You might be wondering: Why would I read an article that talks about weight maintenance when I’m so far from my weight goal?
The reality is, over 99% of people who lose weight eventually regain it. So it’s extremely important to understand how to maintain the benefits you’ve gained from your weight loss journey to this point. This article will discuss how to do this, so you can consolidate your new habits, enjoy your new lighter weight and get on enjoying your life!
Define the ‘wins’
Most of us want to lose weight so we can feel more comfortable, live a longer healthier life and enjoy more quality time with the people we love. Sometimes we want to lose weight to look better in clothes and that’s ok too.
In the field of medical weight loss, a loss of 5-10% of your body weight is considered a ‘win’. This would mean if your starting weight is 120kg, by getting your weight to 108kg, most doctors and dietitians would be giving you a pat on the back. Why? Because the studies show that even with these modest amounts of weight loss, significant reductions can be made the the lifestyle diseases often associated with obesity. Think of conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
At Sante Medical, we aim to better these figures with a target of 20% weight loss for people with a BMI over 30 (ie: placing them in the ‘obese’ category). To put it another way, losing 1/5 of your original body weight is a reasonable and safe goal and we take steps to ensure this is targeted to come from primarily your visceral and also subcutaneous fat stores and not your muscle mass!
There was a time I could easily control my weight with simple measures!
We hear this a lot..! What we need to understand is that things are different now. You’re older and likely in a different season of life compared to your 20’s when you could easily reverse a few uni-lifestyle kilo’s with less bickies and a few jogs. But time has marched forward and you are all the better for the life experience you’ve gained. Your weight loss journey will be different now and previous strategies that worked are likely to not be as effective.
It might be worthwhile re evaluating what you consider your goal weight to be. Perhaps the weight you were in your 20’s or 30’s or before you had children or took on a stressful job or had a mortgage isn’t realistic anymore. This is why we recommend that if you’ve achieved somewhere in the realm of a 10-20% weight loss, it might be worthwhile shifting the focus to weight maintenance, before endeavouring on another reduction cycle.
Here at Sante Medical, the 5th stage of our signature weight loss program focusses on weight maintenance. During this phase the focus is on consolidating the positive behaviours that got you to the success you’ve achieved. This isn’t to say you need to ‘give up’ at this point at the possibility of losing more weight. What we are trying to do is shift the ‘season’ of your weight loss journey, even temporarily. To stay awake effectively, you must have good sleep. Similarily, you can’t always be attempting to lose weight as this will only lead to frustration and negative physiological adaptations such as reduction in metabolic weight and possible nutrient deficiency. In a weight maintenance ‘season’ our focus is now on maintaining your current weight and ideally aiming to build muscle and nutrient stores. If you’ve reached your weight goal, this will further progress your health and the liklihood of a long and productive life. If you’re not at your weight goal, it will give your metabolism a boost, improve your metabolic health and place you in good stead if you want to embark on another weight loss cycle down the track.
So what sorts of strategies can we use in the maintenance phase to avoid the risk of weight regain and consolidate the benefits, in well, a ‘maintainable’ way?
First of all we can consider lifestyle, and therefore, nutrition, activity, stress management and sleep which fall under this banner.
There are some nutritional strategies we can incorporate that research has shown can help to increase our satiety and prevent the carbs and calories in our diet, and the also insulin in our body from creeping up.
We bang on about this a lot but it’s worth repeating. First and foremost we must prioritise protein in the diet. Despite all the mythology you might hear, for weight maintenance, the research supports prioritising protein in favour of the other macronutrients (namely fat and carbohydrate). Unprocessed high protein-rich foods carry bioavailable micronutrients and promote satiety. They also help to maintain a body composition that lends itself better to effortless weight maintenance, by increasing muscle mass. Of course for an increase in muscle mass to occur, both sides of the equation need to be present: adequate protein and also adequate stimulus to the muscle, ideally in the form of strength training.
We want foods to be tasty and nutritious, but research shows we’ll spontaneously consume less calories if we keep the diet fairly simple. This is the idea why you can easily eat a whole packet of potato chips but if you sit down to eat a bowl of plain boiled potatoes with no fat or salt, you’ll quite quickly push the plate away as you’ve had enough. This is probably for a couple of reasons, one being the higher water content of the boiled potatoes (and many other minimally processed foods) adds to the satiety value. Also the brain is always looking for novelty, including with food. This is why you can always fit in your favourite dessert if offered, even if you’re completely full with a big meal of pork chops and veggies. We can take advantage of this brain-response to food by being strategic about the types of meals we consume the majority of the time. We can keep the flavours and textures of our foods quite simple the majority of the time which will signal earlier satiety to the brain compared to if we are constantly looking for the next taste sensation.
Remember, not every meal you consume needs to be a Food Magazine-worthy gastronomic delight. For the daily grind, it’s ok to have a bit of repetition and keep the flavours simple and minimal. This will make weight maintenance easier because of the effect of simple foods on the brain.
The other 3 – exercise, stress management and sleep
In the Lifestyle ‘base’ of our pyramid, we need to find a sweet spot with all 4 pillars to allow us to maintain weight. Let me explain. If your exercise is consistent but not too taxing and your stress and sleep are well maintained, you might not need to be 100% compliant with diet but you can still successfully maintain your weight. However, if your stress and sleep are out of wack, this makes weight control more difficult in general and you’ll likely need to pay closer attention to quality nutrition during these times to avoid the dreaded weight regain.
It’s often touted that ‘you can’t outrun your fork’, but don’t let this fool you into thinking you can get away with a sedentary lifestyle and not suffer the consequences. Studies show successful maintainers share certain characteristics and one of these is maintaining a consistent exercise routine. Find a way to keep up with your exercise and do something regularly that you enjoy. Remember, the key here is consistency. Even 3-4 exercise or movement bouts per week should be sufficient if the other 3 pillars are on track, but this must be done consistently!
Regular weight monitoring
Without being obsessive about the scales, it’s recommended to keep a check on your weight to allow you to respond quickly to changes upwards. This might look like a weekly check on your scales under consistent conditions (for most people this is first thing in the morning), or the ‘tight-pants test’. See how your slightly uncomfortable pair of jeans is fitting for comfort and take action if they’re feeling uncomfortably tight!
You might have used one of the prescription medications to help you in your weight loss journey and you might be wondering how this fits into weight maintenance? The answer is, it can be used in a few different ways.
Some people might continue to use their weight loss medication only around riskier times such as being on holidays or having guests come stay. In the case of the commonly prescribed weight loss drugs called the GLP1 Receptor antagonists, there is some merit to having a break from the medication before recommencing after a ‘washout’ period. This seems to give the body a fresh start when the medication is recommenced.
Stay in touch
Despite all of these strategies, unfortunately if you’ve lost a large amount your biology is still stacked against you. You’ll need to be very vigilant to avoid weight regain and we’d recommend keeping in contact with our practice at least every 3 months. If you notice a regain beyond a pre-set trigger point, it’s time to take a very close look and perhaps recommence some strategies to get this moving in the right direction again.
Have a think about shifting your focus to weight maintenance if you’re at or quite close to your weight loss goal. If you feel like you’re nowhere near that yet, but you have managed to lose 10-20% of your weight, it still might be worthwhile moving into a maintenance phase for the reasons outlined above. After a few months and when the time is right, we can always dial-in again and aim to reintroduce strategies to get the weight coming down again.
Get in contact if you need any help!