What Really Works to Keep the Weight Off

By , SparkPeople Blogger
If you've ever lost weight and then worked on maintaining that loss, you know that it's not as simple as one might think.  Figuring out the balance between how much to eat and how much to exercise can be tricky.  But there's often more to it than that.  A new study of maintainers has found that the strategies they used to lose the weight are not quite the same as the ones they use to maintain it long-term.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, "analyzed survey responses from 926 people who were overweight (whose BMI was over 25) and had tried with varying degrees of success to lose weight and keep it off. The responses detailed whether they used 36 specific weight-control practices either in losing weight or keeping it off. They defined successful weight loss as losing 10 percent of body weight, and weight maintenance as keeping that 10 percent off for one year.
Maintaining weight loss is typically more challenging than taking the weight of initially.   On average, most people regain the weight within 3 to 5 years, and eventually the weight loss cycle begins again.  According to the study, it's not the balance of calories in versus calories out that is the biggest hurdle for maintainers.  Researchers found two techniques that were particularly effective for keeping the weight off:

1.  Remind yourself why you need to control your weight (whether it's simply for better health, to keep up with your young children, to accomplish a fitness-related goal, etc.) 
2.  Reward yourself for sticking to your diet and exercise plan.  Just because you are no longer reaching weight loss milestones does not mean that you don't deserve recognition for the accomplishment of continuing to work hard and maintain your weight. 
Other experts are skeptical of the results, saying that basically the same things are required to lose the weight as they are to maintain the loss- sticking to a regular diet and exercise plan.  The motivation to continue with the plan will determine whether or not there is continued success. 
Are you getting close to your weight loss goal and need tips for how to keep it off?  Check out Your Nutrition Plan for Maintenance, Your Fitness Plan for Maintenance,  and the series Maintaining a Healthy Weight.
What do you think?  Does it take different things to maintain your weight than it does to lose the weight?  Or are they basically the same?

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It has taken me 3 years to lose my weight however I still have an overweight BMI. I have to exercise and strength train and watch my calories everyday. This will be a life long journey for me. I do not need to be perfect though! I can still enjoy some of my old summertime favorites without being afraid I will gain it all back. Moderation is a good thing. Believe me it is not always an easy thing to do. Good luck everyone on reaching your goals and maintaining them. Report
I have ten more pounds to lose and I think it is really hard to lose the last few. My sister is on maintance and I see her exercising and watching her calories just as much as when she was losing. So I think it's just about the same. After all it is a life long journey. Report
I think it's easier to maintain because I have formed healthy habits. Forming the habits, one by one was the hard part. Report
I think that you won't lose any weight OR maintain a weight loss if you don't have the proper motivation. Without that, it is impossible to reach your goals. I never want to be in maintenance, I want to constantly be improving! Report
I found it easier to loose weight than maintain. I also do know that I have to put in the same amount of effort in maintaining. I work out just as hard...eat just the same good things. I would like to drop 10 more lbs so I do know I'd have to kick it up a notch or more. Report
Thanx for the tips. Report
I have been more or less in maintenance for 3 years now - and to some extent am proud of that - but disappointed in that I never lost the last 15-20 to reach a "normal" BMI. Report
I can lose weight just fine - but, I have yet to maintain. This time I am collecting the tools from Spark People and I feel very positive. I have six pounds to go before I will be ready for maintainence. I am reading everything I find to help me keep motivated. Report
I think it takes more awareness to maintain than losing and reaching a "certain" weight number- you can't just say ok I've reached such and such a weight, now my work is done, it is a constant lifelong journey. Finding the right balance of calories/exercise is the key, but we must take responsibilty for what works for us as individuals. KEEP UP THE GOOD HABITS and WORK fellow SP's!! Report
I think that it takes the same thing to maintain as it does to lose, but you have to do it without the encouragement of seeing the numbers on the scale go downward. I'm a bit scared to get there, but I'm trying to get psychology prepared. Report
I think that it takes the same thing to maintain as it does to lose, but you have to do it without the encouragement of seeing the numbers on the scale go downward. I'm a bit scared to get there, but I'm trying to get psychology prepared. Report
Goal Weight+3.5 months and still good. I keep tracking and trying more SP recipes to provide the variety. Report
Yes I've been an actual maintainer for just over one year...just couldn't seem to get a handle on it before! Why? Because I kept leaning / creeping back towards old eating habits! They have to be well and truly left behind OR back the weight begins jumping on me again!!
I really feel I've found success at last. Report
I have always been very good at losing weight (once I am motivated to do so, which usually takes years!), but I've never been successful at maintaining it. I am currently up 45 pounds from my low of 153 after weight loss surgery in November 2007. I lost 247 pounds from July 2007 until June 2009, but by November 2009 I was putting weight on. My weight seemed to stabilize around 170 lbs for a few months, and then I put on 10 lbs and maintained that for a few months. Since January, though, I've put on another 18 lbs, and I'm really struggling. I am still very active, but my calorie count has increased. I find it really difficult to stay under 1800 calories a day! Anyone who struggles with their weight can probably appreciate the difficulty of maintenance... Report
i know there is a lot of talk about how to maintain. I am coming up on my 8th anniversary of reaching goal... for me it's simply recognizing a healthy life style is what I love living. That means eating good food in reasonable portions and remaining active. BTW.... I am 66 years old and did a skydive for my birthday! Report
It makes sense that what works most for maintenance- knowing your why of what your doing (1) why did I want to lose weight in the first place and then (2) rewarding yourself in healthy ways to feel good about your success are what works not only for maintenance but for losing! It's not necessarily the what - most of us know what would be better for us - but knowing why to motivate ourselves. Then following up with recognizing our accomplishments - loving ourselves for treating ourselves well. I like that this study confirms this. Report
I'm nowhere near maintenance - but I think that since I am looking at the weight loss phase as a healthy lifestyle change that by the time I get to maintenance it will be "healthy living" instead of maintenance and that will make the difference. Report
I like number 2 personally....any chance to reward oneself is something i'm all about lol...but yeah you still have to maintain the same basic philosophies as you used during losing when you're maintaining, just to a smaller degree. Report
I have reached my goal, but would like to lose about 5 to 7 lbs more! I am a KOPS in TOPS, which is Keeping off Pounds Safely,and am in leeway. I have been a KOPS before and have lost my status a couple of times and I am determined to keep the weight off and be healthier! I no longer take medication for my type 2 Diabetes and am diet and exercise controlled! Report
66% of people who lose weight this year will regain it all within one year. 97% of people who lose weight this year will regain it all within five years.
Those are really pathetic numbers as I see it. I'm working to NOT put it back on by following Judith Beck PhD's "The BECK Diet Solution" in which she teaches how to THINK like a THIN person. She says we have to accept that we will always be "dieting." She has stayed thin for over 20 yrs. Report
Thanks for the article..with the exception of a weight gain of ten pounds within three weeks and that same loss being achieved during a four week period I've been maintaining the weight I lost for four years.

This is a different journey...some is the same, some is not and I base this not just on my own experiences but those I have been talking to for the last three years both on and off the site.

Being vigilant about your intake of food, weighing weekly, and finding variety to sustain fitness is huge for most that are sucessful...but there's lots more to it.

The thruth is there is simply not much good scientific data on maintenance and about the only long term data gathering I've found has been the national registry.

Hopefully as I continue on my maintenance journey and talk with others doing the same I will learn more...but like weight loss, it seems each has their own "tricks of the trade" that helped them lose weight and in turn have used many of them to maintain.

The biggest downfall of most I've actually talked to is the lack of reinforcement ie compliments and rewards for staying within a maintenance range and hopefully at some point Spark People will have some incentives from points to page icons for months, years etc specific to those who are maintaining. Report
Basically the same general principles for losing as maintaining, which is why i think so many people gain weight after they lose - because they think it should be different now. But its not really. We still have to eat reasonably for maintaining our weight, continue exercising to burn calories, and be very diligent. If we treat ourselves more often, we will have to compensate, but that's no different than when losing. Most people are just stricter with themselves when losing. It's the psychology not the physiology that's different. Report
The same things required to lose weight, are required to maintain weight loss. Eat less, choose food wisely and exercise. You learn what it takes, you make it a habit and you embrace it as a lifestyle. You stay vigilant, you remain committed and you can beat the odds! Report
Been at maintenance weight a little over a year now. I found it easier to lose weight. NEVER would have guessed that! Report
It's the same - you just can't get off track!! Report
This is where I've fallen apart several times. I will have to really have to plan my maintenance and continue this lifestyle for me to maintain this time. Report
Yes, maintenance is a big problem, and the transition is difficult for many people.

Let's see some maintenance-oriented spark tools and trackers, now that you guys are starting to see that it is needed...

We've been discussing ideas here: http://www.sparkpeople.com/myspark/

P.S. I profiled the same study, here: http://ikeepitoff.com/2011/07/maint

For maintainers, these were the behaviors most statistically significant (p less than or equal to 0.001):

- Eating plenty of low-fat protein
- Following a consistent exercise routine
- Reminding yourself why you need to control your weight
- Thinking about how much progress you’ve made Report
It can be done...you just have to make a complete lifestyle change, not just a temporary one. And that lifestyle change has to be with food, exercise, stress levels, etc. There really are no other options. Report
The general idea is the same, eat healthy, keep exercising...but the small details are vastly different.

I allow myself FAR more treats in maintenance.
In weight loss mode, exercise was go hard, activities were chosen for fat loss, not for fun.

Been maintaining for 5+ years. Report
I have successfully maintained my weight loss for about one year. It is the same and it is different than weight loss.

First learning how much I can eat without losing more or gaining is very tricky. I do eat the same healthy foods and do the same work outs. I continue to track both food and workouts every day. And stay on Spark.

It is different because I do not get the immediate rewards of seeing my weight change for the better. The rewards
of maintenance are more intrinsic, more
subtle. But they are there: to be able to love looking in a mirror instead of avoiding it, to be able wear my new smaller clothes, and to savor with pride, my accomplishments. Most importantly,I know that I am healthier and happier at my current weight. Report
I did an awesome job of losing 60 pounds in about a year. And I knew maintaining my goal weight was going to be difficult. I gained 12 pound back in 4 months...and am currently working it back off. This is always going to be a struggle for me and the biggest mistake was not remembering that this is a lifestyle change....which means it lasts forever!! I'm back to within 10 pounds of goal and I determined not to let this weight thing get the best of me!!! Report
I reached my weight loss goal in May 2010 and just stopped paying attention. It is very disappointing but not surprising I put it all back on in just 1 year... Here's to round 2 - with a focus on sustaining the weight loss! Report
Seems like it's pretty much the same and I've been maintaining for about a year and it feels like it's the same! If i do anything different than counting calories and working out, I gain weight. It's just the way it is. Report
Basically the same ... healthy choices and constant awareness. Report
I have found that maintenance is easier in some respects and so much harder in others! Too many "hey, you're not trying to lose weight anymore, indulge!" days leads to not good things. Report
I've been maintaining for four months now and still find it a challenge. Opting for healthier food options isn't as difficult anymore. My real challenge comes with emotional eating-- I want to eat when I'm happy, sad, bored, mad-- pretty much all the time! I do set myself on an eating schedule, but there are still days I want to chuck it out the window. I don't deprive myself, but often make myself wait for the unhealthy food. For example, I'll focus on eating well all week in the knowledge that my co-workers are taking me out for lunch on Friday. I'll still aim to make a healthy eating choice, but will allow myself some leeway. Report
I was 3 lbs from goal last July 2010. Then I suffered some minor health issues and went up 4 lbs...then by May 2011, I was up 8 lbs. from July. I knew when I began in April 2010 that it would be a life-long commitment to keep the weight off, but I have come to terms with the fact that it will require (for me) more diligence than I had even thought. It has been 10 years since I was the weight I'm aiming for...and in truth, I'm not even sure it's a practical goal. My husband and I love to cook and eat...as do our children. I'm the only one with any kind of "weight issue". So...if I find after achieving my destination goal that it interferes too stringently with our "love of the table", then I will rethink where I should be. It is interesting that my health problems (shingles=virus) emerged after I went below 140, when as a general rule, I don't get viruses. Report
It will be 3 months tomorrow for me--maintaining--that is. Wish I knew the secret. It's sure depressing to read about most people regaining within 3-5 years. Gosh I would hope after 3 or 5 years I have it figured out, and the weight would just stay off. I think you really do have to stay on top of it, constantly be aware of what you are eating, and work on it every single day of your life. That's my plan--now we'll see if I can do it. Report
I think it takes more of the same, at the very least a continual awareness of what is happening with your weight so you can act quickly if you begin to gain. Report
I reached my goal weight in July of 2010 and I've managed to maintain it for 1 year. It's a very different mindset to maintain than it is to loose and I find it almost more difficult than loosing. I'm still running each week and still strength training and I balance out my diet with lots of fresh veggies from my garden and legumes. Report
I found the only way I maintained my weight of 130 for years was to just be mindful of what I was eating. Not necessarily counting calories, but reading nutrition labels to get an idea of what was in the food I was consuming. Even eating at restaurants, you definitely know whether you're eating a 1,000 calorie meal or just a 500 one. Most of it just boils down to common sense.

Sadly, when I did gain weight, I knew what I was doing to myself because I was aware I was overeating. But maintaining weight really isn't that difficult as long as you're not completely sedentary. If you are for the most part, just remind yourself that you need to be extra careful of the calories you intake and make sure to schedule exercise on a daily basis. Report
For me, basically the same -- a healthy diet, portion control, and regular exercise, both cardio and strength training. I've been in maintenance 2+ years now. Report
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