Things you must give up to keep the weight off long term

If you have ever found yourself needing to lose weight, whether it be just a few pounds or several, then you know the struggle doesn't end after the weight comes off. Rather, I think most of us find the hardest part of weight loss is actually after that initial loss, when you suddenly need to figure out how to keep it off for the long term.

While our weight is likely to fluctuate a bit over the years, when it comes to weight loss maintenance, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. Thankfully, a few experts were willing to share their secrets to keeping the weight off for the long haul and what we need to give up in order to make this happen.

Stop ignoring your sleep

The more I read and learn about living a healthy lifestyle, the more I've been hearing about the importance of a good night of quality sleep. As it turns out, sleep comes into play when we start talking about long-term weight loss as well. "The significance of sleep is gaining traction as research is more and more demonstrating the detrimental effects of insufficient sleep on all aspects of your health, your waistline being one of them," said Parinaz Samimi, sleep and wellness expert for SleepTrain.com.

"Adequate sleep promotes recovery and keeps the stress hormone, cortisol, under control, which ultimately keeps you from making poor food choices as a result of feeling stressed," Samimi added. "Giving up the late night activities will not only help you maintain your weight but also contribute to improved mood, energy and productivity the following day."

What are some ways to ensure a good night of sleep? Samimi suggests going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, turning off electronics at least one hour prior to bedtime, and participating in a relaxing activity before bed.

Ditch processed sugar

If you didn't know processed sugar was something to be aware of, and generally avoid, prior to starting your weight loss journey, you likely learned it in the process. "Let it be known that sugar consumption will result in serious health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease," said Samimi. 

Despite keeping your waistline in check, overall health (and thus the avoidance of diabetes and heart disease), is probably a key weight loss maintenance goal. Instead of returning to your older habits of reaching for cookies, cake, or some other sugar heavy food, Samimi suggests ditching the sugar and instead, "turn to raw, whole foods that will offer you nutritional value, give you more energy throughout your day, and keep your waistline trim."

Give up the negative self talk

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that for long term weight loss, we are going to talk about things related to diet and exercise, but have you stopped to think about the mental side of your weight loss goals? The way we talk to ourselves plays a major role in our day to day, including our success on the scale.

Fitness coach, Lois Manzella Marchitto, told me, "I believe the major thing my clients need to give up is their negative image, negative self talk, and negative responses when they hit a plateau or when things get hard in their work out." She went on to explain how when a client comes in and claims they "can't do a push-up" or "can't hold a plank," she responds, "You can't or you won't?" This allows them to see that the words they're using are not only unkind, but also counterproductive.

"Then we work on the mental shift in talking about food from being a can and can't, to a choice," she said. "I don't enjoy eating this because it makes me feel terrible afterwards versus I can't eat that because I'm on this diet."

If you have never tried this practice for yourself, I highly encourage you to give it a try as it quickly changes your perspective on so many parts of life.

Don't consume liquid calories

The danger of consuming liquid calories and the suggestion to avoid it in order to keep weight loss at bay should come as little to no surprise. If you are trying to use your allotted calories to get the most health benefit, it makes sense to skip the sugar-filled calorie laden soda pop, fruit juice, or, I'm sorry to say it, nightly glass of wine. Registered dietician, Dafna Chazin, pointed out how many beverages not only contain empty calories, excess sugar, and in the case of the Starbucks' Mint Mocha Frappuccino, also a lot of saturated fat.

She went on to add, "These drinks are also not as filling as solid food and therefore usually sit on top of our meal calories." This excess of calories, especially if done consistently, will lead to weight regain.

Watch the processed carbs

There's a lot of mixed information out there when it comes to carbs. It's hard not to be left wondering if they're good for us, bad for us, or somehow both. As it turns out, the answer seems to be both, but it really depends on the type of carbohydrates we're referring to.

"Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, rice, and salty snacks lead to a surge in blood sugar, followed by a crash," said Chazin. "This fluctuation in blood sugar levels can lead to cravings, impulsive eating, and make it hard for people to keep weight off." 

Does this mean we need to give up carbohydrates entirely? No. Chazin suggests to instead reach for high-fiber ones, like fruits and vegetables!

Avoid fried foods

This should be obvious, but for posterity sake, it's worth mentioning. You should not regularly eat fried foods and expect the weight to stay off. Not to mention there really is no nutritional benefit from eating a large french fry from your favorite fast food restaurant.

"Most people who have lost weight cannot 'afford' to eat fried items," said Chazin, "They're so calorie-dense and do not fit in the daily budget of calories." 

This isn't to say you can't enjoy a bite of the fried Twinkie or churro when you're at the local fair with your family, but limit it to just a few bites and make sure it's only happening on a special occasion.

Don't forget to keep it fun

When it comes to dieting, weight loss, and living an active and healthy lifestyle, so often we go into it with this mentality that it's going to be boring, terrible, and an overall painful experience. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that it does not have to be that way! So often, we give up before we find the workouts that challenge our bodies, but that we can still enjoy, or we forget to use delicious herbs and spices to add extra flavor to our foods.

"If you aren't enjoying what you are doing daily, or get bored, you won't be able to keep it up," said registered dietitian nutritionist, Dawn Jackson Blatner. "The secret to weight loss, long-term, is consistency and it's easier to be consistent when you're having fun."

For me, this is all about trying new workout classes like yoga, CrossFit, or step aerobics, or finding a local running group or new hiking trail. Find what activity or foods keep things fun for you and if you haven't found it yet, keep looking!

Continue to eat breakfast

It's been said for years that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" and if you've been on a weight loss journey, then this is a habit you hopefully already took to practice. Registered dietitian and the lead nutrition expert for Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating, Rene Ficek, said, "It's important to jump on this bandwagon now, as eating breakfast is a key factor to maintaining weight loss for several reasons." 

She went on to explain that some of the benefits of eating breakfast include suppressing midmorning hunger, producing better blood glucose and elevating basal metabolic rate, yielding fewer episodes of excessive or impulsive eating later in the day, increasing fiber intake, and reducing dietary fat intake. Pass the eggs, please!

Don't stop being calorie conscious

While there can be many opinions when it comes to the best diet for weight loss, one thing that remains consistent across the board is that in order to lose weight, you need to be conscious of the calories coming in, and then increase your calories going out through exercise. While you may have reached your weight loss goal, you can't suddenly revert back to those calorie heavy meals and snacks of times past. 

Ficek said, "If you want to maintain that weight, you need to be just as, if not more, vigilant about how many calories you consume." She went on to add that it may even be beneficial to continue calorie counting and measuring for awhile until the habit has been engrained. From there, she suggests spot checking every week or so, just to make sure you're still abiding by normal portion sizes. So don't toss out those measuring cups and food scale!

Do continue to weigh yourself

While there is so much more to one's health and wellness than the number on the scale, both Ficek and Blatner pointed out the importance of continuing to weigh yourself on a regular basis — and their argument is valid. "Monitoring weight on a regular basis is a form of accountability and self-monitoring, and consistent self-monitoring is associated with improved weight loss maintenance," said Ficek. 

"There's also research that you want to keep your weight within 5 pounds of your goal," said Blatner, "So if you see it creep up 1 to 2 pounds — no big deal; 3 to 5 pounds, you need a recovery action plan! If you creep over 5 pounds, stats show the probability of it [continuing to] keep going up is high." After all your hard work losing the weight in the first place, the last thing you want to do is end up right back where you started. "Moral of the story: catch it before 5," said Blatner.

Don't turn back now!

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that weight loss maintenance is easy and that all of your hard work is behind you. But if you keep these tips in mind, then it's going to be a lot easier and save you time down the road, from needing to go through the whole diet and weight loss cycle all over again. 

The experts have seen these tips work time and time again with their clients. I think what I appreciate most about them is that they're all pretty straight forward, easy to follow, and also quite obvious. You came this far, don't turn back now!