Why Is Weight Maintenance More Difficult Than Weight Loss?

Weight loss can be a long and bumpy road, riddled with potholes in the form of cravings, stress, hormone fluctuations and many other factors that can make your goal seem like a distant and unlikely destination. But then, after weeks, months or even years of hard work, discipline and willpower, there comes a day when you step on the scale and see that elusive "magic number" that once upon a time seemed so unattainable.
You've done it! Now that your weight-loss journey is complete, it's time to relax and enjoy your new physique, right?
Maybe pump the brakes. While you definitely deserve to bask in the glow of your hard-won accomplishment, you're also about to embark on a whole new journey. For many, maintaining their new weight can prove to be even more difficult than losing it in the first place.
According to research from the National Weight Control registry, approximately 20 percent of its members successfully maintained a 10 percent weight loss for at least one year. Although that's a higher success rate than the oft-cited five-percent myth, it still means that for roughly 80 percent of people, the weight comes creeping back.
SparkPeople member ONLINEASLLOU knows the struggle all too well. In March of 2017, she shared her frustrating experience with lapsed weight loss. "I totally failed at maintaining my weight loss," she says. "I lost 56 pounds (from 203 to 147 a few years ago), and have gained almost all of it back (now at 195). I struggled with every pound gained, swearing that would be the last weight I gained. But nothing I tried worked and gradually, over a period of four years, it all came back."

Why Does the Weight Come Back?

According to registered dietitian Chelsey Amer, a slowed metabolism may be to blame. "When someone loses a significant amount of weight, their metabolism actually slows down," she says. "Your body resists this lower weight because it was so comfortable at a higher weight for a significant period of time." Amer points out the popular theory that we all have a "set point" that our bodies see as our equilibrium. If you try to dip below that set point, your body may resist.
Hormones can also play a role in weight regain. "Your hormones change when you lose weight," Amer says. "Your brain gets the signal to produce more ghrelin, a hormone associated with hunger, which makes you want to eat more to gain back weight. So, an individual would have to eat dramatically less, even though their body is telling them that they're hungry, to combat their slowed metabolism."
You're also more likely to regain the weight if you lose it quickly with a strict diet. "People often see dieting as something you're 'on' or 'off,' and this simply doesn't work," Amer explains. "To be successful at maintaining weight loss, you need to adopt changes that you make as part of your lifestyle."
Instead of restrictive, rapid-loss diets, Amer says it's best to strive for slow and steady weight loss. "You don't gain weight overnight and you certainly won't lose it overnight," she points out. This approach may help your body better adjust to all of the metabolic and hormonal changes, and you'll be forming long-term behavioral habit changes that will help prevent weight regain.

7 Tips for Maintaining Your Healthy New Weight

1. Make it a lifestyle, not a diet.
When losing weight, it's easy to regard it as a temporary sacrifice—but once the pounds are gone, there's a shift to a more permanent approach to eating and exercise.
SparkPeople member Cedric (CED1106) had success when he abandoned the dieting mentality. "Dieting implies that you go on the diet, lose weight, then go off the diet," he says. "Lifestyle change means your new diet (and exercise) will be part of the rest of your life. Rather than a 'punishing' diet, with its emphasis on not eating certain foods, I went with a 'permissive' meal plan, which included foods and recipes I wanted to try out."
2. Monitor your weight.
Regular weight tracking was also one of the common behaviors among successful weight-loss losers in the National Weight Control registry study. Set a regular schedule for stepping on the scale, and keep a log of each weigh-in. If you find yourself drifting too far above or below your target range, you'll know it's time to make adjustments to your eating or exercise.
"I need to weigh in daily to keep on track," says SparkPeople member MNNICE. "I give myself a five-pound maintenance range, and when it creeps up toward or over the high end, I know I need to get on top of it right now."
3. Don't stop exercising.
In the aforementioned National Weight Control Registry study, members who succeeded in maintaining their weight loss continued engaging in high levels of physical activity, averaging one hour per day. If you found a workout you enjoyed during the weight-loss phase, make it part of your weekly routine. You may want to experiment a bit until you find the right length and intensity of exercise to keep you at your current weight.
4. Continue your healthy eating pattern.
As you near the end of your weight-loss journey, you may be surprised to discover that you've come to actually enjoy eating healthier foods. In fact, you may not even crave the fatty, high-sugar fare that may have gotten you into this predicament in the first place. To maintain your new weight, Amer says it's important to continue eating more vegetables, fruits and real foods, and to limit sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and processed or packaged snacks. Consistency is key—strive to maintain your eating habits across weekdays and weekends (and, yes, even holidays).
5. Relax and get plenty of sleep.
It's important to balance out all that physical activity with the down time your body needs to repair and recharge itself, whether that means relaxing with a good book or getting at least eight hours of shuteye.
"Reducing stress and getting adequate amount of sleep is essential to help maintain weight loss," says Amer. "Lack of sleep and high stress levels further cause hormonal and metabolic disruptions that will only make it harder for you to maintain your weight loss."
6. Embrace your range.
If you're dead-set on staying right at 150 pounds, a 152-pound day can wreak havoc on your outlook. It's perfectly normal and healthy for the body to fluctuate a few pounds throughout any given week, so focus on targeting a range rather than a specific weight.
"There really is no sweet spot," says ARCHIMEDESII. "One thing I've learned over these past few years is that my weight does have a range. My current range is 134 to 137. I've been in that range for the past three to four weeks. This is down about three to five pounds from three or four months ago."
7. Seek out community support.
Just as when you were working to reach your goal weight, support and encouragement from other "losers" is an essential maintenance tool. "I joined SparkPeople in 2013 to help me with maintenance," MARTHA324 remembers. "The articles are great and I am constantly learning new things and tips to stay healthy and on track. The community is so supportive. It is really encouraging to get the positive feedback."
While dropping pounds and weight-loss selfies attract a band of supporters and a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs,” weight maintenance is where the real champions are made. While to the outside world, you may not be noticeably changing anymore, finding supporters who recognize and empathize with the internal daily struggle to eat properly and treat your body right can be the difference you need to make your weight loss stick.
Just as you faced plateaus and setbacks during the weight-loss phase of your journey, it's normal to experience some regaining after reaching your target. The key is to continue with the healthy habits that worked for you, be aware of your body, continue tracking your weight, activity and food intake, and make adjustments along the way as needed. And, of course, never underestimate the value of a supportive community.
For more tips on keeping the weight off, visit our weight loss maintenance center.