Hi there! You’re likely here because you recently finished up a weight loss journey. WAHOO! Huge congrats to you for committing to that, being patient, and sticking with it even through the not so fun parts.
You might be wondering “Ok I lost the weight…what do I do now?” You’ve likely spent the last X amount of months(maybe even years!) consuming content all about weight loss. Which was super helpful when that was your goal. But now your question is…how do you maintain that weight loss? Do you keep doing the same things you’ve been doing and just do them forever? Kind of…but with more food!
So here it is. Your step by step guide on how to maintain your weight loss.
First up: Nutrition
In this article I’m going to assume that you lost the weight in a sustainable way. Hopefully you were in a pretty manageable calorie deficit, eating mostly nutrient dense foods but also some “fun” foods you really enjoy. You’re going to be doing a lot of those same things to maintain your weight loss.
First step is finding your maintenance calories. Aka how many calories you should be eating each day to maintain your current weight. This is different from your deficit calories. If you continue eating at your deficit calories you will continue to lose weight.
To find your maintenance calories take your current bodyweight and multiply that by 14-15. So if you weigh 160lbs your maintenance range is likely 2,240 - 2,400.
I say likely because just like a calorie deficit, this is a best guesstimate. The exact number will depend on a variety of factors we can never know exactly like your daily activity level, metabolism, etc. But this number will get you pretty darn close. You’ll know you’re *truly* in maintenance once the scale has stabilized between about 3-5lbs.
You have 2 options to get to these maintenance calories:
Reverse diet and slowly add calories back into your diet on a weekly basis until you hit your maintenance calories. I have a longer blog post on reverse dieting here but this is a great option to minimize a scale jump. It will be a much slower process into maintenance but again, if your calorie deficit was manageable this should feel pretty doable.
Jump right up to your maintenance calories immediately.
Neither is right or wrong, it's whatever approach you think will be best for you and which sounds more your speed. If you want minimal scale movement, the first is probably better. If you want more flexibility faster, I’d go with the second.
Now that you know your calories, how do you know what foods you should be eating to maintain your weight loss? Does maintenance mean endless pizza, chips & ice cream now that the weight loss part is over?!
Not exactly. Just like in a calorie deficit you could eat nothing but those foods and as long as you hit your calorie target, you’ll maintain your weight. But just like in a calorie deficit you probably won’t feel the best or have the most energy and these foods won’t keep you full for long. Instead, you should be eating a lot of the same things you were eating in a calorie deficit…just more of it! Hopefully you’ve been eating foods you enjoy and now you have the flexibility to eat more of them. Of course you also have a little more room for “fun” foods and you should be enjoying those too. But you still want a big chunk of your diet coming from those same nutrient dense foods that kept you full while you were in a calorie deficit.
Do I have to still count calories to maintain my weight loss?
Maintenance is typically where people want to be free from calorie counting forever…and I want that for you too! But hold your horses. Just like it may have taken you a long time to figure out proper portion sizes in a calorie deficit…you now have to figure out what serving sizes look like in maintenance.
If you want to start transitioning away from calorie counting I would start by counting calories 6 days a week. Then if that’s going well after a month or so, move down to 5 days a week. Make sure one of those days is still a weekend day so you’re not tempted to fall into the weekend binge cycle! Then move to 4 days a week, and so on and so forth until eventually you’re successfully maintaining your weight and finding that natural balance without counting calories! This is going to allow you to transition away from calorie counting but first learn what “normal” meals and portion sizes look like in maintenance.
Calorie counting is never meant to be a forever thing and transitioning away from it while you’re in maintenance and have a little more flexibility in your diet is a GREAT idea. I just want you to do it in a smart way that allows you to maintain all this incredible progress you made. You did all the hard work, you don’t want to throw it out overnight!
Another great tool to maintain your weight loss as you transition away from calorie counting is the build a plate method. Trying to eat half a plate of veggies, a fist size serving of carbs, a palm sized serving of protein & a thumb sized serving of fats at most meals. This will keep you building balanced, mostly nutrient dense plates at every meal.
Next Step to maintaining your weight loss: The Workouts
Now that you’re just trying to maintain your weight loss should your workouts change? Nope! You can still continue the same strength training program you were doing while trying to lose fat. This would be a good time though to reassess(or set) some performance based goals in the gym though!
The beauty of eating more food means you’ll have more energy for your workouts. You’ll likely notice that your workouts feel a lot better, you’re able to gain strength more quickly, your recovery is better and you’ll likely start to see more body recomposition and muscle building. Take advantage of that and make sure your program is built around any new PR’s you want to hit, lifts you want to improve, or specific physique goals(like growing your booty!). This is the time to really focus on your performance in the gym and building strength.
Importance of steps to maintain weight loss
Something I don’t want you to overlook while maintaining your weight loss is the importance of keeping your activity levels high. I know you may be tempted right now to say “well goal hit, time to chill” BUT in order to more easily maintain the weight loss progress you just made, you’ll want to keep your daily activity level similar to what it was during your fat loss phase. Monitoring your daily steps and ensuring they stay in a range similar to what you were doing during your weight loss phase is a good way to keep an eye on this and make sure you’re not getting into lazy habits now that the goal has been “met”.
This is a good reminder of why it’s so important not to rely on hours of cardio in order to lose weight…that’s much harder to maintain long term than just a daily step count!
Things to keep in mind as you’re trying to maintain your weight loss
The scale will likely spike up at first. Chill. If you’ve been taking measurements, take them again and you’ll see they’re staying the same. You’re not immediately gaining fat just because you’re eating some more food. It’s water weight and if you give it some time it will go back down…promise. Do NOT I repeat do not cut your calories and go back to a deficit. Once you’re in maintenance, stick to it even when the scale goes up. You won’t be doing yourself any favors bouncing from a deficit one week to maintenance the next.
Maintenance is power. It’s a great place to build muscle, change body composition, have more flexibility in your diet, more energy, better sleep, etc. This is where your body wants to be MOST of the time. If down the line you decide you want to do another cut or maybe build some serious muscle and go into a surplus…amazing. But be purposeful about those phases and do them for an absolute minimum 30 days. 3 months would be more ideal for a surplus. In between those cut & surplus phases you should be in maintenance. Remember there is NOTHING wrong with staying in maintenance either. You don’t need to be in a constant pursuit to change your body.
This might be more of a struggle mentally than fat loss was. Many of you have probably spent your entire life trying to make the scale go down and trying to eat less food. Now you’re going to purposefully make it stay the same AND purposefully eat more?! See how that could be a bit of a mind bender for you? But…just because this may feel a little uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not worth it and you shouldn’t do it. In fact, if the thought of making the scale stay the same gives you some anxiety, this may be exactly what you need. Push through the discomfort. Getting over the mental hurdle of maintenance can be hard but it is so worth it. Stick with it.
And that’s it! Your guide on how to maintain weight loss. If you’ve got more questions on how to successfully navigate maintenance shoot me an email or DM. And if you’ve got specific goals you want to hit in the gym and need help with where to start, apply for 1:1 coaching here.