6 Tricks for Preventing Weight Gain and Staying at Your "Happy" Weight
Stay At Your Happy Weight
You've got plenty of company if you don't need to slim down. Forty-one percent of us are perfectly content with the way we look and want to remain right where we are, according to a recent Gallup poll. That's excellent news, because it's a lot easier to stay at your current weight over time than it is to drop pounds that you've gained, says nutritionist and Shape Advisory Board member Keri Gans, R.D.N., the author of The Small Change Diet. These science-backed strategies will keep you in your look-great, feel-great place. (Related: 10 Rules of Weight Loss That Lasts.)
Put Your Go-To Foods On Repeat
Decide which healthy meals and snacks you love, then go ahead and eat them as often as you like. "Relying on the same nutritious foods over and over is an easy way to keep your weight steady because it takes all the guesswork out of the process," says Lauren Slayton, R.D.N., the founder of Foodtrainers in New York City and the author of The Little Book of Thin. (Another way to take the guesswork out: follow our 30-day #ShapeUpYourPlate meal plan.)
Plus, you're more likely to practice portion control with foods you eat all the time, research from the University at Buffalo shows. In the study, women who had macaroni and cheese daily consumed less of it over time than those who ate it just once a week. Researchers believe the novelty wears off when you eat a food daily, so you end up eating less. But don't confuse an eat-and-repeat strategy with being resigned to the exact same breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks every single day. Instead of a completely regimented (and boring) routine, simply have a rotation of foods that you enjoy, you know are good for you, and keep you satisfied and happy, and you'll always eat smartly without having to think about it too much.
Understand the Math
Even if you're loading your grocery cart with apples, carrots, and kale, it doesn't necessarily mean you're consuming fewer calories. In fact, a review of seven studies on body weight published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating more fruits and vegetables did not help people control their weight. That's because while these foods have plenty of benefits, you need to sub them in for any less healthy fare you've been consuming to change your daily calorie intake, says study author Kathryn A. Kaiser, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Instead of just adding the good stuff, replace less nutritious foods: Use veggies instead of chips with dip, for example. (Or try these desserts with hidden health foods.)
Think Like a Chef
If you eat a restaurant- or takeout-heavy diet, it's time to hone your kitchen skills. A study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that people who cook the majority of their meals consume fewer calories, including when they eat at restaurants, than those who don't cook as much.
"Cooking teaches you about the ingredients that go into dishes, and that knowledge can be helpful when you dine out," says study author Julia Wolfson, Ph.D. You know, for instance, that the rich tomato soup is loaded with cream and butter, so you order chicken noodle instead.
Don't Drink More Calories
If you are at a healthy weight and drink alcohol moderately, there's no reason to stop. In fact, women who have one drink a day are actually less likely to gain weight over time than those who completely abstain. But if you start to imbibe more than that this season, the calories can really add up. At the same time, your food judgment can falter, so you may ending up eating more, too.
To avoid overdoing it, "hold yourself to no more than five to seven drinks a week," says Brooke Alpert, R.D.N., the founder of the nutrition practice B Nutritious in New York City. And choose lower-calorie drinks like wine, light beer, and vodka with club soda. (You should consider cutting out these drinks completely since they're the worst liquids for your body.)
Follow the Two-Day Rule
A regular and consistent workout routine is one of the most important strategies for maintaining your weight, according to a review of studies from East Carolina University. Aim for four to five hours of exercise a week, schedule it, and try to stick to it, because skipping too many sessions in a row can cause your motivation to slide, says celebrity trainer Ramona Braganza. Her rule of thumb: Never let more than two straight days go by without some type of workout. If you're too busy to exercise on Thursday and Friday, make it a priority to get to Spin class on Saturday. (Even on off-days, using a standing desk might help prevent weight gain, according to a recent study.)
Tweak Your Technique
Consistency is a good thing, but it's also important to switch things up every so often to keep your body burning calories efficiently. If your pants start to feel tight, just make one or two small changes to your routine—trade your sweetened lattes for coffee with skim, say, and go for a walk during lunch—and see if that does the trick, Gans says. In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, people who were taught to cut 100 calories a day from their diet and burn 100 calories through exercise when the scale started to creep up were able to maintain their weight over three years. (Add up enough of those little tweaks, and you might even lose weight without trying.)
Adjustments to your workout routine can also have a big effect. If you know you're going to be eating more for the next week or two or during the holidays, try increasing your workouts by at least 10 minutes to bump up your calorie burn. And incorporate one or two intense workouts weekly as extra insurance, Braganza says. Fast-paced strength circuits will torch fat and help you maintain muscle, which keeps your metabolism humming. (And don't let lack of sleep undermine your other healthy habits.)