Losing weight is the easy part. All you have to do is reduce the calories and the carbs enough, and it comes off. But keeping it off is another matter.
Almost everyone who loses weight will regain it within the next year. So what do you need to do in order to keep the weight off once you’ve lost it?
A new research study gives us some good clues.
The authors looked at 20 men and 31 women between the ages of 34-50. All of them were obese as defined by a body mass index (BMI) over 30 kg/m2. All of them went on an eight week low calorie diet. And all of them dropped a lot of weight — enough to get most of them down to slim standards.
But that is not where the program stopped. In a way, it was after the weight loss period that the program really started.
After the weight loss period, the researchers carefully monitored them to ensure that they maintained their new weight for an additional 44 weeks.
And during that time, the researchers discovered some very interesting things that happened to these men and women that can be critically important for anyone wanting to follow in their footsteps.
First of all, they measured the resting metabolic rates of each person at the beginning of the diet, the end of the diet, and the end of the 44 weeks. The resting metabolic rate is an indicator of how many calories a person burns when doing very little (like sleeping or reading).
They found that as a consequence of the weight loss, the metabolic rates of the men dropped 6.6% and the metabolic rates of the women dropped 8.8%. But here’s the good news. After the participants maintained the weight loss for 44 more weeks, their metabolic rates returned to normal.
Then they looked at what happened to the activity energy expenditure (AEE) of each person after the diet. The activity energy expenditure is how many calories a person burns when they are active or are exercising. The same thing happened.
The AEE dropped an average of 13.9%. But it returned to normal after the participants maintained the weight loss for the additional 44 weeks.
Lastly, they measured how much each person’s diet affected their daily activity. On average, the activity levels of all the men and women dropped about 6% after the diet period. But once again, it returned to normal after the 44 week period.
So how can these findings help anyone who wants to drop their unwanted weight?
First of all it’s obvious why people regain their weight so often. When your resting metabolism falls, it means that you are burning less calories than you did before.
So after you lose the weight, you better be sure that you don’t go back to eating the same amount of calories you did before. Otherwise you are a shoe-in to regain the weight. You will have to decrease the amount of calories you ate before the diet by at least 6-8%.
Also, when your AEE drops, it means that the amount of calories you burn while exercising is less. So that means that after you lose the weight, you need to increase your exercise and activity schedule by at least 13.9%. Remember that these are average numbers. Some people will have to increase by more than 13.9%.
And lastly, after a diet there is an automatic drop of about 6% in the amount of activity a person will do. So it’s important to be sure that after you lose the weight you maintain your former levels of activity.
When you add it all up, in order to keep the weight off, you will need to eat less than you did before, exercise more than you did before, and keep your activity level similar to what you did before. But here’s the good news.
Once you have done all that for 44 weeks, you have crossed the finish line and all of these problems revert to normal. The key to successful weight loss is to keep the weight off for roughly a year. After that, it will become automatic.
That’s good information to know because many people only think of the weight loss period as the important time to be strict. But in fact, it looks like the 44 weeks afterward are where the real action is. Stay slim for a year, and you’ll finally find that weight loss success you’ve been after.
Sources: Camps, S.G., S.P. Verhoef, and K.R. Westerterp. “Weight loss-induced reduction in physical activity recovers during weight maintenance.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 October;98(4):917-23