“I hate diets,” my friend Tabitha said yesterday.
“Why, having trouble losing the weight?” I asked.
“No, I can lose it just fine,” she answered. “But I can’t keep it off!”
Tabitha's not alone. Weight cycling, commonly known as yo-yo dieting, is a problem for many people who lose substantial pounds—just look at the participants on the reality TV show The Biggest Loser. A recent study in the journal Obesity, which followed 14 contestants for 6 years after the 2009 season, found that 13 of the former contestants regained weight after the competition ended. And four contestants actually weighed more than they did when they first joined the show.
The researchers who conducted the study say after someone loses weight, the body reacts with a potentially handicapping combination: a stronger appetite and a slower metabolism. How do you fight back? Put these 10 simple strategies into play to control hunger, rev up your metabolism, and avoid pound creep from gradual increases in calorie consumption.
You Party Hardy
If you’ve recently shed a ton of weight, you should absolutely celebrate your success—with a tall glass of water! Just kidding. Go ahead and treat yourself. You deserve it. However, if your celebrations involve many consecutive happy hours or big portions of your favorite fat- and sugar-laden chocolate cakes, odds are, you’ll see the weight creep back onto you before you know it. Remind yourself of this sobering stat before you open a bottle of wine: alcohol can decrease your body’s fat-burning ability by up to 73 percent! Here’s a smarter way to celebrate: reward yourself with something you can’t put in your mouth. Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a New York City–based registered dietitian, suggests making a concerted effort to not use food as a reward. “I suggest using things like manicures and SoulCycle classes as a reward for all the hard work,” she says. When you eat junk food during times of emotional eating, it “will only lead to unhealthy yo-yo dieting.”
You’re a Bean Counter
The most important concept to keep in mind after you’ve lost significant pounds is “metabolic adaptation.” During weight loss, your body’s metabolism naturally slows down calorie burn on a daily basis to hang on to fat. In addition, your levels of leptin, the satiety hormone that tells your body when you’ve had your fill, actually drop after weight loss, so you may feel hungry. The key to avoiding going back to eating the same number of calories you did before you lost weight is to double down on your awareness of calorie content and size of meals. Do that by keeping a daily food diary for at least a week after you’ve reached your weight-loss goal. Studies show that being more mindful of what you eat (and how many calories it contains) will help you to make healthier food choices and reduce snacking on calorie-dense processed foods. Such a casual accounting will also turn the spotlight on how much (or little) fiber you are getting in your diet.
You Don’t Have a Wednesday Weigh-In
Most people who’ve reached their goal weight stop stepping on the scale. That’s a mistake. Although the number on the scale isn’t the only way to judge your continued success, research shows that those who avoid the ritual tend to pack on more weight than those who don’t. Why? The scale keeps you mindful of your diet, and it will quickly tip you off to weight regain. There’s no need to be a slave to your scale; checking in once a week should do the trick. And here’s a tip: since weight naturally fluctuates throughout the week, researchers say that Wednesday weigh-ins are the most accurate.
You Don’t Rebuke the Nukes
These enticing frozen options are marketed as nutritious and convenient, so we can’t say we blame you for grabbing one off the shelf. But many of them are healthy-eating, pound-dropping enemies in disguise. Just because they’re touted as portion controlled and low calorie doesn’t mean you should stock up. Like most ultraprocessed foods, many frozen entrées from diet programs pack a surprising amount of health-harming sugar—7 grams or more, plus inflammation-causing, processed additives. As often as possible, make your meals at home from scratch. Doing so can help you banish these added sugars as well as cut calorie consumption by an average of 200 calories a day, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
You Need More Protein
After hitting your goal weight, some regimented dietary habits are bound to fall by the wayside. And if eating adequate amounts of protein is one of them, it may be the reason the weight is starting to sneak back on. While getting enough of the nutrient can keep your muscle from breaking down, not getting enough can slow your metabolic rate. Just maintaining muscle mass helps to burn calories faster, so your body will then turn to torching unwanted fat. Without muscle, you’ll be more susceptible to unwanted weight gain. Protein intake differs by the individual. However, for many people, consuming 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day should be enough to help maintain your weight loss.
You’re Doing Carbs Wrong
Completely slashing your carbohydrate intake will leave you with some not-so-pleasant side effects that can make it hard to go about your daily routine. Your body will start to exhibit signs of exhaustion, irritability, and lethargy—all of which have also been connected with overeating. “Carbs are essential [in our daily lives], as our brain and [central nervous system] require them continuously to work properly,” says trainer and RD Tim McComsey. Restricting carbs completely will cause any newly added, fat-burning muscle mass to be metabolized for energy rather than carbs.
Your Workout is Boring
If you haven’t switched up your workout routine recently, your body’s main calorie-torching mechanism may have idled down to slow burn. Wake up your metabolic rate by shocking your muscles, suggests Sean M. Wells, personal trainer and author of Double-Crossed: A Review of the Most Extreme Exercise Program. “If you’ve been doing the same workout for the past few months, your body isn’t being challenged anymore, meaning it’s not burning as many calories as it otherwise could,” he explains. If you normally ride a bike for exercise, try running or tennis to give your metabolism a kick.
You’re Not Sleeping Enough
Inadequate sleep can slow your metabolism and pile on the pounds. In a recent study, researchers analyzed more than 500 participants’ weekday sleep diaries and found that losing a mere 30 minutes of shut-eye increased their risk of obesity by 17 percent! Even mild sleep deprivation causes ghrelin—the hunger-stimulating hormone—to go into overdrive while simultaneously reducing levels of leptin—the hormone that suppresses appetite. In turn, this stimulates hunger even when you’re full, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.
You’ve Gone Gluten-free
“Most gluten-free breads are made from refined grains, with white rice flour being the most popular. These breads have double the carbs of whole-wheat breads,” shares Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN, a Nashville-based nutritionist and author of Schedule Me Skinny: Plan to Lose Weight and Keep it Off in Just 30 Minutes a Week. “Plus, studies show that people who eat whole grains have less belly fat than those who eat refined grains. If you must go gluten-free, due to celiac disease or similar diagnosis, look for gluten-free breads made with a mixture of seeds and whole grains, such as millet and amaranth,” she elaborates.
You’re Not Drinking Tea
Here’s an easy way to combat the metabolism slowdown that often comes after weight loss: drink green tea, a natural metabolism-boosting rocket. In a recent study, participants who added a daily habit of drinking 4 to 5 cups of green tea to their 25-minute workout routine lost an average of 2 more pounds and more belly fat than the non–tea drinkers. The brew contains catechins, a type of antioxidant that triggers the release of fat from fat cells.