Reaching a healthy weight and maintaining it is important for a whole host of reasons. In addition to preventing and controlling chronic diseases and other health conditions, maintaining a healthy weight provides the opportunity for an active life rich in rewarding experiences. But most importantly, maintaining a healthy weight lowers your individual risk for many disease conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
So, what does it take to reach and maintain a healthy weight? The answer to this question is going to be different for each person, but there are two basic types of factors that affect a person’s efforts to reach (and stay at) a healthy weight: controllable factors and uncontrollable factors.
Family medical history, age, genetics, and metabolic rate are simply beyond our control, but they must be taken into account when putting together a realistic weight maintenance plan. However, there are also lifestyle habits, and you can establish all the control in the world over your lifestyle choices if you set your mind to it and come up with a reasonable and attainable plan.
Physical activity, healthy eating choices, a strong support system, and energy-balancing activities can make a tremendous difference when you’re working toward a weight maintenance goal for your long-term wellbeing.
What is Energy Balance?
Getting to an optimal energy balance in your daily life is essential to achieving weight loss and weight maintenance. “Energy balance” is just fancy lingo for the simple arithmetic of your body’s energy needs: calories in vs. calories out. It is important to realize that your energy balance shifts throughout your life, depending on what your body is doing and what your caloric needs are.
Here are the three states of energy balance that people experience throughout the course of their lives.
- Positive energy balance (childhood, adolescence, pregnancy): periods of time when you need a lot of calories to support growth. During phases of positive energy balance, your calorie intake needs to exceed your expenditures (calories in > calories expended)
- Negative energy balance (adulthood): periods of weight loss as an adult. When you have a negative energy balance, you will lose body weight. (calories in < calories expended).
- Weight maintenance (adulthood): periods of little weight fluctuation, when your burned calories roughly equal your intake (calories in = calories expended)
The National Weight Control Registry’s (NWCR) weight maintenance recommendations and guidelines are considered the gold standard. NWCR defines weight maintenance as the loss of 10% of your body weight, followed by being able to keep that weight off for 1 year. Unfortunately, only 20% of overweight and obese individuals are successful in accomplishing weight maintenance.
The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is not about making short-term changes, although every little step does count! However, effective weight maintenance plans focus on long-term lifestyle changes that include healthy eating, regular physical activity, and accomplishing energy balance by consuming the same number of calories that you expend each day.
So now that we’ve taken a quick look at what weight maintenance means, here are some strategies that will help you make those lasting, long-term changes that lead to healthy weight maintenance and lasting success!
Eating for weight maintenance isn’t always easy, but luckily you don’t have to shoot blindly when you’re making a healthy eating plan…and in fact, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3! Following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, will set you on the path to success, and it includes a lot of delicious and affordable food options. Here are the key points for healthy eating:
- Every day, be sure to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods.
- For protein, choose lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts, beans, and eggs.
- Monitor and limit your saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugar intake.
Healthy eating is all about balance and quality of foods. You don’t have to give up your favorite foods, but you should eat them less often—moderation is key! Also, Timing your meals and snacks is essential for weight maintenance.
Here are a few tips on how to create a healthy eating plan that takes timing, ingredients, and food choices into consideration:
- Eating 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks each day is a great place to start, because your appetite will be satisfied and you’ll get all the nutrition you need. And just like your mom probably told you, it turns out that breakfast is important! Research conducted by NWCR indicates that 80% of people who are successful with their weight maintenance goals eat breakfast every day, and having a bite to eat before you run out the door sets a good tone for the rest of your day!
- Foods that are high in fiber are awesome, and here’s why: not only are they good for you overall, but foods that have more than 3 grams of fiber per serving make you feel full longer, which prevents overeating later in the day.
- Make your meals at home and skip going out to eat. Not only is this option less expensive, it turns out that eating out infrequently helps people achieve their healthy eating, energy balance, and weight maintenance goals. According to NWCR, people who succeed at weight maintenance eat out twice a week, and only make 1 visit per week to a fast food restaurant.
- Keep up your healthy eating and meal schedule on the weekends! Your body likes routine and having 7 balanced days will make your more successful in weight maintenance compared to limiting your efforts to a 5-day workweek. That doesn’t mean never having pizza on a Saturday night, but just keep in mind that if you can keep up your plan all week long, your body will respond positively.
Physical activity is really beneficial when you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight because it increases your energy expenditure and helps establish energy balance. As a big bonus, physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, even more than simply losing weight without increasing your physical activity. Combined with a healthy eating plan, physical activity can put you on track for success to achieve and maintain a healthy weight!
Here are some recommendations for physical activity for weight loss and weight maintenance:
- Do 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity physical activity like walking, gardening, weightlifting, OR 75 minutes/week of high-intensity physical activity like running, swimming, hiking, biking, tennis or basketball.
- Mix it up! One way to avoid boredom is to do a combination of physical activities, including both moderate- and high-intensity exercises. If you find yourself dreading your morning run, perhaps it’s time to get out in the garden or take a hike at the Eno River, Umstead, or Raven Rock State Parks!
- According to NWCR, individuals who are successful with weight maintenance habitually spend 60 minutes doing physical activity each day.
If you’re wondering where to find time to get some physical activity into your routine, you might want to consider limiting your screen time by switching off the TV and stepping away from your computer and phone so you can use that time to engage in your preferred physical activity.
This doesn’t mean giving up your favorite shows and games, but rather just shifting 20-30 minutes per day to help you achieve and maintain your weight maintenance goals. According to NWCR, 62% of individuals who lost more than 30 pounds and then kept it off for one year watched fewer than 10 hours of TV each week. Compared to the average American who watches 28 hours of TV every week, folks who are successful with weight maintenance often do a great job limiting their screen time!
Support Systems and Personal Accountability
It’s a lot easier to make progress on your weight maintenance goals when you have a great support system of people around you who can encourage you and keep you jazzed. Your support system can consist of friends, family, coworkers, health care providers, or members of a church group. Not only does a support system make you feel happier, if you have a good support system they’ll help keep you accountable, which in turn makes weight maintenance a lot easier to achieve!
Another way to stay accountable to your goals is to weigh yourself regularly. Making a habit of weighing yourself every Friday morning is a good way to keep track of your weight maintenance goals. Not only does this give you a chance to note your progress, it will also help you develop an action plan when your weight exceeds a level you feel comfortable with.
If you slip up, just get right back on the wagon and don’t worry about it. No one eats perfectly according to plan 100% of the time. So if you veer off course on your weight maintenance plan, just take some time to get back on track. Your support system can really help you with this, so check in with your crew when you need an extra dose of motivation and that can-do attitude that makes healthy eating, physical exercise, and weight maintenance successful!
Weight maintenance is a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes several lifestyle changes to make you successful. The Registered Dietitians at LifeStyle Medical Center can help provide you with the tools to help you on your path toward weight maintenance. Being proactive about your health can begin at any age, so start taking some steps today towards achieving a healthy weight!