Well done! You’ve met your goals and reached a weight that makes you feel happy and healthy. We hear from four experts who give their top tips on how to keep the weight off after losing it…
By Eve Boggenpoel
We know the best way to shed excess pounds is to follow a diet that’s varied, nutritionally balanced and sustainable, but what happens after your hit your happy weight? Your body is a highly sophisticated organism preoccupied with your survival, so when the numbers on the scales start to fall, it automatically tries hard to hold on to your weight. This makes it hard to keep the weight off.
‘All of your organs and all of your systems are trying to maintain homoeostasis,’ explains clinical medicine researcher Dr Frederica Amati. ‘If, over 15 years, you’ve put on 10kg then try to lose it in one month, your body goes into panic mode and tries to keep your weight the same.’
Indeed, research backs this up. Studies show over half of dieters regain most of their weight-loss within 12 months, and less than a third avoid regaining it in three years. Sobering statistics? They needn’t be. We spoke to four experts skilled in their field to arm you with the info you need to keep the weight off after losing it…
Meet the experts:
Dr Frederica Amati, post-doctoral clinical medicine researcher and chief nutrition scientist for Indi Supplements.
Lee Chambers, psychologist and wellbeing consultant.
Milena Kaler, Harley Street nutritionist and weight-loss specialist.
Nicola Addison-Newland, Healthspan PT and wellbeing expert.
Why do some people regain lost weight?
Dr Frederica Amati: Look at hormonal issues and your environment
‘There are hormonal reasons such as thyroid issues, polycystic ovarian syndrome and the menopause, but there are two main ones. First, our food environment, which is what foods we are being told to consume and what we can easily access.
‘Secondly, in the home, eating food that’s already made. Even in a simple tomato sauce for pasta, for example, processing changes the chemical composition of the ingredients. For instance, it drastically reduces the polyphenols that help with weight loss.’
Nicola Addison: Don’t set unrealistic goals
‘People often set unrealistic, non-maintainable goals, setting themselves up for failure. For example, when motivated, you might decide to workout every day. But is that realistic moving forwards?
‘Six months down the line, will you still be doing this? Or you might try not eating chocolate for a month. Again, is this realistic in the longer term?’
What common mistakes do people make after losing weight?
Dr Frederica Amati: Listen to your body
‘Thinking: “I’ve had a good day so I’ll have a treat and start again tomorrow”. Instead of trying to focus on being excellent every day, think of your week in food. That way you won’t punish yourself if you have a slice of cake because the rest of the week you had really balanced meals.
‘Another is not responding to your body cues. If you’re feeling hungry you should eat, and if you’re not feeling hungry, you shouldn’t. Listen to your body, even while eating. See how you feel and ask yourself: “Do I carry on eating this or do I need something else? Do I need to add some salad or some nuts?”’
Lee Chambers: Notice your emotional triggers
‘Some people use food and drink as a reward mechanism for achieving their goals, promoting precedents for continually indulging in them. Others focus lesson healthy behaviours, which leads to less aware choices. This can lead to a feeling of shame for not hitting standards.
‘Losing the awareness of emotional eating triggers is another challenge and, combined with less overall health behaviours, stress triggers are more likely to ignite unhelpful behaviours that were comforting in the past.’
Milena Kaler: Don’t restrict yourself
‘Being too restrictive, which can trigger binge eating. Instead, give yourself permission to have a cheat meal once a week.
‘You may also like to follow the 80/20 rule, eating healthy 80 per cent of the time and allowing yourself to indulge in less healthy food for the remaining 20 per cent of your meals. Losing track of your snacks is another. Snacking is one of the most common problems in people trying to maintain weight.’
Nicola Addison: Check your calorie deficit
‘Often people have a lack of awareness of their total calorie burn and, at times, create too big a calorie deficit. If this is the case, it’s nearly impossible to maintain, and it also makes your workouts ‘feel’ weak as little energy is available to use for training, and your overall day-to-day performance is lowered.’
How does our mindset affect our ability to keep weight off?
Milena Kaler: Don’t lose sight of your goals
‘One of the main reasons is not having attached concrete reasons to the everyday health behaviours you practised when you were trying to lose weight.
‘Realising that eating well, moving your body and sleeping optimally often make you feel happier and more energised can become clouded by the biggest abstract goal – that of looking a certain way, hitting a certain number or wearing certain clothes.
‘Once you achieve your abstract goals, if you don’t have concrete reasons to continue, your healthy behaviours are likely to fade away.’
How does digestive health affect weight gain?
Milena Kaler: Look after your gut bacteria
‘The composition of your gut bacteria has a role in regulating your body weight and there are big differences in the gut bacteria of healthy people, compared with those who are obese. Your gut bacteria can also affect how different foods are digested, as well as produce chemicals that help you feel full.
‘Along with exercise, eating more fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut or kimchi and plant-based foods, prebiotics can improve your gut function, helping you to maintain a healthy weight.’
Top tip to help keep weight off
Dr Frederica Amati: Build healthy food habits
‘Clinical trials have proven that – regardless of what you eat afterwards – having a green salad with extra-virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar before a meal reduces the glucose peak of that meal and, therefore, your likelihood of storing fat.
‘Focus on building your plate with plants first. If you fill up on fibre, you’re much less likely to put on weight. Fill up on foods, such as lentils, chickpeas, nuts or seeds, then add a grain or some protein. By the time you get there, you won’t be very hungry.
Lee Chambers: Plan to succeed
‘Firstly, keep your levels of preparation up, keep planning, keep hydrated and keep sticking to portion sizes. After acouple of months, assess your emotional eating behaviours and triggers.
Keeping a journal is a really powerful way of tracking your progress. Ask yourself: “Do I eat when I’m stressed, lonely, bored or low on energy?” By getting clear on how you have struggled, you can be compassionate and come up with a plan to give yourself a replacement activity for each situation that doesn’t involve eating or drinking.’
Milena Kaler: Find healthy foods you enjoy
‘Make a list of healthy foods until you get a wide variety, then start with what you like most and add them to your diet daily. Have protein in each meal to balance your blood sugar, and eat oily fish two to three times a week.
‘Also, use cold-pressed seed oils. Choose a carbohydrate intake that matches your activity levels and have half a plate of vegetables in your lunch and dinner. Drink two to three litres of water per day. Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of a goodnight’s sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to elevations in cortisol and decreased insulin.’
Nicola Addison: Incorporate exercise into your daily life
‘Create a large focus on daily activity. Taking the stairs, getting off the bus a stop early and washing your car, etc, all contribute massively to overall calorie burn and fat loss. Work out three to four times a week, and choose moves that encompass your whole body.
‘Exercises that use lots of joints and muscles at the same time burn lots of calories so include squats, lunges, pull-ups, press-ups and deadlifts in your workouts. Setting a fitness target can also be useful. For example, completing an unassisted pull-up or running a 10K.’