Why is it so hard to keep the weight off?

Crash diets and get-thin-quick schemes seem like a good idea in the moment - why would I want to diet for a year when I can diet for a month and get to my goal weight more quickly? The answer to that may be that the vast majority - 80 to 85% of people who lose a large amount of weight will regain it later on.

One study showed that even with intensive education and training, people will still gain weight back to where they started (see figure below). Diets shouldn’t be looked at as a one stop solution, where you can return to an unhealthy lifestyle after losing the weight

Human bodies were not created for mass weight loss and evolution has not prepared us for the plethora of food options Americans now are exposed to on a daily basis. When we cut out massive amounts of calories from our diets, our metabolism slows down because the body thinks we’re in a time of famine. This means all the food we consume is being broken down more efficiently and weight loss can slow or stop altogether.

Doctors at Stanford recommend working toward a goal of losing only one to two pounds a week consistently. It’s more important to make long-term lifestyle changes for increasing the chance of sustainable long term weight loss.

As hard as it is to maintain weight loss, there are a couple of studied strategies for the successful management of a healthy body weight. Support systems are crucial for keeping you accountable throughout and beyond your weight loss journey. One study found that those who attend bi-monthly support group meetings for a year were able to maintain their full weight loss for a year after they had lost most of the weight. Those who didn’t attend meetings gained back almost half of the weight.

Once desired weight is reached, experts suggest gradually adding around 200 calories of healthy food to daily intake for a week to see if weight loss continues. If weight loss continues, they suggest slowly continuing to add calories until weight stops fluctuating. It may take some time to track exactly what the right intake is for you - many consult a registered dietitian to help build a healthy diet plan for the future.

Continuing to use healthy behaviors can also help maintain weight. Being aware of food intake in response to stress is crucial for emotional eaters.  Identifying stressful or negative situations and learning a healthy way to cope with them, outside of food, can have a huge impact on whether or not the weight is kept off.

Read more: Physiology of Weight Loss

Hannah Nourie