Congratulations! You’ve reached your weight-loss goal. Whether you were counting calories or sticking to a low-fat diet, it’s now time to switch from weight loss to weight control. How can you maintain your healthier, slimmer body?
Weight Control: Why Is It So Hard?
“Your brain has a very accurate system of knowing how many fat cells you have, and even how fat those fat cells are,” says Ken Fujioka, MD, director of the Center for Weight Management and of nutrition and metabolic research at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, Calif. “When you’re dieting, the brain knows the body’s fat cells are decreasing and it wants to get them back, even after you’ve reached your goal weight,” explains Dr. Fujioka.
The brain has a number of ways it tries to regain its fat cells. One is to slow the body’s metabolism so it can hang on to fat more easily. Another is to make you think about food more. “Your brain is constantly telling you ‘eat, eat, eat,'” Fujioka says. “It will also deny that you are regaining weight, even if your clothes are getting tight. You need reliable ways to counteract these messages.”
Weight Control: The Strategies
Start thinking of weight control as the next, lifelong phase of dieting. Here are the guidelines you want to practice every day:
- Exercise is critical for weight control. Exercise is a very important way to keep the weight off. “Studies show that people who have dieted and successfully maintained their ideal weight exercise around five hours a week,” says Fujioka. “To maintain a weight loss, I recommend people exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and do strength training twice a week,” says Jim White, RD, a registered dietitian and national spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. You can split your exercise sessions into segments, for example doing two 30-minute workouts on a day that you’ve planned an hour of exercise. “In fact, this can have a better effect on your muscle metabolism,” says White.
- Write it down. Experts recommend writing down what you’re eating. “You can tell for yourself whether you’re doing well or need to pay more attention,” Fujioka says . “Counting calories is a great way to help yourself keep track of your food intake.”
- Weigh yourself. Another important means of weight control is to get on the scale. “Seeing your actual weight on a scale is a good way to combat the brain’s message that you need more fat cells,” Fujioka notes. If you see your weight increasing, you know you have to work a little harder. Women’s weight tends to fluctuate a few pounds a month because of menstrual cycles, but if your weight goes up beyond five pounds or so, it’s time to regain control by cutting calories, adding more exercise, or both.
- Eat breakfast. The National Weight Control Registry, which tracks more than 3,000 Americans who have achieved a weight loss of around 60 pounds and kept it off for about six years, found that eating breakfast is an important factor in keeping off weight. Eating a healthy breakfast makes it less likely that you’ll overeat during the day.
- Stay motivated. “We all need to constantly challenge ourselves to stay motivated,” says White. “Give yourself a goal like a special date, a party, or other social event to help you maintain your weight loss.” Rewarding yourself is another good motivator. “Any kind of reward is good, other than food, of course,” he adds. “Buy some new clothes, a CD, a fitness gadget — whatever motivates you to stick with your program. Some people even take a trip as a reward.”
- Stay accountable. Find other people who are trying to keep their weight off. By sharing tips, success stories, and struggles, you’ll find it easier to maintain good nutritional and exercise habits. If no one nearby is trying to keep off lost weight, try an online weight-loss group.
Weight Control: It’s a Lifestyle
Remind yourself that eating well and being active are lifelong methods of keeping yourself healthy by lowering your risk of serious disorders like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, and other health problems.
“The healthy habits you learned while dieting shouldn’t disappear once you’ve lost the weight,” says White. “You can eat a little bit more, of course, but don’t stop living that active, healthy lifestyle.”