stimulates hunger even when you’re full which can lead to overeating and weight gain.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests logging seven or eight hours of quality sleep each night. If you want to get back to your more slender self, try going to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual. See how you feel in the morning. Continue adjusting your bedtime until you awake without an alarm clock assist and feel refreshed and well-rested.
Here’s an easy way to combat the metabolism slow down that often comes after weight loss: Drink green tea, a natural metabolism booster rocket. In a study, participants who added a daily habit of drinking 4 to 5 cups of green tea to their 25-minute workout routine lost an average of two more pounds and more belly fat than the non-tea drinkers. How does it work? The brew contains catechins, a type of antioxidant that triggers the release of fat from fat cells and helps speed the liver’s capacity for turning fat into energy, which will help rev up your metabolism. And if you’re looking for more, here’s how you can harness the power of tea to lose weight.