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Health & Wellness Articles  ›  Weight Maintenance

3 Strategies to Prevent Relapse After Reaching Your Goal Weight

Winning the Mental Game

-- By Dean Anderson, Fitness & Behavior Expert
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When it comes right down to it, the “secret” to keeping the weight you’ve lost off is really very simple: Don’t stop doing the things that helped you take it off in the first place.

Obviously, you’ll need to make some small changes in your eating and exercise so that you’re achieving energy balance (to maintain weight) instead of creating a calorie deficit (to lose weight). But other than that, the key to successful weight maintenance is maintaining the healthy practices that got you to this point.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always as easy or simple as it sounds. Old habits really do die hard. If you struggled with obesity for a long time, or if you lost weight by following some diet plan that you can’t stick with safely or easily, you can’t assume it’s going to be easy to continue eating and exercising in a healthy way now that the weight’s off. Just stopping your healthy lifestyle and going back to “business as usual” will put you on the fast track back to your original weight, and maybe with a few extra pounds.

Even if you’ve taken the gradual “lifestyle change” approach advocated by SparkPeople, you’re likely to find yourself facing a new set of challenges as you shift gears into maintenance mode. Being aware of and prepared for these challenges can make it a lot easier to meet them successfully. So let’s take a look at some of the strategies and approaches of people who have lost weight and kept it off.

Strategy 1: Redefine Your Goals

The Problem: Having a goal weight provided a focus and direction for all the mental and physical energy that you put into this project. But reaching your goal weight can leave you feeling a little disoriented and unsure of what to do next—all the energy, momentum, and purpose you’ve been relying on can evaporate pretty quickly, making it easy to fall back into old habits. Simply trying to maintain your weight loss often isn’t the kind of goal it takes to avoid this problem.

The Solution: Set some challenging new goals for yourself, beyond maintaining your weight loss. Ideally, include at least one goal that requires you to stay at least as fit as you are now, or more so. For example, if your main motive for exercising was to burn calories and lose weight, try to find a sport or physical activity you enjoy for its own sake. Then you can put your efforts into getting better at that activity. My own interest in going to the gym every day for a stint on some cardio machine started to fade pretty quickly when I shifted gears from weight loss to maintenance. But when I took up hiking and biking instead, a whole new world of challenges and goals opened up. This year I’m aiming to complete my first 100-mile bike ride, and training for that gives me all the motivation I need to get out on my bike almost every day.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • JENNAAW
    After decades of gaining everything back and always more, I am so worried now that I have lost big amounts of weight and the goal is getting within sight. I notice that in my countless gain-backs all it has taken was a few days of mindless eating to start the process, which is to me like an addiction. I am trying so hard to develop the strategies that will work for me. - 2/21/2014 6:17:22 AM
  • I like this article overall. However, I'm pretty sure I've read that continuing to track your consumption even after you've reached goal weight is one of the key activities of successful maintainers, and telling people that it's ok to stop tracking goes against current research on the subject. I'd like to see a response from the author on this. - 2/20/2014 4:13:52 PM
  • MANDYCAT3
    I ran across one suggestion that I hope to find very useful. One of the latter chapters of "100 Days of Weight Loss" by Linda Spangle (which is well worth having on hand, by the way) suggested planning for "crisis management." First we identify a red flag, like going over a particular weight on the scale or not fitting into a favorite pair of jeans. Then we come up with an emergency plan.

    I've chosen a scale weight as my red flag. My emergency plan will be nothing but fruits-vegetables
    -whole-grains (with quinoa for protein) until I get back out of the red zone. If I'm vigilant, the "crisis" should be over in two or three days, so I believe a restricted diet will be an acceptable response. - 12/22/2013 4:08:57 PM
  • One thing that's not mentioned in this article (which I really enjoyed reading) was that how you lose your weight can help determine your success in maintenance. I used an extreme dietary change on a couple of occasions, and the weight went almost entirely right back on. Now I am doing something that requires very simple planning with gradual changes from my old way of eating. With this style, my weight gain stopped four months ago. A little bit more in terms of modification, and it should begin to go down. And I am predicting it will be easier to maintain that loss. Glenn. - 11/28/2013 5:12:33 AM
  • I just got to goal and have been thinking about it for a long time...I know that I must be diligent and I have been educating myself and planning it for a while. I have gained and lost too many times to remember - I am not going through this again - this is the last time, so this is important information! - 8/30/2013 1:21:46 PM
  • AGNESLEE1
    Nice post. I believe that substance abuse is a major problem that needs to be addressed not only by the person suffering from addiction but by their loved ones and the community as a whole. Someone with substance abuse problem must find understanding from their significant others. They can also find a supportive community like AA meetings for alcoholics (here’s a comprehensive list of AA meetings in US: http://sober.com/
    aa-alcoholic-
    anonymous-mee
    tings.html or a helpful treatment facility, halfway houses, and sober houses for people with drug addiction(for a complete list of these facilities you can check www.sober.com). - 11/8/2012 10:50:07 PM
  • thank you for this article...every year i meet my goal and some how tinker back up the rest of the year...i will maintain my weight loses and keep it off this year! - 5/31/2012 5:14:36 PM
  • eatwild.com - 4/26/2012 11:48:46 PM
  • I love this article! It has really helped me make the switch from losing weight to maintenance. As indicated in the article, transitioning to maintenance is such a mind boggler. But again, this article is very helpful. I am so dog on thankful for SP. - 12/8/2011 9:24:41 PM
  • Dean, I always get a lot out of your articles. This week I've been anxious as I realize I am going to meet my goal before the year's end, and I want to prepare NOW for maintenance. This article is just what I needed! Thanks for providing some direction for this new path. - 3/24/2011 1:07:55 PM
  • Dean, I always get a lot out of your articles. This week I've been anxious as I realize I am going to meet my goal before the year's end, and I want to prepare NOW for maintenance. This article is just what I needed! Thanks for providing some direction for this new path. - 3/24/2011 1:07:51 PM
  • Dean, I always get a lot out of your articles. This week I've been anxious as I realize I am going to meet my goal before the year's end, and I want to prepare NOW for maintenance. This article is just what I needed! Thanks for providing some direction for this new path. - 3/24/2011 1:07:31 PM
  • MOMM4LIFE
    I am so glad I found this article. I think I am in a form of weight maintenance now. I have lost 20lbs and still losing - I was contemplating how to maintain the weight loss. And now I know! Just keep doing what I did to lose the weight. It's just that simple! - 5/21/2010 10:40:01 AM
  • Thank you Coach Dean. I have been maintaining for over a year now, after 55 lbs, and it doesn't get any easier. I teach/lead a weight loss group on our (AZ) border and ride my bike regularly, still put my food in, and am playing with about 5 lbs. Nice to see you dealing with this. I sometimes feel like there is not enough on SP for those in the maintenance phase. - 9/16/2009 5:27:56 PM
  • Thanks for this article and all your others. I only like 4 pounds til I reach my goal weight and my plans are just what you suggested. Keep tracing my meals, get my exercise, stay on Spark People to help others on thier journey to a healthier lifestyle and meeting their goals. Keep up the good work Coach Dean!!!! - 8/25/2009 11:46:31 AM