Slipping in to those acid-wash jeans you saved from high school. Realizing you went an entire day without craving chocolate. Increasing the dumbbell weight on your reverse rows. It's true—nothing feels quite as great as achieving health and wellness goals. However, the finish line of the weight finally coming off is also just the starting line of the journey to a healthy lifestyle. A major piece to the puzzle is maintaining the good work that led us to those aforementioned accomplishments. As many can attest, though, that part tends to be easier said than done, and sometimes you might find yourself watching that number on the scale slowly creep back up.
Some research estimates that about 95 percent of people regain lost weight. Why does this happen? To get some insight into some of the most common reasons people regain weight, Trish Lieberman, a Registered Dietician and the Director of Nutrition at The Renfrew Center in Philadelphia, offers her expertise on 10 weight-gain pitfalls and how to avoid falling victim.
1. Setting Unrealistic Goals
No matter what the magazine covers want you to believe, no, you probably cannot get six-pack abs in six weeks. Setting unrealistic goals is the best way to put yourself on the highway to disappointment. Yet, when planning out a weight-loss journey, it's very simple to set a goal number that is not practical.
"Too often people set a weight goal that is not consistent with their genetics or natural body type," Lieberman says.
Lieberman says that five to 10 percent of a person's original body weight number is a good figure to focus on, as it's realistic, achievable and maintainable. "Making small, realistic goals will help you build new habits to support a healthy lifestyle," she adds.
2. Falling Prey to Short-Term Diets
Short-term diets sound great on the onset, right? Restrict yourself for a few weeks and…voila! You've lost that extra few pounds you've been toting around for years just like that. However, what happens when that diet ends? You guessed it—slowly, but surely that weight starts creeping back in to your thighs, stomach and arms, especially if you go back to your old eating habits. Lieberman says the problem with many of these diets is that is they may be too restrictive, making them too difficult to maintain down the road.
"After the length of the diet program ends, there is little or no support to maintain a healthy lifestyle," Lieberman says. "Many of these programs do not address behavior change or motivation, two keys for maintaining long-term lifestyle changes."
Rather than jump on the latest, not-so-greatest diet fad, opt for small, but effective lifestyle changes that are sustainable for the long run. The weight might not come off in record-breaking time, but it will stay off and isn't that the real goal?
3. Losing Weight to Mend Emotional Issues
According to Lieberman, another common reason for regaining weight is that the initial weight loss came about to help ease a bigger issue. For instance, if you're suffering from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or the like, losing weight will not be the fix for these deeper problems. Once the weight is gone and the person realizes those emotional issues are still there, they're more likely to turn back to food.
"When emotional issues are not addressed, people often turn to food when they're bored, stressed, sad, lonely, et cetera," Lieberman says. "Food becomes a way to avoid dealing with uncomfortable emotions temporarily."
For those embarking on a weight-loss plan while simultaneously dealing with deep-seated emotional issues, it's important to realize that achieving your goals and overcoming emotional issues are two separate journeys. For the best chance of post-diet success, check in with yourself to see if you can proactively approach the emotions at hand or consider seeking professional help for any bigger issues at play.
4. Having A Naturally Heavier Body
"People who are overweight have a harder time losing weight and maintaining it than someone who has been thin their whole lives," Lieberman explains. Why? She says those who are overweight or obese will naturally have significantly more fat cells in their body, and therefore their body is works harder to store more energy for each of these cells.
While the downside to this seems to be that those who aren't naturally thin will have a harder time fighting off weight regain, it doesn't mean you can't give it all you have to prevent it by sticking to our healthy lifestyles even once the weight has come off. Lieberman suggests this tactic, for instance: After achieving your weight-loss goals, make a list of the changes you've made to your lifestyle and how you've benefited from those changes, outside of the weight loss itself. Do you have more energy? Is your hunger more satisfied when you eat balanced meals? Do you feel more confident?
"When we connect health and wellness with improvements in our lives, we tend to feel more motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle," Lieberman says.
5. Mindless Eating
You were so incredibly focused during your weight-loss journey, but then you reached your goal and that focus started to dim. Now, it's not rare that you find yourself on the couch with a bag of snacks catching up on your latest Netflix obsession, not even thinking about how many calories you're consuming. Then, you suddenly notice you've tacked by on some extra pounds. You're not alone.
According to Lieberman, mindless eaters tend to eat more, thus contributing to weight regain. She says this pattern of mindless munching is common when people are busy focusing on other things, like work, watching T.V. or doing schoolwork. Separately, mindless eating might be triggered by those around you.
Next time you find yourself mindlessly reaching for those pretzels—whether you're distracted or because you're witnessing someone else do so—stop and think about whether you're truly physically hungry or not.
6. Getting Off the Exercise Routine
Yes, exercising is part of achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But, how many of people have started slacking on the exercise end of things once they've reached our goal weight? Quite a lot. Jumping ship on a commitment to the gym is part of the reason people tend to see their weight climb after achieving their goals.
To stay on track, Lieberman suggests continuing to keep exercise part of your routine, and getting about 30 to 45 minutes in per day most days of the week. Learn to recognize the signs of workout boredom and, if you do find yourself making excuses to skip your sweat session, have the courage to overcome your hiatus.
7. Being Unaware of Hunger Vs. Appetite
Some folks are generally unaware of the difference between hunger (the biological need for food) and appetite (the desire to eat), according to Lieberman.
Lieberman explains appetite like this: "You know when you're at a restaurant and you've already eaten an appetizer, an entrée, maybe some bread and butter, and you're feeling really full? Then, the waiter brings out the dessert tray and it looks delicious. So, of course, you get dessert too, despite not feeling hungry. This is your appetite kicking in."
For those hoping to prevent weight regain, learn to recognize and pay close attention to hunger versus appetite cues when reaching for that second helping.
8. Hormonal Changes
Get this—hormonal changes can contribute to weight regain, as well. According to Lieberman, when a person loses fat, the brain responds by increasing the levels of a hormone called ghrelin, or the "hunger hormone." This hormone, by nature, increases hunger and tells your body when it's time to eat. That said, someone who's lost a lot of weight is now also experiencing more hunger than usual.
"You combine the need for a very low-calorie diet to maintain lost weight, with increased ghrelin (more hunger), and you can see why it would be difficult to maintain a lower-calorie diet when you're feeling hungry all the time due to hormone changes," Lieberman adds.
9. A Slower Metabolism
Each of body has what Lieberman refers to as a "set point"—a range where the body functions best both physically and emotionally. When your weight moves above or below that range, your body adjusts, particularly when it comes to metabolism.
"If weight is moving higher than your set point range, your metabolism speeds up," Lieberman explains. "If your weight is falling below your set point range, your brain thinks you are starving and so your metabolism is slowed to conserve energy."
Does this make regaining the weight inevitable, then? Absolutely not. Fight slowing metabolism by incorporating some weight maintenance tactics into your daily routine. For one, Lieberman suggests giving yourself 10 to 15 minutes before getting up to grab a second serving during mealtimes. In just that short time, the hormones in your stomach will be able to send a message to your brain that you're full. Wait it out and you'll be able to know if the hunger is real. She also recommends trying to stick to an eating routine, wherein you eat both meals and snacks around the same time each day. This small scheduling decision is helpful in regulating your hunger and fullness cues.
10. Neglecting to Prep for Weight Maintenance
Benjamin Franklin said it best: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." Neglecting to prepare for weight maintenance can majorly play against you in the long run. In focusing so heavily on losing the weight, some never think twice about what it will take to keep it off.
In addition to eating mindfully and keeping up with an active lifestyle, Lieberman also recommends becoming familiar with your roadblocks. "For example, if you come after work each day feeling famished leading to overeating, or bingeing, on food, then build in an afternoon snack to keep your hunger and appetite more consistent," she says.
Finally, Lieberman suggests using a means of on-going support, such as check-ins with a dietitian or a support group.
If you're someone who is concerned about tacking back on the weight you've worked so hard to lose, keep these points in mind and realize you don't have to fall prey to weight regain, as long as you're well-prepared and focused.