Losing weight is one challenge—keeping it off is another. And studies show that maintaining weight loss may actually be harder than dropping pounds to begin with. According to a 2016 study, up to 86% of dieters end up regaining weight in the two years after losing it.
There are many factors behind why keeping weight off is so hard, such as metabolic adaptation, when weight loss slows your metabolism. But the most commonly cited reason from dietitians is a lack of establishing sustainable eating habits.
“One of the biggest reasons why people struggle with maintaining their weight loss is because most people lose weight by dieting, and diets typically only produce short term results,” says Tamar Samuels, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and co-founder of Culina Health.
“In order to have sustainable results, it takes true lifestyle changes and focusing on developing healthy habits with sleep, stress management, physical activity, and nutrition. The true secret to sustainable weight loss is finding a healthy lifestyle plan that is good for you (physically and mentally) and that you can do happily for the rest of your life,” Samuels adds.
We asked registered dietitians for their lifestyle habits and diet tips they recommend you use to keep weight off after successfully losing it. Read on, and for more on how to lose weight, you won’t want to miss The Best Ways to Lose Belly Fat for Good, Say Doctors.
To maintain weight loss, “stay consistent with your (newly-formed) routines,” says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Head of Nutrition and Wellness at WW. “Eating consistently (every 3-4 hours); stick with your schedule as it relates to physical activity (if you’re in the habit of spinning every Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., why stop now?), keep up with ingredient and meal-prep, and maintaining any/all micro-habits that have become a part of your newly-honed activities of daily life!” she says.
“The beauty of a more holistic approach to wellness is that ultimately, the only way weight-loss truly becomes weight-management over time is to make choices that feel right for you by discovering new foods, activities, recipes, sleep habits, etc. that you truly enjoy or see value in while you’re actually eating/doing it!”
RELATED: Sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!
Despite our days being full of scheduled meetings and errands, we generally lack structure in our personal lives and particularly our eating habits. “I urge people to create a structure—plan when, what, and how much you are going to eat, and try to stick to it as best as possible,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU.
“Fruit and vegetables are the most nutrient-dense foods, meaning they have the most vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients for the least amount of calories. Having produce with every meal and snack ensures that you are eating foods that keep you satisfied and are also low in calories = sustainable weight loss,” says Samuels. Related: 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now
“If you have the healthy snacks to munch on here’s how you can eat more— keep the fridge stocked with berries, baby carrots, and other simple grab and go healthy foods,” says Dr. Young. “You can control what you have in your food environment so I urge people to keep healthy foods in the house. This is half the battle!”
“Allowing yourself permission to have 1 ‘dessert’ a day in a correct portion hacks the part of the brain that feels like you are depriving yourself,” says Alana Kessler, MS, RD, registered dietitian and founder of Be Well By Alana Kessler. “Deprivation can lead to gaining weight out of rebellion or the need to soothe from rigidity.”
“Nothing motivates a person more than seeing progress being made. Write down your accomplishments every month so you have evidence of all the great stuff you have done. I recommend noting outcomes and behaviors that you have accomplished, both big and small. Maintaining your weight something that most people struggle with doing, so make sure you celebrate yourself every month when you do it!” says Samuels.
“You don’t have to weigh and measure every morsel of food but you want to be aware of how much you are eating. For example, when pouring cereal, many people pour 3 cups into a bowl instead of the recommended 1 cup. Also, eat mindfully and pay attention to hunger levels,” says Dr. Young.
While you can stay conscious of portions as you’re eating, if you find that you have trouble with that technique, Dr. Young suggests that you can also pre-portion your snacks. “Pre-portioning snacks in advance or having measuring cups handy works well too. For example, it’s really easy to eat an entire jar of nuts mindlessly. Keeping a quarter cup measuring cup around helps you to gauge a 1-ounce serving, or proportioning a serving and storing in plastic baggies also helps.”
“Start your day off right! A healthy breakfast is key to keep satiety in check and prevents you from reaching out when hangry for unhealthy foods later,” says registered dietitian Melissa Halas, MA, RD, CDE, founder of Melissa’s Healthy Living and SuperKids Nutrition.
“My best tip for keeping the weight off is to develop healthy habits that will help maintain your metabolism and that are sustainable. Drinking water as soon as you wake up can boost your metabolism up to 25% and help get a jump start on your hydration, which will help you to maintain your metabolism and energy level during the day,” says Megan Byrd, RD, a registered dietitian and founder of The Oregon Dietitian blog.
“Keep the cookies and cakes stashed away so that they are less tempting. And try to tune into your internal feelings of hunger too, and eat when hungry. If you have the urge to eat, ask yourself if you are hungry or bored and stressed,” says Dr. Young.
“Finding ways to be active, even if you don’t have time or the energy to work out, such as taking the stairs, playing with the kids, or even just going on a walk,” shares Byrd.
“Find ways to add more fiber and protein into your meals to help you stay full longer, like throwing chia seeds in your smoothie, adding ground flaxseed to your salad, or making protein coffee in the morning. All of these things are super simple, but can really be effective in the long run!” recommends Byrd.
Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Fitter Living, agrees: “Eat healthy foods that contain at least 1 of these 4 things: fiber foods, fluid, healthy fat, or lean proteins. High fiber, high water foods like fruits and veggies can help you feel full and displace calories so that you don’t reach for something less healthy and higher in calories (i.e. cake, ice cream).
“You can also utilize the fluid from water, low-calorie beverages, and juicy fruits and veggies to help you stay full,” says Kostro Miller.
“Tracking calories can be very helpful for weight maintenance. It keeps you closely tuned in with your actual intake so you don’t regain the weight. Often, after people have lost weight, they gravitate back to former habits that can quickly put the pounds back on. Tracking can help educate users about food and create mindfulness around intake, letting users decide what is worth spending their calories on and what to leave behind. Success is far more likely if you track calories, which is all about creating sustainable eating habits, versus following fad diets more likely to create a yo-yo effect,” says Brenda Braslow, RD, registered dietitian for MyNetDiary.
“Successful weight maintainers show that exercising for one hour per day is very important for weight maintenance. According to the National Weight Control Registry, an ongoing study that follows people who have successfully lost and maintained their weight showed that 90% of the successful participants exercised for about one hour daily,” says Braslow. Don’t miss these 30 Tips When You’re Walking for Weight Loss.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that shutting down the tube can help you keep the weight off. After all, the habit involves sitting down for hours and usually involves snacks. “Studies have found that limiting watching TV to less than 10 hours a week contributes to keeping the weight off,” says Halas.
“As humans, we prefer to add things to our lifestyle rather than be too restrictive, particularly when it comes to eating healthy (and/or losing weight). If you’ve lost weight by restricting, it may have helped with weight loss, but it will be hard to maintain for the rest of your life!” says Kostro Miller.
“Most of my clients prefer to set goals where they can focus on adding food to their plate, rather than decreasing the amount of food they are eating.” Some tips Kostro Miller recommends: increase your water intake, add more veggies to your plate, and have a glass of water between each alcoholic drink.
“Surrounding yourself with a positive support system as far as friends, family, virtual community, etc. is important to keep a person in tune with healthy habits for weight maintenance. There are many influences in our modern society that encourage us to eat more and exercise less so a positive support system is essential,” says Braslow.
“Accountability is one of the most effective ways to achieve your goals,” adds Samuels. “Try these ways to implement accountability so can be more consistent maintaining your weight loss.” She recommends recruiting a friend to keep you accountable, joining a weight loss support group, working out with people in the same stage of their journey, or working with a dietitian.
“Burn extra calories when not exercising. Once you change your mindset of only being about to lose weight or maintain weight ‘in the gym,’ then you’re on the way to a life with sustainable, long term weight loss! If you’re trying really hard with healthy eating and exercising (or you’ve lost weight now), then start looking for non-exercise ways to burn extra calories. For example: taking the stairs, walking to work, parking far away in the parking lot, dancing while cleaning. Doing these extra activities can help you burn extra calories, live healthier, and help you better (and more easily) maintain weight loss,” says Kostro Miller.
“Have your cake and eat it too by skipping the diet mentality. Nutritious eating and positive behavioral changes are part of a healthy lifestyle that has no end date. It’s easy to revert to old ways, especially after following a restrictive fad diet. After all, your body has been deprived of these habitual favorites for far too long. But, before you dive deep into large quantities of long-time forbidden foods, take a moment to consider how these items can actually fit into a healthy lifestyle,” says Halas.
“Stripping the ‘restricted’ label off of foods can significantly reduce their allure and appeal. After all, people always want what they can’t have. But, if you know that you can have it, do you still want it?” says Halas.
“Keeping off the unwanted pounds is not necessarily about strict eating habits, but rather about portion size awareness and consuming a large proportion of nutritious choices. Find a balance where 80% of foods are nutrient-dense, leaving room for the occasional treat,” says Halas.
“This mentality can promote a possibly destructive combination of negative self-talk and overconsumption. Don’t wait till your next meal, day, or week to give healthy habits another shot. You are NOT a failure for enjoying an indulgent food item. You did not ruin your progress with a single dessert. If ‘life is like a box of chocolate,’ you should permit yourself to enjoy a piece,” says Halas.
“Eat a source of protein with all meals and snacks,” suggests Samuels. “Protein has several benefits for weight management, including helping you feel fuller for longer without having a big impact on your blood sugar. You can have animal or plant-based proteins like nuts, eggs, beans, etc.” For some ideas, check out these The 30 Best High-Protein Foods for Metabolism—Ranked.
“One of the biggest reasons why people fail to maintain weight loss is boredom. To prevent this, try mixing up what you’re eating and how you’re exercising. Get a new cookbook, cook one new recipe per week, try a new workout — have fun with food and fitness!” says Samuels.
“In the end, the key to maintaining your weight is to listen to your hunger cues, make sustainable yet satisfying choices, practice quantity control, and STAY POSITIVE. This life journey has just begun,” says Halas. For some help, don’t miss these 20 Expert-Backed Tips to Practice Positive Self-Talk.