I like a natter. I think it’s the northerner in me that’s used to standing with a cup of tea chatting away with anyone who would pop up at the kitchen door for a chinwag when I was growing up. It’s fairly natural then, for me to want to talk to the people I work with before we start. In fact, all of my services start with up to 90 minutes of face to face time, much of which is spent talking about not just what we’re going to do in the future, but what they’ve done in the past.
During this time, it’s not uncommon for people to show me a picture of their “ideal” body. Something they’d like to aim at or work towards. What you might not expect is that often that picture is of them. You see, most people have lost weight before, and have the photos to prove it, but more often than not, they’re back where they started. It’s not just my job to get people back there and then say bye-bye. It’s my job to help build the good habits and practises that keep them there long term.
The fact is that only 3% of people maintain their weight loss after 5 years. By looking at what you did to lose weight in the first place, and managing your expectations, you can stay within striking distance of your goal weight. Here are 10 ways to stay lean after your diet has ended.
- Keep eating high protein. While you might not have eaten like a bodybuilder, if you were smart you ate a reasonable amount of protein during your diet. Protein helps build and preserve muscle mass, but almost more important is that it’s the most filling macronutrient. Eating protein at each meal will go a long way to keeping you full when you’re trying to maintain, as it did on your diet. You don’t need to go crazy, but aiming for 20g or so at each meal is a great way to both keep you full and to make you stop and think about the food you’re eating.
- Keep weighing yourself. Weigh-ins can be stressful on a diet. All those days waiting for the scale to give you the reading you’re looking for can be anxiety-inducing, but don’t get rid of them yet. Weighing yourself regularly makes it easier to lose weight as well as helping you maintain it. Just don’t be too focused on each individual weigh in. Accept that there will be fluctuations for a whole host of reasons, and keep your focus on long-term trends rather than one-off jumps.
- Keep lifting weights. Eating more food is a great way to make more gains. By keeping up a weight training stimulus, you can build real strength and make sure that the majority of any weight you do gain is muscle instead of fat.
- Be flexible. If you know me, you’ll know that I like my clients to still make room for the foods they love, and the same applies to maintenance. If you followed my advice you shouldn’t be feeling deprived at the end of a diet. If you want a few more of your Calories to go towards the junk foods you’ve been craving, consider giving yourself a budget. 20% of your calories is a good number to put towards the stuff you love the most. This could be every day, or a whole day full of treats at the end of the week. Whichever way, 20% is a number that seems to keep people grounded while giving you enough good stuff to keep you happy.
- Don’t completely stop counting calories. I don’t believe anyone should track and log everything they eat forever, but I am a big believer in the continuous practice of calorie awareness. During your diet, you no doubt had a few “aha” moments when you learned how many calories some of the foods you ate actually contained. Maintenance is a chance to build on that knowledge without becoming a slave to it. Chances are that after tracking for however many weeks, you guesstimate what you eat anyway. In my book, knowledge is power. Having an acute awareness of how much energy your food contains is a great tool in the long-term maintenance toolbox.
- Reflect. I don’t mean to get all woo-woo on you, but reflecting on what worked and didn’t during your weight loss journey is a massive benefit to maintaining long term. If you dieted for any period of time, you will have had moments where everything fell apart. Rather than regret these lapses, why not focus on what you can learn from them. Try your best to identify the situations that led to falling off the weight loss wagon. Later, you can use that information to avoid similar situations in the future. Or, you could go into the situations with a better acceptance of what might happen. Knowing why something makes you go off track means you can choose to stay away from those situations or celebrate them. This is real bigger picture stuff and is invaluable information for keeping things tight or cutting loose in the future.
- Keep moving. During your diet, you might have done a certain amount of cardio. Now that you’ve reached your goal you may want to pare that back, but you don’t want to slow down to sedentary. By keeping count of the number of steps you make per day you can eat more food while keeping a certain amount of cardiovascular fitness.
- Eat at regular times. Your body gets used to the times you eat, sending complex hormonal signals to your brain to make you interested in food at those times. By eating in a haphazard fashion, you run the risk of messing with these signals, leaving you feeling hungrier than normal at different times. Sticking to a regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner type of schedule helps to keep you feeling hungry at those times only. Regular meal times also limit the risk of snacking on high-calorie foods outside of meals.
- Don’t mistake boredom for hunger. Eating is fun, and it can seem like a great idea to bust out a bag of crisps or a doughnut during an afternoon lull at work. It’s easy for random events to become a habit, and soon no day is complete without half a packet of biscuits for elevenses. Building greater awareness of your hunger signals helps to separate feelings of boredom from actual physiological hunger.
- Try to not stress yourself out. You will never maintain the weight you ended your diet at forever and ever and you shouldn’t try. When you eat more food, your body will store carbohydrates in your liver and muscles more readily, and you’ll have more food in your gut generally, adding at least a couple of kilos. The tiny bit of fat gain that comes with loosening everything up a little bit will only add a small amount to the weight you gain back in the next couple of weeks if you pay attention to some of the guidelines above. Try not to live and die by the scale. Learning to nail long-term maintenance is not going to be something you get right straight away. You can always undo a little bit of fat gain down the line, and all things that are worth doing well take time to master. You’ll be fine.
Ending your diet doesn’t mean you have to gain all your weight back in a week. Nor does it mean you have to live like a starving calorie counting wreck for the rest of your life if you want to stay at your goal weight. By internalising the habits and good practices you learned while losing weight, you can enjoy your life while still looking great.
Build a roadmap to your physique and health goals now and learn the skills to stay on the path forever: