Why Keeping The Weight Off Is Harder Than Losing It + Exactly What To Do About It

mbg Contributor By Kate Martino, M.S., PA-C
mbg Contributor
Kate Martino is a physician's assistant passionate about healthy and vibrant living. She received her master’s in Physician’s Assistant Studies from Pace University.
Why Keeping The Weight Off Is Harder Than Losing It + Exactly What To Do About It

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If you’ve struggled with losing weight and keeping it off, you know how difficult it can be. And you’re not alone, the majority of people who lose weight gain it back within a couple of years. Most weight-loss programs help you lose weight through counting calories or points, eliminating entire food groups, using meal replacement shakes, or setting up your workout programs for you. And many of them are especially attractive because they help you get noticeable results quickly, are simple to follow in the short term, and take much of the thought process out of weight loss by telling you exactly what to do. And that's great!

The problem is that by the end, you’ve successfully lost weight but haven’t established any new lifestyle habits to help you maintain it. Once you’ve lost weight and no longer need to follow the plan, you soon realize real that weight maintenance is hard and it's easy to go back to old habits, risking weight gain. Below are the biggest mistakes people make after losing weight and some tips to help you avoid them to make maintenance easier:

1. They focus on small details without considering the big picture.

Breaking a big picture into smaller, more manageable ideas or steps seems like a great way to live a healthier life. But when it comes to weight loss, this isn't always the best approach. A good example (that I see all the time) would be going gluten-free just because you read that it helps you lose weight. You buy all gluten-free products, which are often processed with various refined carbohydrates without changing anything else. For most people, the problem isn’t gluten; it’s how much you’re eating, how often you indulge, and the quality of your food choices. Taking gluten out of the equation doesn’t address the real problem, which lies more in the big picture of your health and eating habits.

Instead: Consider a plan that will help you successfully maintain the weight you’ve lost. Figure out what an overall healthy diet looks like (hint: more vegetables and real food, fewer refined carbohydrates and processed foods), how to balance indulgences so you don’t feel deprived, and how to be more active. Then, break it into smaller goals to accomplish each week, like eating more greens each day, replacing a high-calorie indulgence with a lighter one, or walking 5,000 more steps each day.

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2. They learned how to lose weight but not how to eat healthy.

When you’re focused on weight loss and calories—and less on balance and nutrient density—it can make maintenance more difficult. People often make lower calorie choices but miss ways to make it healthy and satisfying.

Smoothies are a popular, lower calorie, and nutritious choice for breakfast but they’re commonly loaded with sugar, even if they’re made with healthy ingredients. I often see them made with fruit juice, coconut water, flavored yogurt, honey, or dates before any actual fruit is added, which is commonly sweet fruit like mango or banana. Instead, approach smoothies and other meals with a healthy balance of carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean protein. Build the perfect green smoothie using only fruit as the sweetener, add a healthy fat like avocado, greens, and a good source of protein (unflavored protein powder or Greek yogurt are great options!).

3. They don't take the time to find out what motivates them.

When you don’t address the root cause of weight gain and unhealthy food habits, you’ll probably have a hard time staying motivated. Think back to a time when you lost control around food, maybe at a social gathering or when you were feeling stressed and needed comfort. Would counting calories or having a meal replacement shake have helped you? Probably not. The typical ways to lose weight rely heavily on willpower, which becomes shaky as we face the many challenges in life. After the initial excitement of losing weight wears, the present situation usually takes priority and weakens your willpower.

Instead: Make a game plan before challenges arise. In what ways can you indulge while also minimizing the damage? People commonly fall off track when they’re stressed or have been depriving themselves too much. Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, it helps to find a happy medium. If you just want to munch on something while watching TV, have a bowl of popcorn; if you need something sweet, have portioned dark chocolate with berries or peanut butter. It shouldn’t be a daily habit but rather a way to stay on track when you’d otherwise derail.

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4. They keep temptation around.

Even though it seems simple, this might be the most common mistake I see. Personally, if I keep chips or chocolate around, my mind immediately goes there when I’m hungry and it takes a lot of self-control to limit it or choose something healthier altogether. When these foods are not readily on hand, I don’t think about it much. Without temptation, making healthier choices becomes much easier and feels less restrictive.

Instead: Think of the foods that you crave most, or have a hard time limiting when they’re within arms reach, and make an effort to keep them out of your house.

Losing weight is a great accomplishment, but maintaining it long term is where people struggle most. To find success, focus on what makes a healthy diet (like nutritious food and balanced meals), break it down into manageable habits, be consistent but allow indulgences, and make it easier on yourself by avoiding temptation.

Want to read more? Here's how to tell you're at your happy weight and 10 reasons you STILL can't lose weight.

And are you ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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