Losing weight is difficult. It requires time, energy, and sometimes dramatic behavioral changes. We develop habits and routines because they make our lives easier and reduce stress. A change in eating or exercise requires effort and upends our routine. But weight loss is triggered by something: a doctor's visit, a loved one's concern, a look in the mirror or the extra effort it takes to go upstairs or tie your shoes. Whatever the reason, you decided the time and energy needed to lose weight is worth the upheaval of the comfort and complacency of your current life.
It can take weeks or months to reach a goal weight. You may have gone the medical route with surgery, a supervised low calorie diet or weight loss shots. You may have done a food plan touted by a television or sports celebrity. Or you may have gone the old fashioned route and watched your calories and exercised. However you reached your weight goal, you made it. You fit into your goal dress size, slipped into your old pants or reached a weight you hadn't seen in years.
Congratulations are in order but the real effort has just begun. Only one in five people who manage to lose more than ten percent of their body weight keep it off over the next year.(1) That's only a twenty percent success rate. That's sad, but not surprising. The time and energy used to reach your goal is seen as a means to an end. Eating broccoli, lean turkey and drinking green tear while running an hour a day may be a necessary evil in the effort to lose weight. But you may hate running, prefer flank steak and, well, really, who likes broccoli?
If you went on a medical diet or some other form of short term very low calorie diet, the weight loss came off fast and maybe even easily. But you can't just order a couple of vials of weight loss shots at the grocery store and a very low calorie diet is not sustainable so when the diet ends the weight gain begins.
How do you keep your weight off?
The effort to maintain your weight loss should start as soon as you start losing weight. Think about how your life will look when you reach your goal weight. List the healthy foods you are eating that you enjoy. Do some research on similar foods that meet your nutritional goals and taste buds. Try different exercise routines and see which ones you enjoy. You may be running a 5k as part of your weight loss routine, but if you hate running you better find something else you enjoy or as soon as the run is over or the weight loss goal is met, you will quit. Try swimming or biking or take an aerobics class and see if they are more enjoyable. Try resistance training as it is an excellent way to grow muscle and increase your basal metabolic rate.
As you near your goal weight you should be in the process of developing healthy habits that you can sustain. The cabbage diet works. You will lose weight if you abide by it. But you will hate cabbage when you are done. Take a couple of days a week during the last stages of your diet and eat as if you are off of it. If you find yourself reverting to old eating and exercise habits during the non-diet days, you are not ready. You will find the weight will increase faster than you lost it as your metabolism has adjusted to the reduced calories. It may take you a lot longer to reach your goal weight, but if you use the last few pounds of weight loss as a way of transferring from diet to your new way of eating and exercising, you have a much better chance of successfully keeping the weight off.
Finally, don't stop tracking your weight once you've reached your goal. Have a weight gain ceiling and promise yourself to go on a weight loss routine as soon as you hit it. Your goal should not be to lose a certain amount of weight but be to lose it and keep it off. Be one of the twenty-percenters.
ReferencesRena R Wing and Suzanne Phelan, Long-Term weight loss maintenance, Am J Clin Nutr 2005;82(suppl):222S-5S