For many people, shedding the pounds was the easy part—it’s keeping them off that can be the real challenge.
Trying to slim down can be similar to bouncing on a trampoline. The harder we jump down, the higher our weight infuriatingly shoots right back up. It’s not just hard on your wallet (buying new pants all the time isn’t cheap!), but it can also be hard on your health, from increasing muscle loss to attacking your immune system. Regaining lost weight, also known as weight cycling, is a common occurrence for 75 percent of people who attempt to shrink their waistlines—just look at the participants of the show, The Biggest Loser.
In a new study about the show, published in the journal Obesity, researchers followed 14 contestants for six years following the 2009 season. They were shocked to see that nearly all of the contestants (13 out of the 14) regained weight after the competition ended. And four contestants are actually heavier now than before they started their weight-loss journey. For some, that’s over 100 pounds!
You probably already guessed there’s more behind the added flab on your frame than just calories-in-calories-out and that simply moving more and eating less may not help you slim back down. Instead, you’ll need to pinpoint the precise reasons behind your weight gain so you can reverse the damage. To help you out, we’ve outlined the most common weight-maintenance saboteurs below, along with ways to fight back against each. You may be surprised to learn which seemingly innocuous habits are making the scale tip further away from your goal weight! And to find expert-recommended tips to escape that weight loss game of tug-o-war, check out these 20 Ways to Lose Weight—For Good.
1 YOU EAT AS MUCH AS YOU DID
Congrats, you did it! You made it to your goal weight. But just because you dropped the pounds doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you did before your weight loss. In fact, you may have to eat even less to keep the scale tipped in your favor. Why? Well, your body needs less fuel at its new weight. That’s because when you lose a significant amount of weight, your metabolism actually slows down because of a mechanism known as “metabolic adaptation.” Our bodies have evolved to store fat and become accustomed to the weight you’ve gained. So when you try to lose it, your body’s metabolism switches to survival mode and decreases the amount of calories it burns on a daily basis—and stays like that for about a year. At the same time, research published in the journal Obesity found that your levels of leptin, the satiety hormone that tells your body when you’ve had your fill, actually drop after weight loss, leaving you feeling constantly ravished.
Know that your first year keeping the weight off is most likely to be the toughest and the time you’ll have to be the most diligent. Maintain an eating schedule so you don’t indulge in random office snacks your co-workers brought in. And to beat those menacing low leptin levels, read up on these 26 Ways to Feel Full While Eating Less.
2 YOU’RE SUPER TENSE
If your crazy-busy life has left you feeling worn down and stressed, that could be the reason you’re starting to look a bit mushy in the middle. Cortisol, the stress hormone that’s released when we’re under pressure, causes the body to metabolize food more slowly. To make matters worse, the types of food we crave when we’re tense tend to be fat and sugar-laden, say researchers. As a result, this diet-derailing combination can kill your hard-earned weight loss wins. Researchers say that the combination of high-cal cravings and a stress-induced snail-paced metabolic rate can result in significant weight gain.
To stay cool as a cucumber and keep those pesky pounds at bay, give a few different stress management tactics a try, suggests Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Practicing yoga, going for a run, meeting up with friends, and unplugging from technology for an evening are all things Zanini says are worth a shot. Research even shows that smiling and laughing can help diminish levels of stress hormones. See what works best for you, and set aside time to decompress a few times per week.
3 YOU DIDN’T RENEW YOUR GYM MEMBERSHIP
While eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important aspect of any weight maintenance plan, sticking to an exercise program after you’ve reached your goal may be the key to keeping the pounds off long-term according to University of Alabama researchers. The study team noticed that participants who stopped breaking a sweat after losing weight experienced a dip in their metabolism while those who continued to work out for 40 minutes three times a week continued to fry calories at the same rate.
Whatever you enjoy—running, lifting, doing yoga or Crossfitting—just keep your heart pumping. Doing so will help you burn off the occasional beer or cheat meal of a slice of pizza and keep that pesky flab from sneaking back onto your stomach.
4 YOU’RE COMMITTED TO YOUR FITNESS CLASS
So while working out is critical for maintaining your metabolism, if you haven’t switched up your workout routine recently, your six-pack might easily melt into a barely-there two-pack, says Dr. Sean M. Wells, personal trainer and author of Double-Crossed: A Review of the Most Extreme Exercise Program. “If you’ve been doing the same workout for the past few months, your body isn’t being challenged anymore, meaning it’s not burning as many calories as it otherwise could,” he explains.
If you typically stick to spin classes, consider checking out a boot camp or Zumba class to give your metabolism a kick. Can’t bear to leave your Schwinn? Look for a more intense class or challenge yourself by turning up the resistance (yes, even when the instructor doesn’t tell you to). Switching up your exercise routine is one of the 20 Ways to Overcome a Weight-Loss Plateau.
5 YOU’RE SKIMPING ON SHUTEYE
You may already know that when you’re exhausted your metabolism slows, but did you realize that losing as little as 30 minutes of sleep can up the odds the scale will stop tipping in your favor? In a recent study, researchers analyzed more than 500 participants’ weekday sleep diaries and found that losing a mere 30 minutes of shut-eye increased their risk of obesity by 17 percent! Even mild sleep deprivation causes ghrelin—the hunger-stimulating hormone–to go into overdrive while simultaneously reducing levels of leptin–the hormone that suppresses appetite. In turn, this stimulates hunger even when you’re full which can lead to overeating and weight gain.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests logging a solid seven or eight hours of shuteye each night. If you want to get back to your more slender self, cut your nightly Netflix session short and make sure to get a solid night’s sleep. Plus, mastering your bedtime routine could help your slim-down efforts. Check out our exclusive guide to 30 Things to Do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Lose Weight.