The habits of successful weight loss maintainers


Research shows that 60-70% of overweight people can successfully lose the weight.

However, 95% of people will gain that weight back and then some. In my previous article, I discussed just how our bodies make us so vulnerable to fat gain after weight loss. Because, in case you didn’t know, there are systems in place that want to ensure you regain all of that weight. Read all about that here.

To continue my series discussing why so many people fail to keep off the weight they shed, today I want to talk about something much more hopeful: the 5% of people who successfully maintain their weight loss. This information comes from a YouTube series done by the fitness and nutrition expert Layne Norton. Be sure to check him out.

Who are these diet unicorns? How do they overcome our primal and powerful defense systems and stay slim forevermore?

Are they magical? Are they endowed with superpowers?

No, but research reveals that they do implement shared behaviors and habits that result in this success.

So maybe you’ve shed all that weight and reached your goal. Congrats! Read on to learn how not to screw it up.

1. Exercise

70% of the 5% of people who successfully maintain weight loss — drumroll — continue to exercise. See? It’s not magic. I know I’m apt to hide my athleisure and workout gear when I reach my goal weight, but that’s a recipe for disaster. Research shows that only 30% of the 95% of people who regain weight continue to exercise.

Exercise has connotations of pain and dread, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Choosing your exercise wisely is so important because movement should be a part of your healthy lifestyle. Most default to cardio (usually jogging/running/HIIT) when embarking on a weight loss journey, and that can become a future downfall. Be realistic. Are you going to get up early to run for 30 minutes 5 days a week for the rest of your life? I sure as heck didn’t.

Choose something sustainable. Choose something enjoyable. Don’t rely on cardio alone to maintain your new physique.

Were you a cardio bunny to reach your goals? I’ll address how to cut back without regaining fat in my final article of the series about a reverse diet.

An awesome benefit of exercise? It lowers your body fat "set point." Your body fat set point is the percentage of fat your body is set to be comfortable at, and it’s always trying to get to that point. Exercise is one of the only ways to lower it yourself.

2. Structured Self-Restraint

Let’s face it: maintaining weight loss requires self-discipline. Don’t be so quick to delete My Fitness Pal from your phone after the end of a diet. Weight loss maintainers are successful by practicing structured self-restraint.

How to structure that self-restraint? With tools and strategies. For some, tracking calories and/or tracking macronutrients with an app is the way to do this. My favorite app to use (much more user-friendly than My Fitness Pal) is the premium version of cronometer that only costs $2.99. Tracking lets you know exactly how much energy you’re consuming without relying on ... guesswork or your “intuition.”

Others, however, hate the time and effort of tracking. Instead, they adopt food-group elimination/restriction. These are your low carb/low fat/keto/carnivore/meatless people. It’s not eliminating carbs that magically reduces their waist lines: it’s the calorie deficit resulting from that food-group elimination. The only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit. You can overeat on a keto diet and still gain weight. Eliminating a food-group, however, just happens to make it a lot harder to overeat.

The fact that self-restraint is part of every meal engenders mindful eating. These people are aware of everything that goes into their mouths. For a tracker, he calculates and understands what eating a random, extra cookie means for his health. If he’s trying to lose weight, it means sacrificing later in the day by eating a little less to stay in that deficit. For an eliminator, it means avoiding those no-no foods and always assessing what’s on your plate.

After a diet, do you mindlessly stuff your face or do you know what you’re eating?

Energy is a zero-sum game. Food never “doesn’t count.” Do you play the game or ignore it? If you ignore it, you’re in for a rude awakening when the weight starts to pile back on.

3. Self-Monitoring

Another thing I like to do after I reach my goal weight? Avoid the scale like the plague. The scale is the stuff of nightmares. It defies physics by telling me I’ve gained 3 pounds overnight. I want to exorcise that thing from my life!

Then, my new jeans get a little tight. No big deal. I’m probably just bloated.

A weight loss maintainer, however, wouldn’t shrug that off. A weight loss maintainer self-monitors his progress and current stats. That means that he weighs himself. Probably daily.

He doesn’t stick his head in the sand and avoid reality when his new jeans start to get tight.

Dieter, weigh thyself.

I know the scale is scary, but it doesn’t have to be. And, it’s nearly impossible to put on 3 pounds of pure fat overnight, so don’t freak out. Combat the fear by weighing yourself daily and then calculating a weekly average. That’s a much more accurate picture of your weight. The scale is one of the best data collectors we have when monitoring our current physical state, and it can alert you of subtle weight gain before your jeans do.

Another tool? Measure yourself, specifically your waist and hips. They’re great markers of body composition.

4. The Big Picture

Remember the marshmallow test? Kids were put into a room and sat down in front of a single marshmallow on a plate. They were told that if they waited and didn’t eat it, they would get two marshmallows instead of one. YouTube it.

Maintainers have the patience to think of the big picture. They don’t give up when faced with a lack of immediate gratification. They don’t give into the single marshmallow.

5. “Structured” Flexibility

Maintainers don’t follow an ultra-restrictive meal plan that doesn’t allow for any flexibility, but they do plan. They don’t cross their fingers and hope healthy, well-balanced meals fall onto their laps. They live out the 80/20 rule we hear so much about.

During the week, I eat planned out, healthy meals at home. On the weekends, I have a healthy, low calorie and high protein breakfast, but I allow for some fun, larger meals with friends and family in order to enjoy my life.

6. Positive Support

It’s so difficult to accomplish goals completely alone. Seek out people who positively support you with compliments. Find another person who takes part in your healthy changes like healthy eating and exercising. This was a shared behavior among successful maintainers.

7. Higher Protein and Lower Calorie

Overall, the research supports the fact that maintainers who eat a higher protein diet and consume lower calorie foods (not solely calorie-dense foods) like veggies are more successful in the long run. I know high protein and low calorie conjures up images of boring, sad salads, but that’s not necessarily your lot in life post-diet.

You can still eat a lot of delicious food in addition to your higher protein consumption. Plus, digesting protein requires more energy than digesting fat or carbs, so you’re adding to your fuel-guzzling metabolism engine with more of it. Again, this ties back to the 80/20 rule.

Yes, maintaining your weight loss will require some continued effort, but what’s the alternative? You worked so hard to meet your goals. Adopt these habits to make sure you enjoy the fruits of your labor for the rest of your life and join the mythical 5% of weight loss maintainers.