How to keep weight off: expert advice for healthy weight loss maintenance

Reached your weight-loss goal? Great! Now here's how to keep weight off as you move into the 'maintain' phase

How to keep weight off for happy, healthy weight-loss maintenance
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Reaching your ideal weight can be tricky, but then comes the hardest part: how to keep weight off. Happily, there are easy ways you can achieve this.

Whether you chose to shed some pounds for health reasons or simply to feel better about your body, the simple fact that you've reached your weight-loss goal will go some way to helping you maintain your weight.

Continuing to keep up your regime of regular exercise, healthy eating and a positive mindset is essential. But beyond that, there are additional changes you can make and practices you can adopt to ensure you keep weight off for good.

Ready to move into the maintain stage of your weight-loss journey? Here’s what science and research tells us really works…

Keep weight loss slow and steady 

Don’t lose weight too quickly. ‘If your body spots a sudden drop in calories, it thinks a famine is approaching and will do everything in its power to encourage you to stock up on food and conserve energy by releasing chemical messengers that make you hungry and sluggish,’ warns NHS consultant and weight-loss expert Dr Sally Norton

For safe and sustainable weight loss, national guidelines recommend reducing your intake by about 600 calories a day – this way, you’ll lose around 6lb a month.

Avoid 'diet' food

‘It's often full of chemicals or extra sugar to make up for the calories taken out,’ warns Dr Sally. You’re much better off eating real, nutritious, non-processed food made from scratch. It boosts your mental strength to make healthier changes. 

Build healthy habits 

They’re important for weight loss, but even more crucial for not slipping back into bad habits and seeing the weight return. Building useful routines will quickly settle in as just part of your life, and you’ll end up doing them without thinking. For example, instead of that latte and slice of cake mid-morning, try a green tea and rice cake.

If the thought of that makes you groan, the good news is that you can train your brain to enjoy healthier foods more by simply eating more of them, according to Dr Sally. ‘But remember, habits can take anything from 18 to 254 days to become entrenched.’ So stick with it.

Take up yoga 

Yes, really! Recent research from the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that regular yoga helps lost weight stay off. Researchers believe it’s not so much the physical energy expended, as yoga is relatively low-energy, but that those doing yoga develop better body awareness and stress management, leading to a healthier lifestyle and diet. 

If you’re starting out, try Hatha yoga, which is ideal for beginners. Vinyasa flow is a great intermediate class and Ashtanga is more advanced. Other types include Bikram (done in a heated room) and restorative yoga (which focuses on relaxation). 

Don’t be a martyr 

If you find you really don’t like kale, then just don’t eat it. ‘If you don’t want to make those healthier changes, then you won’t stick to them,’ says Dr Sally. Find healthier choices that you actually enjoy. 'It’s not just about eating healthy foods, it’s about eating the healthy foods you like the most,’ she says. 

And there are plenty to choose from. It’s best not to ban any foods that you love – you’ll simply crave them more. Instead, try cutting back or making healthier swaps. Rather than that bag of shop-bought popcorn, for example, try popping your own kernels in a lidded saucepan with a drop of olive oil. Once cooked, sprinkle with smoked paprika for a spicy flavour. It's amazing how many store-bought products and ingredients we can easily make healthier versions of ourselves.

Keep up your activity levels

Exercise obviously burns calories, but much more than that, it tones you up, builds muscles (which burns even more calories) and makes you more body aware – leading to healthier long-term lifestyle and food choices in a virtuous circle. 

Take action by ensuring you get at least the recommended minimum of half an hour, five times a week, of moderately intense physical activity that leaves you slightly out of breath. 

How to keep weight off: keep up your activity levels

(Image credit: Andrew Tanglao on Unsplash)

The key is finding something you enjoy that you’re likely to stick with. Build it into your week so it simply becomes part of your routine. doing an activity with friends or as part of an organised class can help this, and makes it more sociable and more likely that you’ll keep going. 

And have a coffee before – it may help. Research in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that caffeine an hour before exercise can boost the rate at which you burn calories afterwards by as much as 15%. 

Don’t remove specific food groups

Avoid quick-fix fad diets and plans which remove or severely limit specific nutritionally- important food groups, such as carbohydrate and protein. They don’t allow you to introduce healthy eating habits into your life on a permanent basis so they’re not sustainable in the long-term.

‘Find a long-term, healthier way of eating that satisfies you, is affordable, suits your lifestyle, and provides all the nutrients you need,’ advises Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones.

Try fasting – but just a little

The health benefits of giving your body a rest from digestion are becoming increasingly accepted, alongside the boost it gives to weight loss. ‘Fasting can help blood and insulin levels, and other metabolic processes,’ says Dr Mel. But don’t over-do it. Simply try stretching the time between your evening meal and breakfast, and stop the snacking between meals on some days.

Seek out support

It’s crucial to keep you motivated, as research has shown that you’re more likely to stick to a weight-loss plan if you can share the experience. 

You’re also more likely to succeed if you choose the least stressful time to start and are truly committed, says Dr Mel. ‘We need to have strategies for dealing with setbacks, to pick the right time and we may even need to change our thinking or boost self-belief by learning mindfulness or with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).’ 

Consider joining a slimming club such as Slimming World or WW for face-to-face or online advice and support. Also ask you GP about CBT or other therapies and get family and friends on board to join you in a healthier eating plan or weight-loss goals if they need them too.