If you’ve recently lost weight, but are having trouble keeping it off despite what seems like your best efforts, you’re in good company. According to Robert Herbst, CPT, a weight loss coach and powerlifter, most people who experience significant weight loss invariably gain weight back. “Once we’ve been at a weight for a while, our body views it as normal. Even if it’s a weight that we don’t want to be at because we have too much fat or are unhealthy,” he says. “Thus, when we try to lose that fat and lower our weight, the body defends that set weight to try to maintain normal.”
It’s true that much of how our body responds is evolutionary—a souvenir from our hunter-gatherer past. However, Herbst explains that there are many other reasons why we gain weight back after a significant amount of it has been lost. Here, he and other weight loss pros share some of the most common reasons we gain weight back.
You’re setting unrealistic and excessive workout routines.
To truly find success long term, Justin Blum, CEO of the Raw Fitness franchise, explains the importance of setting realistic expectations for yourself in the beginning. He suggests starting small. Commit to working out at least three times a week before working your way up to increase that frequency. “A lot of people starting out go all in with a very restrictive diet and hit the gym six days a week,” he says. “This can burn people out quickly and drive them right back into their old habits. These programs require drastic changes that the body just isn’t ready for in a such a short amount of time.” Instead, he suggests easing into an exercise program that works for your goals, your body, and your schedule. “Talk to a trainer for clear direction and determine your game plan week by week,” he adds.
You’re choosing diet changes over exercise.
You’ve probably heard some version of the 80-20 rule. The rule states that diet is 80 percent of the weight loss battle and exercise is the remaining 20 percent. While diet plays a huge role in weight loss, it’s no substitute for a balanced fitness routine. “You can augment your diet so that your intake is below your output, but that approach is ultimately unsustainable,” explains Caleb Backe, CPT, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. “For example, if you abstain from carbs, you’ll find yourself craving sugar. And if you don’t eat enough, in general, you may find yourself out of energy.”
According to Backe, it’s better and less taxing on the body to exercise regularly. It will boost both your energy and metabolism levels. Blend that with small, sustainable diet changes and you’ll have better luck maintaining your new weight.
You’re not eating well before a workout.
It’s easy to assume that regular exercise gives you the go-ahead to eat more. It’s true that you may need to up your food intake to keep up with your fitness routine. However, it’s not true that you can just eat whatever you want. It’s still important to eat right most of the time. This is especially true right before a workout. “If you’re doing a demanding workout in terms of stamina such as biking, it’s important to carb-load. Otherwise, you risk running out of energy and getting stranded,” explains Backe. “Conversely, if you decide to have something heavy before a planned workout, you’re likely to be too tired to follow through with the workout.”
He recommends staying away from fatty foods, meat, and sugars before a workout. These foods may result in energy crashes. Stick to eating something light that has a good balance of macronutrients. A banana with peanut butter 30 minutes before a workout should keep you powering through until the end.
You’re doing the wrong type of exercise.
Many people think that cardio is the key to weight loss, but Herbst explains that this isn’t always the case. “The body sees long bouts of cardio as a long and uncertain search for food and slows the metabolism to be more efficient and save calories,” he explains. “Any weight that was lost will be regained.”
Instead, he recommends weight training, which boosts metabolism and builds muscle. “Regularly lifting weights will keep the body in an anabolic, muscle-growing state,” he says. “It will keep burning calories to fuel the process and the fat weight will come off and stay off.”
You’re not switching up your routine.
Continuing the same exact exercise regimen that helped you lose weight in the first place might sound like it would make sense. But this can actually cause your body to plateau. “Your body is amazingly adaptable and will figure out that you’re doing the same kind of exercise. To the point where it becomes more efficient at storing calories,” explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., a Houston-based dietitian, nutritionist, and founder of Eat Right Fitness. “This results in lower resting energy expenditure (think metabolism).” For this reason, he recommends adjusting both exercise and diet programs frequently to continue making progress towards weight loss without gaining weight back.
You’re skipping exercise when stressed.
When life gets stressful and work and personal commitments become overbearing, it can be tempting to cut back in the areas of diet and exercise. But resist this temptation as best you can. Remember that eating well and exercising goes a long way to free up the clutter in your mind. Physical activity is a form of therapy itself in many ways, notes Backe. “Stress causes you to store fat and exercise relieves stress,” he says. Bottom line: If you make time to be active, your body and mind will both thank you.
Keeping the weight off after a big weight loss isn’t always easy and it and it can be taxing both physically and mentally. Stick to the principles that helped you achieve a healthy weight loss in the first place and you should see that your body will adjust accordingly and help you avoid gaining the weight back.
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