- I lost 35 pounds almost four years ago, and have stayed around the same weight since.
- I learned that keeping the weight off means continuing the same lifestyle.
At the start of 2019, I decided I wanted to improve my relationship with food, try to stop overeating, and lose some weight.
Over the first six months of that year, I lost 35 pounds and maintained my muscle mass, dropping my body fat percentage from 30% to 17%.
Research shows that it is challenging to lose weight and keep it off. One meta-analysis of weight loss studies found that more than half of weight lost was regained within two years, rising to 80% after five years.
I’ve maintained my fat loss over the past three and a half years and hope to continue to do so as I feel good, strong, healthy, and happy in my body. Here are the lessons I’ve learned about how to do it.
1. Slow weight loss is more sustainable
To lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit. When I lost weight, I didn’t over-restrict or cut out any food groups and I had plenty of days where I wasn’t in a calorie deficit.
This meant I lost weight slower, but it was easier for me to keep off because I could stick to my lifestyle without feeling deprived.
I eat all the foods I enjoy, like chocolate and cake, in moderation because even though they are less nutritious and thus less satiating than whole foods, I know I can still make progress.
2. Maintaining weight loss means continuing the same lifestyle
You won’t maintain your weight loss if you can’t stick to your method long term. That means you shouldn’t attempt endless cardio or eating next to nothing.
I knew that if I went back to my old lifestyle I’d regain the weight, so I changed my mindset towards food and exercise.
I used to think of foods as “good” or “bad” but have learned that no food is inherently bad and all can fit into a healthy diet. I found workouts I love, and going to the gym is as much a part of my routine as brushing my teeth.
The only change I make when moving out of a weight-loss phase is to eat a little bit more of the same foods.
I still try to eat mindfully, get steps in every day, eat mostly whole foods, work out around five days a week if possible, and eat plenty of protein.
3. Protein is key
Eating a high-protein diet has played a big part in me losing fat and keeping it off. Dietitians recommend most people aim for 0.9 grams per pound of your bodyweight, which I do.
Protein has lots of benefits:
- It’s satiating so keeps you full
- It has a higher thermic effect of food than fat and carbs, meaning the body uses more energy digesting it
- It helps you hold on to muscle while losing fat
- It helps muscles recover from workouts
I spread my protein intake over the course of the day, which is the best way to go according to research.
4. My weight still fluctuates
My weight has gone up and down by about eight pounds since I first lost weight.
There are busy periods where I’m travelling or have more parties and I want to relax my diet and indulge a little more, and also can’t prioritize training.
But I now know that if my weight goes up it’s not a big deal, I can rein things in and shed any extra fat afterwards. This stops me from worrying about changes to my body.
5. Relying too much on the scale is a mistake
I’ve also learned just how much the number on the scale can fluctuate on a day-to-day basis. I’ll often weigh myself the morning after a big meal and be five pounds heavier than the day before.
But I know this is water weight, not fat.
I weigh myself semi-regularly because the number is simply data to me.
6. You don’t need to track calories forever
Calorie and macro-counting isn’t for everyone, but it helped me learn about portion size and to stop demonizing foods.
It’s a tool I can come back to if I want to, and I like the scientific approach: I know that if I eat a certain amount of food, I will lose or gain weight.
It’s not something I would do long-term though, and I don’t need to do it to maintain my weight.
7. Having more muscle mass helps
Having more muscle on your body raises your basal metabolic rate, which means you burn slightly more calories at rest.
The more muscle I’ve built, I’ve found that when I’ve weighed myself after, say, an indulgent week away, my physique has changed less (aside from the inevitable water weight).
8. Exercise alone isn’t enough
Research suggests that exercising can help weight loss maintenance, but exercise alone won’t prevent weight regain if you revert to eating too much because fewer calories are burned during exercise than people think.
I’ve worked out consistently for five years, but when I go through periods of eating in a calorie surplus, I gain weight.
I walk a lot too, because it gets you moving without ramping up your hunger like more intense cardio often does.