How to Prevent Weight Loss Relapse

Last week I wrote a post on how to break a weight loss plateau . Check it out if you missed it. Plateaus aren’t the only sources of frustration for people trying to lose weight. What about the ones who lose weight, only to relapse back to where they started. The dreaded “diet relapse” has plagued many dieters and continues to do so. In fact it has been shown that as many as 70-90% of dieters will relapse and gain the weight back within the first 1-3 years of the initial weight loss. In some cases, they will even exceed their pre-diet weight.

So the challenge is to understand why people relapse and and then integrate an effective prevention strategy into your weight loss plan.

1. Following a Diet that is Too Strict

Severe calorie restricted diets are doomed from the start. Crash dieting, fasting, cleanses or weight loss programs that rely mostly on pharmaceutical aids, appetite suppressants or supplements in place of whole foods are short term solutions at best. In fact, I believe that any diet that reduces your energy intake more than 300 calories/day below maintenance, will be problematic in both the short and long term. This will encourage binge eating along the way and rapid weight regain when the diet is over. This is often referred to as “weight cycling” and can have serious consequences to your health, including blood pressure and cholesterol irregularities, reduced metabolic efficiency, and possibly even shortening your lifespan. It will also make it harder for you to lose weight with every bout of weight regain you put your body through. Over time, your fat loss system begins to shut down, leaving you more vulnerable to weight gain in the future. You also need to understand the direct correlation between your speed of weight loss and the rate of relapse you will experience. A nutrition plan that you can actually stick with and that isn’t overly rigid is extremely important in preventing the early onset of relapse.

2. Setting unrealistic deadlines

While it’s important set the bar high for yourself, the deadlines you set must be based in reality. It is not realistic to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, or even 20 pounds for that matter. When you understand that optimal weight loss comes at rate of 1-2lbs/week you can set your deadlines accordingly. So 20 lbs in 4 months is a much better projection.

Transformation T.V. shows are a major cause for people setting unrealistic weight loss goals. They see these amazing transformations where the person loses up to 200lbs in a year. While this can be very motivating, you must understand that these transformations occur in a dream world and the contestant basically lives in a “bubble”. In other words they have the whole world supporting and cheering them on, nutritionists, personal trainers, behavioral coaches, a medical team, you name it.  Who wouldn’t lose weight with such a support infrastructure in place? Well guess what? You don’t have that, and what’s worse, is that neither do they when the transformation is over. This is why shockingly, almost 90% of these contestant relapse within a year of their weight loss.

Remember T.V. isn’t real. Always set smart, attainable and realistic deadlines and think twice before engaging in any system that promises weight loss in record time.

3. Abruptly stopping the weight loss program

The word relapse is defined as  a resumption of old behaviors. Most people reach their goal weight and immediately abandon all the healthy habits they developed to lose that weight. In addition, they go back to negative beliefs and behaviors that created the weight problem in the first place. If you think the great results you got are permanent, think again. Putting on the brakes too abruptly will result in sudden relapse and the weight regain avalanche begins. Like anything in life, you need to ease in and out of the program. Giving your body a sudden influx of calories in combination with a dramatic reduction in activity level will send the message to your body to start storing fat all over again. You are going to have to maintain most of the habits that made your weight loss successful.

4. Not Adapting To Changing Maintenance Levels

At some point you established an initial maintenance calorie intake. This number reflects the number of calories needed to maintain your current weight at that time. Here’s the problem– when you were heavier, it may have taken 2200 calories/day to maintain your body weight. Now that you are a little leaner, you may only need 1900 calories/day to maintain. Most people don’t recognize this change and end up eating far more than they need. This problem is compounded if you don’t increase your activity levels to compensate, as most don’t. Always remember, the leaner you are, the less energy you need to function. You should be decreasing your calories slowly over time in conjunction with your current weight and energy needs, which is dynamic and always changing.

5. Poor Coping Skills

cat lounging on a couch watching T.V.We all have stress in our lives. We are all burdened by the same pressures, expectations, unexpected life events and obligations. One of the reasons that lean people stay lean is the way they cope with these problems. Typically, overweight people use food and sedentary behavior (i.e. watching T.V., sleeping) to distract themselves or escape from life’s stresses. Doing so has obvious implications for losing weight. If you don’t find some productive stress coping strategies, you’ll likely struggle to lose weight and end up just another weight cycler. Always remember that food is for fuel and nourishment, not for coping with stress.

6. Rigid ideas of success

My clients typically lose 1-2lbs of fat/week and are quite happy about that, but occasionally some are not. Why? Even though the research shows that this is optimal progress, some people want it to happen so fast that they become disappointed. That disappointment, over time, becomes depression which triggers binge eating and other bad habits. This could be avoided if they weren’t so rigid in what they felt they should get out of the program. These people are “all or none” thinkers, or perfectionists. They are either on the program %100 or off the program. If they miss a meal, have a bad workout, miss a deadline or are non-compliant to the program in any way, they get frustrated and abruptly terminate the program.

The 80/20 rule works well here. That is, if you’re compliant to the program 80% of the time, the other %20 won’t significantly impact your results. Ease up on yourself, it’s only human to indulge and make mistakes once in a while. Remember, fitness is a journey of self improvement. Give yourself credit for your achievements,  learn from your experiences and avoid the all or none way of thinking.

As I’ve shown you, there are many ways to go off the rails on a weight loss program. Not only is losing weight hard work, but you’re always worrying about plateaus and relapsing back to your old self. Anything worth having is worth working hard for, but as you now know, working hard is not enough. You have to work smart, set goals and plan ahead to avoid falling into another weight loss relapse.

If you enjoyed this article, please quickly do me a favor and share with others and comment below.


Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

Popular Posts

A Change Of Habit

We’re now well into January and it’s time to take stock on your efforts to become leaner, fitter and healthier this year. At this point,

Read More »

Post Categories