In part 1 of How To Maintain Weight Loss After Dieting , I discussed the the importance of embracing the mindset of “what got you there keeps you there” and I also defined what actual maintenance is. In this installment, I want to to talk about how to transition out of the dieting phase into full blown maintenance.
Transitioning Out of The Dieting Phase/Reverse Dieting
You will likely spend several months in a large caloric deficit to reach your goal. Once that goal is reached, you need to get out of the deficit...but strategically.
You cannot stay in a large caloric deficit indefinitely (who would want to do that?). Many of your hormones-and your metabolism in general- will take a large and negative hit during the dieting process, and it’s very important, once the goal has been reached, to get out of the deficit and get your hormones and metabolism normalized again.
You need to get some more fuel in your tank and start working back up towards your new and unique maintenance calorie level.
There is some debate as to the best way to transition out of a diet. Some nutrition authorities are of the mindset you should go back up to theoretical maintenance calories (generally thought to be about 15 calories/pound of your new bodyweight) immediately. So, if you ended your diet at 125 lbs. and eating 1250 calories (10 calories/pound), you’d bump back up to 1875 calories right after you hit your goal.
There is another camp-and I’m in this one-who feels the transition back to maintenance calories should be slower, steadier, and more methodical. In this case, if you ended your diet eating 10 calories/pound, you’d go to 11, then 12, etc. over many weeks and see where you settle.
I feel this is the best approach to use. In my 20+ years of coaching clients, I’ve just seen too many people put way too much fat back on too fast going right to theoretical maintenance calorie levels. Here is the problem, in my mind, with just going right to theoretical maintenance: coming out of a diet, your theoretical maintenance calories are likely lower than the often cited 15 calories/pound. Your metabolism is suppressed a bit. There has been a certain level of metabolic adaptation. What I’ve found is that most people’s new maintenance level is probably somewhere between 12-14 calories per pound of their new lighter/leaner bodyweight.
What’s more, I think you have to be very careful coming out of diet in terms of your mindset. You have spent months hungry. Your body WANTS you to eat. A lot. Your body starts defending and preventing even during the diet. I feel if you go right up to what’s considered theoretical maintenance calories (15 calories/pound), the potential to binge just goes up. If you add, for example, 33% more calories back into the mix suddenly...I think your mind is not going to be able to override your body and you are just going to pile food in.
I think people really need to master the art of going from a point of being at an extreme and significantly deprived to a new place. Not a lot of people know what moderation feels like. As human beings, we are usually at one extreme or the other.
So, for those 2 reasons-one having to do with metabolism and one having to do with your mind and human nature-I think a slow and steady reverse dieting approach is the way to go.
Before I go any further, as I touched on in part 1 of this series, it is VERY important you understand that, as you add calories and carbohydrates back into the picture, you WILL gain a bit of weight. This has nothing to do with fat gain assuming you are reverse dieting correctly. It just means your glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates) in your muscles and liver are getting topped up. Glycogen is like a sponge (the molecules are bound by water) and that means adding a little water weight. Do NOT freak out.
This is normal and expected, is not going to be all that significant, and it will eventually level off. You are going to feel a little fuller and filled out more (you’ll probably like the look). That’s perfectly fine, normal and expected. You are not putting fat back on. In fact, when starting a reverse diet, many people will continue to lose fat as they may still be in a caloric deficit for a while and their general activity is greater because more fuel is coming in (greater tendency to move when you have more fuel).
Bumping Up Your Calories
What I recommend (and this is general) in regards to reverse dieting is to add 100 calories/day/week. If, for example, you ended your dieting phase at 125 lbs. eating 1250 calories/day, the first week of the reverse diet, go up to 1350. Then 1450 during week two, etc. You just keep “ticking up” like this every week until you find YOUR unique maintenance level.
After roughly the first 4 weeks of doing this, the initial water weight gain and “filling out” process will no longer be a factor and will be over with. Once you see the scale, your measurements, your appearance, etc., starting to move up past this initial water weight/glycogen refill period, THAT is when you know you’ve found your maintenance intake...and this is where you should stay within a range of a 100 calories or so.
At this point, you’ll follow the guidelines given in part 1 of this series. You’ll follow your maintenance plan-meaning you’ll track calories-a larger percentage of the time (maybe Monday-Friday), and then you’ll loosen up the reigns a bit a smaller percentage of the time (maybe Saturday-Sunday) by using some combination of:
Eyeballing food and estimating calories
Eating more intuitively
“Eating clean”/making good choices
Subjectively eating until full but not “gross and stuffed”
Simply tracking/not exceeding the overall calories on your maintenance plan using more of a freestyle/grazing approach (no set number of meals and not worrying about macro composition)
THIS is how to maintain weight loss after dieting. 👌
I’ll stop there for today. In the next installment, I’ll cover the VERY important topic of self-monitoring and setting thresholds during weight maintenance.