Trying to slim down can be similar to bouncing on a trampoline. The harder we jump down, the higher our weight infuriatingly shoots right back up. It's not just hard on your wallet (buying new pants all the time isn't cheap!), but it can also be hard on your health, from increasing muscle loss to attacking your immune system. Regaining lost weight, also known as weight cycling, is a common occurrence for 75 percent of people who attempt to shrink their waistlines—just look at the participants of the show, The Biggest Loser.
In a new study about the show, published in the journal Obesity, researchers followed 14 contestants for six years following the 2009 season. They were shocked to see that nearly all of the contestants (13 out of the 14) regained weight after the competition ended. And four contestants are actually heavier now than before they started their weight-loss journey. For some, that's over 100 pounds!
You probably already guessed there's more behind the added flab on your frame than just calories-in-calories-out and that simply moving more and eating less may not help you slim back down. Instead, you'll need to pinpoint the precise reasons behind your weight gain so you can reverse the damage. To help you out, we've outlined the most common weight-maintenance saboteurs below, along with ways to fight back against each. You may be surprised to learn which seemingly innocuous habits are making the scale tip further away from your goal weight! And to find expert-recommended tips to escape that weight loss game of tug-o-war, check out these 20 Ways to Lose Weight—For Good.
You Eat As Much As You Did Pre-Weight-Loss
Congrats, you did it! You made it to your goal weight. But just because you dropped the pounds doesn't mean you can eat as much as you did before your weight loss. In fact, you may have to eat even less to keep the scale tipped in your favor. Why? Well, your body needs less fuel at its new weight. That's because when you lose a significant amount of weight, your metabolism actually slows down because of a mechanism known as "metabolic adaptation." Our bodies have evolved to store fat and become accustomed to the weight you've gained. So when you try to lose it, your body's metabolism switches to survival mode and decreases the amount of calories it burns on a daily basis—and stays like that for about a year. At the same time, research published in the journal Obesity found that your levels of leptin, the satiety hormone that tells your body when you've had your fill, actually drop after weight loss, leaving you feeling constantly ravished.
Know that your first year keeping the weight off is most likely to be the toughest and the time you'll have to be the most diligent. Maintain an eating schedule so you don't indulge in random office snacks your co-workers brought in. And to beat those menacing low leptin levels, read up on these 26 Ways to Feel Full While Eating Less.
You're Super Tense
If your crazy-busy life has left you feeling worn down and stressed, that could be the reason you're starting to look a bit mushy in the middle. Cortisol, the stress hormone that's released when we're under pressure, causes the body to metabolize food more slowly. To make matters worse, the types of food we crave when we're tense tend to be fat and sugar-laden, say researchers. As a result, this diet-derailing combination can kill your hard-earned weight loss wins. Researchers say that the combination of high-cal cravings and a stress-induced snail-paced metabolic rate can result in significant weight gain.
To stay cool as a cucumber and keep those pesky pounds at bay, give a few different stress management tactics a try, suggests Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Practicing yoga, going for a run, meeting up with friends, and unplugging from technology for an evening are all things Zanini says are worth a shot. Research even shows that smiling and laughing can help diminish levels of stress hormones. See what works best for you, and set aside time to decompress a few times per week.
You Didn't Renew Your Gym Membership
While eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important aspect of any weight maintenance plan, sticking to an exercise program after you've reached your goal may be the key to keeping the pounds off long-term according to University of Alabama researchers. The study team noticed that participants who stopped breaking a sweat after losing weight experienced a dip in their metabolism while those who continued to work out for 40 minutes three times a week continued to fry calories at the same rate.
Whatever you enjoy—running, lifting, doing yoga or Crossfitting—just keep your heart pumping. Doing so will help you burn off the occasional beer or cheat meal of a slice of pizza and keep that pesky flab from sneaking back onto your stomach.
You're Committed to Your Fitness Class
So while working out is critical for maintaining your metabolism, if you haven't switched up your workout routine recently, your six-pack might easily melt into a barely-there two-pack, says Dr. 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 typically stick to spin classes, consider checking out a boot camp or Zumba class to give your metabolism a kick. Can't bear to leave your Schwinn? Look for a more intense class or challenge yourself by turning up the resistance (yes, even when the instructor doesn't tell you to). Switching up your exercise routine is one of the 20 Ways to Overcome a Weight-Loss Plateau.
You're Skimping on Shuteye
You may already know that when you're exhausted your metabolism slows, but did you realize that losing as little as 30 minutes of sleep can up the odds the scale will stop tipping in your favor? 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.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests logging a solid seven or eight hours of shuteye each night. If you want to get back to your more slender self, cut your nightly Netflix session short and make sure to get a solid night's sleep. Plus, mastering your bedtime routine could help your slim-down efforts. Check out our exclusive guide to 30 Things to Do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Lose Weight.
Your Meals Are Microwavable
These tantalizing frozen options are marketed as nutritious and convenient, so we can't say we blame you for grabbing one off the shelf. The issue is this, though: 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 on these. Like most ultra-processed foods, many frozen entrees from diet programs pack a surprising amount of health-harming sugar—7 grams! Not only that, but the 40 plus ingredient list is just completely unnecessary, and makes it more likely you'll be filled up with inflammation-causing, processed additives.
So many diets rely on pre-portioned microwave meals, but these additive-laden frankenfoods— along with other processed goods—account for 90 percent of the added sugar we unknowingly consume each day. Just cook at home to banish these added sugars as well as to cut calorie consumption by an average of 200 calories a day, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. And watch out for these sneaky sources of added sugar.
You Reward Yourself the Wrong Way
If you've recently shed a ton of weight, you should absolutely celebrate your success! But if your celebrations involve big portions of your favorite, fat- and sugar-laden treats, odds are good that's the reason you've gained back some of the weight.
Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a New York City-based Registered Dietitian, suggests making a concerted effort to not use food as a reward. "Often times I see my patients reward weight loss by indulging in foods they know aren't the best for their goals. Instead, I suggest using things like manicures and SoulCycle classes as a reward for all their hard work," she notes. When you eat junk food during times of emotional eating, it "will only contribute to weight gain and lead to unhealthy yo-yo dieting."
You Stopped Paying Attention to 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 needs differ by individual. However, for many people, consuming 0.8 to one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day should be sufficient enough to help maintain your weight loss. For a 130-pound person, that would equal to between 46 and 58 grams of protein. Good sources of the nutrient include low-fat dairy, beans, chicken, fish, lean cuts of beef, pork, and quinoa. These 23 High-Protein Snacks can also help you fit more of the nutrient into your diet.
You Started a New Rx
If you were prescribed a new medication and subsequently noticed a few of those hard-lost pounds creeping back on, your Rx may be to blame. Antidepressants, birth control pills, beta-blockers, anti-seizure and migraine meds, steroids and rheumatoid arthritis treatments can all affect appetite, metabolism, and weight. That doesn't mean you should take yourself off the drug, though.
Confirm with your doc that the medication is indeed the culprit, and discuss what other treatments are available. Your doctors might be able to prescribe a different medication that doesn't carry the same belly-bulging side effects.
You Frequent Happy Hours
It's completely normal to want to blow off some steam with your co-workers after a long day at the office. But while drinking in moderation every so often won't do too much harm to your waistline, making it a habit can slow down your metabolic rate. Why? Because your body registers alcohol as being toxic, your body preferentially breaks down your cocktail before any food that you've already eaten that's waiting to be digested. This slows down the entire metabolic process. In fact, some researchers claim boozing can decrease the body's fat-burning ability by up to 73 percent!
On the occasions that you decided to indulge, stick to low-calorie drinks. Alternate your alcohol with water to slow your pace, and cut yourself off after two drinks. And before you head to the bar, watch this video where David Zinczenko, author of the Zero Belly Diet, explains How You Can Drink Alcohol Without Gaining Weight.
You Have Poor Gut Health
Years of unhealthy eating can knock your digestive system so out of whack, it could be blunting your weight-loss efforts. That's because the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut play a critical role in your health, controlling everything from protecting you from colds to keeping you happy. But most importantly, these bugs have a huge influence over your hunger hormones and weight. So when the bad bugs stay in control, it puts you at risk of uncontrollable hunger surges and unwelcome weight gain.
Just because you've lost the weight doesn't mean you will automatically have a cleaner, healthier gut. To mend your tummy, cut out the bad-bug-feeding sugars from your diet, and load up on sources of both prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are a source of food for the good guys in your gut to help them build strength, and probiotics act as reinforcements, helping to drive out the bad guys. Good sources of prebiotics are legumes, onions, artichokes, spinach, and oats, and probiotics can be found in fermented foods as well as yogurt.
You're Suffering from Chronic Inflammation
Whether it's because of seasonal allergies, hidden food allergens, or eating way too many of these inflammation-inducing foods, chronic inflammation can be a dieter's worse nightmare. Even though inflammation is a natural defense response your body uses to target and get rid of potentially-harmful invaders, when your immune system runs haywire, it can be bad for your weight. That's because when your body is constantly under attack, levels of inflammatory biomarkers build up and either circulate through your blood or are stored in fat cells—and specifically, belly fat cells, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. So even though you've lost weight, if you've only lost subcutaneous fat, and not belly fat, researchers hypothesize that your belly fat may still be releasing these inflammatory biochemicals, which will continue to worsen inflammation, cause weight gain, and force an increase in fatty acids in your bloodstream. Bottom line: it drives your body into a waist-widening downward spiral.
Avoid foods full of saturated fats and fructose, as these two things have been associated with direct abdominal fat gain, and talk to a food allergist to see if anything you're eating may be worsening your inflammation. And most importantly, try these 14 Ways To Get Rid Of Your Belly in 14 Days!.
You Avoid the Scale
After months of daily weigh-ins, grueling workouts and adhering to a strict diet, you finally hit your goal weight. But now, just two months later, your skinny jeans are starting to feel a tad tight and you're not sure why. If you're like the majority of dieters, you're still eating well and exercising, but you stopped stepping on the scale—a major no-no. 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.
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 Opt for Coffee Over Green Tea
You probably think you need your skinny, double shot latte to wake you up in the morning and give you the extra boost to get through the workday—but if you always opt for coffee over tea, you could be missing out of some major metabolism-boosting effects. And that's super important after weight loss, as your metabolism can slow down drastically. 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 two more pounds and more belly fat than the non-tea drinkers. How does it work? The brew contains catechins, a type of antioxidant that triggers the release of fat from fat cells and helps speed the liver's capacity for turning fat into energy, which will help rev up your metabolism so you can continue to look bikini-ready.
Start sipping the green brew for a slimmer, more efficient calorie-burning you. We like the Lipton and Yogi varieties of green tea, but you can also reap the benefits from a powdered matcha.
You Sit All Day
Many of us are spending prolonged periods of time sitting, either at our desks or while we binge-watch Netflix. And experts are saying this can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as early death—regardless of whether you still carve out time to exercise. In fact, a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that those who concentrate their workouts into a single session and spend the rest of the day sitting are susceptible to the same negative health risks as those who don't work out at all, including regaining all that hard-lost weight. Yikes. According to experts, when you sit all day at your desk, the bulging biceps and washboard abs you worked so hard to build at the gym begin to break down. This slows your resting metabolism and can make it harder to maintain your weight loss goals.
You don't have to give your two weeks notice to your goal weight. Simply getting up from your chair and taking a two-minute walk once every half an hour can do the trick, according to studies published in the journals Diabetes Care and BMJ. When middle-aged overweight and obese adults interrupted sitting time with short bouts of walking every 30 minutes, they lowered self-reported fatigue, minimized spikes in blood-sugar, and lowered insulin levels after eating meals, which translates to keeping your hunger pangs at bay and helping you scorch more fat! Set your phone alarm so you don't forget to take a break.
You Continue to Cut Carbs
It may have worked to drop water weight and melt away the pounds at first, but 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, like exhaustion, irritability, and lethargy—all emotions 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.
So as long as you keep carbs to a reasonable percentage of your daily calories, and choose the right ones, these starches don't have to hit the curb.
You Skip Breakfast
Your morning munchies will boost your brainpower, banish cravings, maintain weight loss, and ramp up your muscle gains—but only if you eat them. Eschewing the most important meal of the day may save you calories in the morning, but come lunch time, you're more apt to overeat to compensate for a rumbling tummy. Plus, statistics gathered by the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), which has collected over twenty years of data on dieters who lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year discovered that 78 percent of those dieters eat breakfast every day.
It might be one of the easiest meals to prepare, but deciding what dish works best for you can be hard. That is, if you haven't read our exclusive report, How To Choose The Best Breakfast For Your Body Goals.