Why Is Maintaining Harder Than Losing?

You've done it—you've reached your goal weight! Now that you've invested in a new wardrobe and updated your Facebook profile picture, how can you make sure you don't regain the pounds you worked to lose?

The truth is that it's actually easier to drop weight than it is to keep it off. Statistics bear this out—most dieters regain some, if not all, of the weight they lose. Why is it so hard to make your new physique stick, and how can you avoid some of the most common obstacles to weight maintenance?

Part of the problem is that our metabolic efficiency changes as we lose weight, says Graham Thomas, assistant professor of research at the Brown University Medical School in Providence and co-investigator at the National Weight Control Registry, which keeps a database of people who've lost a substantial amount of weight and kept it off. "Somebody who's always been 175 pounds can eat a certain number of calories to stay at that weight, but somebody who's reduced down to 175 pounds has to eat fewer calories to stay at that weight," Thomas says. In other words, our body adapts to the lower weight by cutting back on its need for calories. So if you think you can safely eat more calories once you reach your goal, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Biology may be destiny, but psychology also plays a role in successful maintaining. The truth is that, for most of us, losing weight is more exciting than keeping it off. The thrill of seeing the scale move downward, fitting into smaller clothing, receiving compliments, and feeling better and more energetic may keep you motivated. Once you take off the pounds, staying committed to careful eating and regular exercise may become harder as your new trim physique is no longer a novelty.

How can you be successful at both losing and maintaining weight loss?

Make sustainable changes. A very low-calorie diet may help you shed pounds quickly, but it's going to be almost impossible to keep up. Instead, make small changes that you'll be able to incorporate into your daily life.

Commit to high levels of physical activity. According to Taylor, people in the National Weight Control Registry do about an hour of brisk exercise daily, typically walking. He stresses that it's not necessary to carve out a 60-minute chunk of time; 10 minutes of brisk walking several times throughout the day will do.

Watch less TV. It stands to reason that people who aren't sitting in front of the screen have more time to get moving.

Weigh yourself regularly. Stepping on the scale weekly, if not daily, will help you stop small gains in their tracks.




Interview with Graham Thomas, the Brown University Medical School