Whether it’s calorie counting, ditching carbs or another of the numerous weight-loss plans on offer, there are plenty of approaches to dieting and guidance on doing so. But what are you meant to do once you’ve hit your target? We understand: coming off of a diet can be daunting. After all, nobody wants to think their hard work might unravel as soon as they go back to eating ‘normally’ – and research* suggests as many as 80 percent of people put at least some weight back on. But, however tempting, it’s not a good idea to stay on a diet for long periods, as doing so can lead to health concerns ranging from hair loss and headaches to increased anxiety and risk of heart disease. Not good. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to maintain your target weight – spoiler: sustainability and balance play starring roles…
1 Everything in moderation
It sounds clichéd, but it’s oh-so-true. If you go from limiting yourself to suddenly eating cheese on toast and tubs of ice cream before washing it all down with a couple of beers, it’s a no-brainer that those pounds will creep back on. Sure, allowing yourself a bar of chocolate or burger is fine, but: “Think about moderation when it comes to indulgences,” says Aroosha Nekoman, senior certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance (ultimateperformance.com). “No one is saying deprive yourself, but equally, you should be mindful and make sure your diet is balanced to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive.” Think about what’s on your plate: a stack of veggies will have far more nutritional value than a pile of greasy chips. “Prioritise quality protein, a variety of healthy fats and plenty of fruit and vegetables,” Aroosha adds.
2 Cultivate a positive relationship with food
Despite what some weight loss marketing ploys may have us think, food is not the enemy – we need it to survive! Diets can cause us to adopt disordered patterns of thinking about food, which can be harmful in both the shortand long-term. “Following a diet can feel restrictive and punishing, and can lead to people developing dysmorphic ideas, which leaves them feeling ‘bad’ when they have eaten certain foods,” explains Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist, founder of Good Thinking Psychological Services, and host of The Aspiring Psychologist podcast (goodthinkingpsychology.co.uk).
Look at reframing your mindset. So, rather than going into mealtimes thinking of negative outcomes, focus on the positives. “Remember that life is about more than what we eat, and experiences with food can bring so many positives, such as enjoyment, a sense of connection and creating wonderful memories,” points out Dr Rachel Evans, chartered psychologist and host of the Just Eat Normally podcast (eatingdisordertherapist.co.uk).
“It’s also a good idea to remind yourself that you are worthy and deserving of food and to allow yourself to be nourished,” adds Dr Marianne.
3 Eat intuitively and mindfully
When faced with a big plate of delicious looking food, it’s incredibly tempting to scoff the lot. But rather than giving into temptation, consider what your body is telling you it actually needs. One way to do this is by “practising using the ‘hunger scale’ – with one being the hungriest and 10 being uncomfortably full,” suggests Rachel Clarkson, Doctify-reviewed nutritionist and founder of The DNA Dietitian (thednadietitian.co.uk). “You always want to be between three and seven: eating when you’re at three and stopping at seven.”
If you’re still peckish an hour later, you can always grab something else to nibble on. Another approach is to eat more slowly, Rachel adds. “Enjoy your food mindfully and take your time while eating to recognise the different flavours and textures.” Eating at a slower pace has been proven to make you feel fuller, and studies have found that doing so is linked to lower BMI and waist measurement. Plus, it “ensures you enjoy the eating experience more,” says Rachel.
4 Slow and steady wins the race
“When you intentionally drop your daily food intake for any long period of time, your body responds by lowering the metabolic rate to conserve energy,” explains Sarah Carolides, qualified nutritionist and head of nutrition at Zooki (yourzooki.com). Because your metabolism has slowed, it means that when you start to eat more calories, they’re not burned at as fast of a rate, leading to weight gain.
However, adding more calories to your diet and increasing portion sizes at a steady pace “eases the body back into expecting more food,” she says. This is called ‘the reverse diet’. “The first change [you could] make is to add in another portion of a starchy carb, such as brown rice or sweet potatoes. After that, [you could] increase the amounts of macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) proportionately,” Sarah reveals. “By working through [it] with a sensible reintroduction of food portions, dieters can come off their calorie restrictions with confidence and more success.”
However, it’s worth noting that while this approach can be helpful if you’re easing off calorie counting, it can be tricky to calculate how much to add back in and when, as everyone’s requirements differ. Plus, more research is needed to gauge how effective this tactic is. When coming off any long-term weight loss plan, it’s worth checking in with a healthcare professional to make sure you do so safely and “to decide the best course of actions for you and your goals,” Rachel recommends.
5 Get moving
We all know that physical activity is vital for our overall wellbeing, and it also plays a key role in burning fat and calories, building muscle, and revving up your metabolism. “Exercise at least two to three times per week,” Aroosha suggests. “In particular, lift some weights. Resistance training, alongside a diet high in quality protein, will aid in preserving and building muscle and improve your overall body composition.” How? Muscle increases your resting metabolism, so your body continues to burn calories long after you’ve finished exercising. Ultimately, “it’s important to embrace a healthier lifestyle moving forward, that encourages moderation and not deprivation,” Aroosha states. “Instilling healthy habits that you can stay consistent with is key.”