We've seen it happen with everybody from celebs like Kirstie Alley and Janet Jackson, to former Biggest Loser contestants—heck, even one of the most powerful women in the world, Oprah Winfrey, can't seem to maintain weight loss. Losing the weight is only half the battle; keeping it off for good is another story.
According to a new study published in the August 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, weight loss and weight maintenance require two completely different approaches. Once you’ve reached your target weight, you can’t immediately return to your old habits or you’ll see those pounds creep back on (and in most cases, a few extra too). Several recent studies note that only about 5 to 10 percent of people who successfully lose weight are able to maintain their trimmed-down figure. And more new research shows that the hormones that help regulate appetite can be altered up to a year after losing weight on a lower calorie diet. That means even though you dropped the pounds, your body may be working against you to keep them off.
So why is it so darn hard to keep the weight off? We asked Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Auburn University who regularly studies calorie expenditure, to explain the main reasons it’s so hard to keep the pounds at bay (and how to counteract them):
Reason #1: Our bodies are hard-wired to fight off starvation.
You can thank our ancestors for this one—losing weight used to be very undesirable. A drop in our caloric intake used to mean famine and that food may not be available for a long time. And even though we now live with mega-grocery stores on every corner, our bodies are still programmed to react to a caloric deficit the same way.
“Our bodies were designed to store energy efficiently,” Olson says. “So, even if you are overweight, your body is very attuned to what has been ‘normal’ for an extended time period, and to prevent any possibility of being in a state of starvation, your body has many mechanisms that trigger it to hold on to whatever body weight you’re at.”
Fight back by focusing on portion control, eating well-balanced meals, and making your snacks count. You'll stave off hunger and keep mother nature in check.
Reason #2: Weight loss changes your metabolic needs.
Talk about a double-edged sword: the less you weigh, the less calories you need to maintain your weight. Once you’ve stopped 'dieting,' you can’t go back to eating the same amount of food that you were accustomed to, Olson says. “If you cut your calories to 1800 a day and lose 10 pounds, your new body might only need 1800 calories to maintain your new weight. Lighter bodies have less mass and cells and therefore require less energy to maintain those living tissues and cells."
Maximize every calorie by planning ahead and stock your fridge with foods that will fill you up, not out.