Losing weight is just half of the battle. Only about 20% of people who lost weight can manage to keep it off. Especially, if you were on a crash diet, you're more likely to regain the weight you've lost (or even more). However, it's not impossible.
You just lost weight and don't want to gain it back? Then read on.
Why do people regain the weight?
Our bodies are very able to adapt to change. Being on a restricted calorie diet for some time affects not only your body fat, but also your metabolism.
See, our bodies are a lot smarter than we think. Your metabolism adapts to the amount of energy you feed your body. It's main goal is to balance energy intake with output. By decreasing your calories and eating less than your body burns, your metabolism naturally begins to be more efficient. Hence, you burn less energy while at rest.
The first thing people do, after a restrictive diet, is to go back to their normal caloric intake, which means a drastic increase in calories. That's one of the worst things you can possibly do, because you still burn less calories.
Why is it so hard to keep the weight off?
Again, our bodies are little smart-asses. Your brain knows exactly how many fat cells you have and how big those fat cells are. It wants to hold onto those fat cells as "energy-storage" for later use.
Even after you've reached your goal weight, your body wants to get them back. Basically, your brain is constantly telling you to eat. And you're more likely to give in to your cravings.
How to keep the weight off after losing it
1. Increase your caloric intake gradually
What you need, is slowly increasing your food intake back to normal levels without gaining too much body fat. To calculate your new initial calorie target, simply add 150-200 calories per week to what you eat at the moment. Best case would be to gain no more than 0.5kg/1lbs per week. If you're gaining more, adapt your caloric intake. This is with weight training of course. You want to gain mostly muscle, not fat.
If you want to stay where you are, increase calories just very little and build up your metabolism again.
2. Make healthier versions of your beloved desserts
I know it can be very tempting to grab your favourite chocolate bar every time you want to. Think twice, before you do so. However, you don't have to cut out your favourite desserts completely. You can make your own homemade and healthier version of it.
After my bikini competition I was craving brownies madly, so I made these incredibly delicious and much healthier 3-ingredient brownies. You can enjoy them without feeling guilty! It’s a perfect combination of unsweetened apple sauce, cacao powder and almond butter (or peanut butter for those of you who don’t follow a paleo lifestyle).
3. Know how to deal with cravings
If you had cravings during your weight loss diet, be prepared that they might get stronger afterwards. People somehow think after they lost weight, they can eat exactly the way they ate before the diet. Doesn't make much sense, does it?
I know, it's hard to stay strong all the time and resist those cravings. You can give in from time to time and enjoy some "naughty" foods - but in moderation.
If the urge to binge strikes again, here are some simple tips to fight it:
- Enjoy a cup of black coffee. It suppresses your appetite and increases your metabolic rate
- Go for a walk to distract yourself
- Talk to a friend. People who know your story can encourage you to stay strong and follow the plan
- Workout. This one helped me a lot. Every time I was about to give in to some sugary doughnuts, I went to the gym for an extra session to get my mind off the food
- Enjoy what you crave. If you just can't fight it, sometimes it's the smartest thing to just give in and enjoy it mindfully and in moderation
I personally recommend the 80/20 approach. Meaning, 80% of your diet should come from clean whole foods and 20% can come from less cleaner foods. This might help you with cravings.
Balance, guys! You only live once, so if you want that snickers bar, work it into your plan! At the end of the day "black and white"- thinking doesn't help if you can't enjoy life. Plus, there's no such thing as "healthy" and "unhealthy" foods (except for alcohol and trans-fats). Everything in moderation is totally fine. Too much of everything isn't healthy at all.
5. Keep lifting
Weight lifting is just as important after your diet as it was during your diet! Why? Because it keeps your metabolism going and sets you up for some potential muscle gain.
So push those weights hard, it will be much easier for you, now that you have more energy due to your higher food intake. It's also a crucial part for improving your body composition.
Focus on more heavy compound exercises, like the squat, bench press, military press and deadlift. Have fun!
6. Keep tracking your food and your weight
Food tracking is meant to estimate how many calories you've eaten. There are small volume foods that you won't even associate with "food", which can be really calorie-dense.
Things like olive oil (1 tablespoon has 110 calories), salad dressings, dips and sauces, spreads and toppings, milk and sugary drinks. If you're not tracking everything, you will sabotage your own weight management.
Also keep weighing yourself on a regular basis, for example weekly (at the same time of the day, preferably in the morning). Therefore, you can react and adapt much better, if you gain too much weight.
7. Fill up on protein
It's no myth that protein is absolutely crucial for building and maintaining muscle mass, to recover faster from your workouts and to feel more satiated after meals.
How much is enough? Eat 2g of protein per kg bodyweight, or 1g of protein per pound per day. That's totally enough and easy to remember.
8. Don't let setbacks hold you down
Nobody's perfect. A treat every once in a while will definitely not destroy all your hard work. Being lean isn't about being 100% perfect all the time. It's okay to give yourself a break.
An occasional slip up doesn't mean you can't reach your goals anymore. Move on and make healthy choices day by day.
I know diets can be quite restrictive and everyone's happy when they finally reached their goal. But it's crucial to have a plan for after the diet. Take what you've learned during your diet and implement it in your new life. Make it a lifestyle change and not a short-term solution!