We can think of weight management as two phases: a weight loss phase and a weight loss maintenance phase.
During the first phase (usually lasting three to six months) a weight loss occurs, followed by a second phase where ideally the weight is maintained1. However, for many people the weight is slowly regained. Researchers have provided lots of evidence and recommendations on how people can lose weight but less is known about how they can they can keep the weight off successfully2.
What is “weight loss maintenance”?
If you are overweight, losing a moderate amount of weight (5-10% of your starting weight) can bring significant health benefits 3, 4. However, to maintain those health benefits it is important to keep the weight off. This goal can be a challenging and a difficult process.
According to some studies, the difficulty associated with weight maintenance could be related to the natural process of our body to regain the lost weight,5 but also to psychological causes such as going back to old unhealthy dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles6. However, our weight rarely stays exactly the same and could fluctuate for many reasons, including: fluid retention during a menstrual cycle and water fluctuations after activity7.
Barriers to keep the weight off
Successfully keeping the weight off is associated with several psychological factors. For example, research has shown that people are less likely to keep the weight off8 when they:
• eat when they are stressed or sad
• have set unrealistic weight loss goals
• consider their inability to reach their target weight as a failure
• have negative feelings about their body
What can I do to keep my weight off?
Several strategies can help us keep our weight off. These strategies can be related to the way we are thinking but also to our lifestyle habits.
One of the great sources of information for weight maintenance is the National Weight Control Registry established by R.Wing and O.Hill in 19949. The National Weight Control Registry aims to collect information regarding successful weight loss maintenance, they reported that people who can keep their weight the same are the people who10:
1. Check their weight at least once per week. Monitoring our weight regularly provides an opportunity to reflect on how our lifestyle is affecting our weight and allows us to take action before our weight changes significantly11.
2. Continue to eat a low fat diet. Studies report that successful weight maintenance is related to a low consumption of fat12. Consumption of a low fat diet leads to consumption of less energy or less calories13. This may help to prevent weight gain14.
3. Eat breakfast every day. Having breakfast daily can help us regulate our appetite better, feel less hungry between meals and eat less as a result15. The benefits could increase when our breakfast includes foods that are rich in fibre16.
4. Be active by watching less than 10 hours of TV per week and exercise for 1 hour per day. Several studies and clinical guidelines support that physical activity plays an important role in the maintenance of reduced weight3,4,17. Although there is no general agreement about the level and amount of physical activity18 and even though some studies suggest that weight control is a much more complicated process than just an issue of physical activity, research shows that being active increases our energy expenditure19 and can improve cardiovascular health20.
What do the Clinical Guidelines say?
According to clinical guidelines National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) (2006) and Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network (SIGN) (2010):
• It is important for weight management services to support individuals to develop skills for weight loss and weight loss maintenance.
• Individuals are more likely to maintain a healthy weight if they consume a healthy balanced diet and have an active lifestyle (30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five days per week).
• However, individuals who are overweight or obese may need to do more exercise during the day than the recommended amount of 30 minutes per day.
To sum up
“Weight loss maintenance” is a challenging process but very important. Maintaining the weight that we have lost means that we have made sustainable lifestyle changes that can help to protect us from future health risks. Successful weight loss maintenance is influenced by our healthy dietary habits and our regular physical activity patterns. Mechanisms that can support weight loss maintenance include regular monitoring of our weight.
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