I've lost the weight, how do I keep it off?

Tania Rakchaev
June 26, 2023
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Maintaining weight loss is a significant struggle for many. Let's dive into how this can be more easily managed.

Dieting is hard. Many people look forward to finishing their diet once they reach their weight loss goals under the false assumption that once you reach your target, you can stop dieting and will easily stay there. While remaining there isn't a problem in and of itself, the problem is staying there without having to make any continued effort.

Let's explore why dieting is difficult, then look at various methods to aid the process and how to apply these to stay at your desired weight once you get there.

Dieting is hard because:

  1. You will be hungry – the less body fat you have, the hungrier you become. Fat tissue (adipose tissue) releases a hormone called leptin, which reduces appetite, so the leaner you become, the less leptin your body releases because you have less adipose tissue to produce it.1 Our bodies have numerous powerful physical anti-starvation responses. These are usually not an issue until you get close to the essential body fat percentages (for men, this is around 3-5%, and for women, around 8-13%). Most people do not enjoy being hungry.2
  2. Dieting causes an internal conflict between the prefrontal cortex (the rational brain that desires weight loss and is capable of self-control and future thinking) and the primitive part of your brain (which is mostly concerned with pursuing pleasure without regard for the future).
  3. We expect dieting to be difficult, mentally taxing, and restrictive, therefore it is.

By far the most difficult challenge is remaining "rational" and allowing our rational brain to stay in control of our primitive brain. When we are feeling motivated, this is easy, but once we lose motivation (i.e., once the challenge becomes harder), the struggle becomes very real. This inner conflict is often felt as unhappiness (cue being "hangry") and mental fatigue, which is not actual fatigue but more akin to being bored or restless. Interestingly, we don't actually linearly register our caloric intake, so our sense of food intake is a largely learned one. In some studies, subjects without any knowledge of their caloric intake did not "suffer" from any negative emotional impacts of dieting3,4, which goes to show that expecting a diet to be difficult actually makes it so.

On a purely physiological level, we actually thrive when we are leaner. Blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol status, heart rate, and systemic inflammation5 all improve the leaner we become, as does short-term memory.6

Now that we have a better sense of why dieting is hard, let's look at some strategies to keep us on track, both with achieving our desired weight and staying there once and for all:

  1. Ensure you reduce feelings of hunger while staying within your calorie budget. If you don't like to feel hungry but want to lose weight, you can reduce the feeling of hunger by choosing more filling foods. Lots of veggies and fruit = fiber, and fiber makes you feel fuller. It slows digestion, lowers cholesterol, boosts gut health (your microbiome – the beneficial bacteria that reside in your large intestine literally require fiber to live and thrive, and having a healthy microbiome improves your immune system), and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Not only that but veggies and fruit have tonnes of vitamins and minerals. Also, drink enough water. Your stomach has "stretch" receptors that literally measure how extended your stomach is; the more extended it is, the less hungry you will feel. How much water do you need? Enough that your urine is a clear light yellow colour. Darker urine is a sign of dehydration.
  2. Strength training improves your metabolism. Muscle is more metabolically active than adipose tissue, so if you weigh 70kg but are more muscular vs. 70kg with little muscle, the more muscular you at the same weight will require more calories per day to maintain that 70kg mass. In addition to building muscle, strength training is also an appetite suppressant, especially when feeling mentally fatigued (i.e., not motivated or bored).7
  3. Make use of implementation intentions.8 These basically follow the formula: when x occurs (let's say x = I get a craving) I will do y (let's say y = any of the tips here, or your own behavior that is conducive to your goal). For example, whenever I get a craving for bread, I will go for a jog around the block instead. This is often enough to let you rationally decide if you want that piece of bread, and often you'll even forget that you had that craving.
  4. Improve your daily well-being. Provide yourself with small rewards throughout the day so that your reptilian brain is satisfied. Give yourself 5-minute breaks during your workday to do something you love or treat yourself. Do these before you are battling with willpower and struggling with mental fatigue, boredom, and internal conflict.
  5. Eat enough protein. While there is no hard evidence that protein is more satiating than other foods (more fiber is likely more filling), there is a plausible theory that states that you will continue to seek food until your protein requirements are met.
  6. Choose options that make moving towards your goal easier and those that move you away from your goal harder. For example, have readily available veggies in sight and hide treats. This serves multiple purposes. For one, we are programmed to choose the path of least resistance, so healthier options in sight are easier to choose. Making less desirable choices harder to obtain provides us with the double benefit of "out of sight out of mind" as well as a second to make a choice rather than going off autopilot. For example, by not having chips on the table in plain view and readily available, and by putting them up high in the cupboard where you need to get a stool to reach them – or better yet not having them at all and having to make a separate trip to the shops to get them – you have a few seconds to consciously decide if it's worth the extra effort or not.
  7. Have a growth mindset. It's not all or nothing, food has no moral values, and diet isn't a moral issue. You are human and you sometimes make choices that hinder your ultimate success. Use these as opportunities for improvement rather than situations for which you must be punished or need to make up.
  8. Measure your progress/regression. After all, you can't manage what you don't measure. This can help to steer you in the right direction if you don't know you're off track and provides feedback and useful information.

These are just a few suggestions to make dieting easier. Now, how to maintain your success once you've achieved it!

Mindset is going to play a big role here. Do you view your diet as a dreadful way to get somewhere and, once you're there, you can dismiss all that you did during the diet? If so, you are likely to gradually revert to your previous habits which got you to the point where you chose to go on a diet to begin with. If you can take some of the habits you built while dieting and integrate them into your everyday life (make it a lifestyle), then you should have no problem managing your weight long-term. Couple this with monitoring yourself (track your weight, measurements, calories, etc.) so that you know when you need to implement "stricter" control. Adjust the frequency to suit your lifestyle and desires.

Continue choosing high-fibre satiating foods, be consistent with your exercise and daily activity levels, keep your goal(s) in mind, create new/updated implementation intentions when necessary, celebrate your wins (nothing breeds motivation more than acknowledging your successes), and ensure to take care of your wellbeing including stress management and sleep, and most of all manage your mindset and self-talk.

Your weight will fluctuate, your life will constantly change and this is a lifelong journey; make the most of it and enjoy the ride.

Stay tuned for next month's article on how to manage weekend sabotage as well as upcoming Nutrition talks on Energy Balance – aka how do you lose/gain weight.


  1. https://ajcn.nutrition.org/article/S0002-9165(23)00687-1/fulltext
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019566632100653X?via%3Dihub
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938414006015
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938497002369
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.gov/11673759/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9399371/
  7. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2016/09000/Exercise_following_Mental_Work_Prevented.21.aspx
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14596707/

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Tania Rakchaev
Tania Rakchaev