Weight loss isn’t easy. In addition to a regular workout plan, weight loss also typically requires a stricter diet than you may be used to. Once you’re in a groove, though, habits start to form and your weight loss plan becomes second nature. Then, the hard part becomes returning to a regular eating pattern and maintaining the loss. When you’re in a short-term, rigid pattern of eating, the normal pitfalls of everyday eating aren’t as much as a problem. You’re on a roll, seeing the weight fall off, and the diet keeps your choices controlled. But once you’ve reached your goal weight and are looking towards transitioning towards a normal way of eating after weight loss, it’s much more difficult to navigate food choices.
The most successful way to maintain your weight loss is by making lifestyle changes that work for you. The transition from dieting to regular eating can be difficult. But the following tips on eating after weight loss will help you successfully transition to a healthy maintenance diet.
Incorporate conscious eating habits at meals. Make a pact with yourself that you’ll avoid mindless eating. This includes the kind of snacking that is so off the radar that you don’t even remember how much you eat. Mindful eating allows you to better process your body’s signals and stop when your body says it’s full. To do this, make mealtime the main event. Set the table, turn off the television and phone, and just enjoy the meal. Take the time to honor the food and all that it took to bring it to your plate. Think about how it was grown, harvested, and prepared.
Slow down your eating and savor each bite. Allow yourself to think about the aroma, texture, and taste of the food. Set your utensil down between bites as you chew, and stop for a drink after several bites.
Mindful eating may be a challenge for you, as we tend to eat on the run and value quick meals in our culture. Be patient and give yourself time to learn how to change a lifetime of eating habits.
Yep, there will times when you just couldn’t say no to the extra helping of cake, you had just a little too much to drink, or you lost your control at the appetizer table. That’s life. Learning how to handle dietary slips and get back on track is probably the most essential tool for maintaining weight loss.
When you do have a bad food day, be done with it when your head hits the pillow. You can always start fresh the next morning. Those three donuts are history. Holding onto any feelings of guilt associated with your diet will only derail your self-esteem and determination. Chalk them up as a delicious detour and get back on the healthy eating train. Besides, now that your normal diet consists of healthy food, those donuts (or whatever your slip food was) probably left you feeling lousy–a good reinforcement to stay on track.
Avoid rigid eating after weight loss.
Kris Bennett, RDN, CD, the outpatient dietitian at Watertown Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin reminds us to avoid an overly restrictive diet. “Restricting or avoiding some foods are common pitfalls,” says Bennett. She explains that when someone restricts a certain food, they tend to crave it, and may even overeat other foods trying to avoid the one they crave. They may also eventually binge on the craved food.
Allow for small, portion-controlled amounts of favorite foods during the week. If you budget in your diet for that food and don’t make it a daily habit, you’ll find it won’t have the power to derail your healthy eating.
Keep a food journal.
The last thing you probably feel like doing after a diet is writing down what you eat. Keeping a food journal during the first weeks of maintenance, though, can make the difference between success or failure. Writing down everything you eat makes you stop and take the time to really pay attention to your diet. And keeping a record is vital for making changes to your caloric intake if the scale starts to creep up.
Portion control is your friend.
The typical serving size for foods such as bagels, muffins and restaurant meals has steadily increased over the past decades. So how do you determine what’s a normal serving size? Learn to estimate by comparing to other objects. For example, one cup is approximately the size of a tennis ball and a serving of meat or fish should be the size of a deck of cards.
Determine the actual content size of your bowls and cups by filling your serving ware with water and measuring it, or use dry foods like oatmeal or rice to fill and measure. When adding oil to a dish while cooking or dressing always take the time to measure it out instead of just pouring.
Bennett has her clients use aids such as choosemyPlate.gov as a guide for meal portion size. It takes the guesswork out of portions and makes it so much easier to determine how much you should be eating after weight loss.
Eat only when you’re hungry.
Pay close attention to your body’s signals to learn the difference between real hunger and stress or boredom eating. Try to determine whether your body is feeling actually hungry (your stomach is growling) or your hunger is a response to an emotional cue. This can be a difficult thing to determine at first. It may take time to learn true hunger cues versus old stress response eating habits. The first step is becoming mindful of the cues, avoiding an immediate response (such as grabbing a donut and eating it before thinking about whether you’re truly hungry), and making healthier choices.
If food has been a source of emotional comfort, you’ll need to find positive replacements for it. It can be very helpful to work with a counselor who is experienced in emotional eating disorders. She can offer tools for successfully replacing emotional eating with healthier choices, and provide the support needed as you make this transition.
Eat protein at each meal.
Protein can help you curb your appetite because it reduces a hormone responsible for hunger, helping you feel full sooner and stay satiated longer. Include at least 20 grams of protein in every meal. Make sure your snacks also include protein to help give them staying power. Ideally, protein will make up about 30 percent of your daily diet. Choose lean, low-fat sources, such as fish, lean cuts of meat and poultry, and low-fat dairy. Most adults aren’t getting enough protein in their diet and need to up their intake, especially as they age, so make it a key part of every meal.
Get your sleep.
Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can disrupt your body’s hunger signals. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, your body becomes less glucose sensitive. The hunger hormone ghrelin is increased, while the appetite control hormone leptin is decreased. There’s an increased risk of obesity in people who don’t get adequate levels of sleep. So, if you have a hard time getting in eight hours of sleep each night, try making the following changes.
- Stay as consistent as possible with the time you go to sleep and get up. Don’t sleep extra on weekends thinking that it’ll help you catch up. That’ll just disrupt your brain’s sleep schedule.
- Shut down all electronic screens several hours before bedtime.
- Make your bedroom sleep friendly by adding blackout shades if outside light is a problem. Remove any other sources of light (electronic alarm clocks, phone chargers).
- Try wearing earplugs if you’re sensitive to noise. There are several types of earplugs available, so try them out to find ones that are comfortable.
- Turn down the room temperature. Research has shown that keeping the temperature between 60-67 degrees at night improves sleep quality.
- If you can’t sleep, make it a rule that the kitchen is off limits after your evening meal. Rewarding not sleeping with food can create a bad habit.
Calories do count.
Finding your daily calorie maintenance level is a bit of a dance. But with patience and time, you’ll find your sweet spot. Keep in mind that everyone has his or her own unique metabolism and number of calories needed to maintain weight. Someone who is more active, for example, should take in more calories than someone who is less active.
The road to successful weight maintenance is through making positive lifestyle changes and staying consistent with those changes. It takes time to change lifelong patterns, so be patient with yourself. And if you backslide, remember you can get back on track your next meal.