This was your year to dramatically change the way you look and feel. You admitted to yourself that you needed to lose weight and get fit to improve your quality of life. You set reasonable goals and established a deadline – check. You then established a positive mindset for achieving those goals – check. Next, you’ve cleansed your mind of unnecessary weight loss drivel and only left room only for the basic fundamentals of a successful weight loss program – check. You established a caloric deficit and have performed a progressive exercise plan at least 3x/week that included both cardio and weights-check. You lost some weight, broke though several plateaus , and eventually reached your ultimate goal weight.
Congratulations, you are now one of select few who you have been successful on a weight loss program. You’ve covered all the bases and can now reap the benefits of having a lean, healthy and attractive body. Your journey is now over…. isn’t it?
Are you going to revert back to the bad habits that contributed to your bodyfat problem in the first place? Do you have a plan for the future? A plan to maintain your weight loss or maybe even a plan to take things to an even higher level? You see the only real way to gauge the success of a weight loss program is on how well you keep the weight off in the long term. We all know or have met someone who dramatically transformed their body, only to rebound back to where they started in less than a year. Why does this happen?
You must first understand that to be lean and healthy there is always a price to pay. If anyone tells you it’s fast and easy, look the other way. What most don’t realize, is there is also a price to pay to maintain it. So what’s the price? More dieting and exercise of course. Not what you wanted to hear right? I’m sorry but you’re going to have strategies in place to maintain your new weight, just as you did in the weight loss phase.
Setting Up Your Long Term Weight Loss Maintenance Plan
1. Establish a new caloric maintenance level
To stabilize your new weight, establish a gradual transition phase that slowly increases your caloric intake back to maintenance levels. Remember that your energy balance (energy in versus energy out) has now changed from when you were overweight. You now require much less food energy to maintain your bodyweight. Therefore you must transition to your NEW energy balance maintenance level. I provided the formula for finding this number here. From this point you’ll eat pretty much the same as in the weight loss phase, only a little more, and to match your maintenance level.
Plan for weekly “weigh-ins”, to ensure your weight is not creeping back up. After a few weeks of this, assuming you haven’t gained any weight, you will have found your true energy balance or caloric maintenance level.
2. Maintain high levels of exercise
Abruptly ending your exercise program will significantly reduce the calories you can burn each day. If you simultaneously raise you food intake (as in key #1) the weight gain implications are obvious. It would be very difficult to maintain your weight without exercise. In fact it would require extreme strictness and adherence to your diet to do so. It would also remove many of the health benefits you acquired during the weight loss phase, including raising your elevated resting metabolic rate. This will result in you burning less calories each day.
The solution is to maintain your high level of activity, but you are no longer under presure to improve your performance, unless you want to. These “maintenance workouts” will function as a constant reminder to your body, to stay lean and fit to better cope with the constant demands placed on it. How much and how often, will depend on your results. Always measure and track your results!
3. Get serious about weight training.
No other means of getting fit (at any age) is as productive at developing a strong, mobile, functional and lean physique than weight training. In my opinion, it the most essential component of an effective weight loss program. Getting lean without weights ( even if your weight stays the same) will only give you that “skinny fat” look, as you slowly lose the muscle you built and replace it with a fresh fat supply. Not good. Successful maintainers love the feeling they get from lifting weights and essentially it becomes a hobby for them.
4. Decrease your sedentary activities
It’s not just important what you do, but what you don’t do. Replace as many sedentary activities with active alternatives. I believe the best option for most people is to find a sport that they enjoy and participate as often as you can. People who do this just tend to stay lean all year round. Walk, stoll, hike, play with your kids and always try to find an alternative to sitting around. Stretch or perform light exercise in front of the T.V. This can be incredible productive if you have certain weak/tight muscles that you never seem to have time to work on. A foam roll is another handy thing to have around the house when your in sedentary mode. Just stop what you are doing for a minute, grab the roller and give yourself a massage. Remember this – the more active you are outside of the gym, the less you’ll need to do in the gym which makes things much easier.
5 Maintain Your New Eating Habits
Just as you cannot abruptly stop exercising after your weight loss plan, it is equally counterproductive to abandon your good nutritional habits. The one’s I’m referring to are the nutritional habits of any successful, long term weight loss strategy:
- Eat at least 5-6 fruits and/or vegetables per day per day
- Eat a high fiber diet
- Eat breakfast everyday
- Eat at fast food restaurants 2 or less times per week
- Eat less dietary fat
- Reduce or eliminate incidence of emotional eating patterns
6. Self Monitor Your Progress
Tracking and measuring and measuring your results throughout your weight loss phase was critical to getting the most out of your program, and the maintenance phase is no exception. You need to employ weekly, if not daily measures for tracking your bodyweight, body fat, meal plans and calories ( especially from fat). These are key habits to keeping the weight off for good and act as an “early warning” system for weight regain. You must develop a low tolerance for regain and use the results of your tracking systems to determine the culprit for the weight gain and correct it. Simple right?
Keep in mind that your weight can fluctuate by 2-3 pounds throughout the day, which is perfectly normal. Any weight gain outside that window should sound off your alarm, springing you into reflexive corrective action to bring things back into balance.
7. Where’s the Support?
One thing for sure, if you’ve surrounded your self with negative people and influencers, it will always be a struggle to maintain your new weight. If your spouse or family member keeps junk food around the house, it’s only a matter of time before you eat it. If your friends idea of a good time is to get drunk and eat pizza on the weekends, you’ll soon follow suit. Your social network should help you cope with personal or emotional problems that could trigger a relapse. If not, you might want to raise the bar on who you let into your life and re-evaluate what’s really important to you. Professional coaching, personal trainers or training partners are great options to give you the necessary support you need, at least as you transition into the maintenance phase.
If you mange to become, or have become, a real long term ( kept it off for 5+ years) weight loss success story, congratulations to you! You have done what 99% of those who try, can’t, won’t or don’t. You are now a role model to everyone around you. Take your new knowledge and success and pay it forward to someone who needs your help. Become a coach, or maybe even a personal trainer, as I’ve done. Whatever you do, become a support unit for others. You’ll find that the rewards of helping others, is far greater than the weight loss success you achieved.
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