It's easy to think that once you lose the weight, you’re done. Goal achieved! Finish line reached! It’s not that simple, though. That’s part of the reason we call it weight care—there’s a continuity to the process that doesn’t end when you reach your target weight. The real target is long-term success, and that’s something many people struggle with. Very often the pounds slowly creep back on and you may feel stuck in an endless loop of diet-lose-gain, diet-lose-gain (is this Groundhog Day?).
But what if your inability to maintain weight loss through nutrition and exercise isn't your fault? What if biology has something to do with it? Let’s dive into the reasons it’s so hard to maintain weight loss—and, more importantly, what strategies can help you keep those pounds off for good.
Why is weight loss difficult to maintain?
This is a tricky issue to understand because body weight is tightly regulated by hormonal, metabolic, and neural factors. And when you restrict calories to lose weight, your body adapts through a series of mechanisms to prevent starvation—it’s an age-old survival mechanism.
Take, for example, a study published in the journal Obesity that looked at long-term changes in resting metabolic rate (RMR) and body composition before, during, and after extreme weight loss among people who participated in the once-popular show "The Biggest Loser."
The researchers found that the drastic weight loss came along with a shift in hormones known to regulate hunger, and that the contestants that dropped the most weight also had substantially slower metabolic rates. Six years later, most of the men and women had gained some or all of the weight back. And even those who were able to maintain their losses continued to experience significant metabolic slowing. This is caused by a phenomenon called metabolic adaptation.
So, is it possible to maintain the weight you've worked so hard to drop? The short answer is…yes! Here are some steps to take:
Focus on quality food instead of calories.
We get that this can be a challenge. After all, diet culture encourages calorie counting, tallying up points, measuring and weighing portions—you name it. But try to shift your mindset to improving the quality of foods on your plate rather than being laser focused on all those numbers. It’s OK to feel hungry. It’s your body's innate response to needing fuel. When you focus too much on limiting calories, though, there’s a tendency to limit the beneficial foods and nutrients your body needs.
Move every day.
Physical activity is key for weight loss maintenance, according to the National Weight Control Registry, an ongoing study of more than 10,000 people who have lost at least 28 pounds and kept them off for at least a year. They have found that 90 percent of participants exercise about an hour a day—burning an average of about 400 calories—to maintain their weight loss. Other research also shows that people who lose weight and exercise between 150-300 minutes a week are less likely to regain weight over time.
It's easier to make movement a part of your daily life if you choose activities that you love and feel good to you. Research has repeatedly shown that you’re more likely to exercise on the regular if it’s something that you enjoy.
Research has found that people who successfully lose and maintain their weight loss are also highly engaged with a health coach. Makes sense: A health coach can help you evaluate what you’re doing, help you troubleshoot, offer accountability, and help you stay motivated. When the going gets tough, they are there to remind you to take it one step at a time—and bring you back to the reason why you wanted a change in the first place. And when the going is good, they are there to celebrate you. Accountability and support are crucial during a weight care journey.
Use medication when appropriate.
If you’ve lived with obesity or have yo-yo dieted a lot, diet and exercise may not be enough for long-term success. This is why Found offers prescription medications for weight care. Found physicians match medications based on your specific biology, medical history, and conditions. Medication alone will not yield sustainable results, but combined with balanced nutrition, exercise, and self-care, it can help you reach your goals.
Take some time to log your meals, movement, and other dailies in the app to track your progress. It gives you time to reflect, and science shows it supports your success.
This article mentions personal coaching, which isn't available for new members right now, but will be soon (yes!).