- If losing weight is hard, keeping it off is harder.
- One of the main reasons people regain weight they’ve lost is because the changes they’ve made are too drastic.
- The key is to start small and think about developing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle rather than thinking about being on a diet.
- It’s never too late to start again.
- Read more Working it Out here.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
I’m a university student and I lost 20 pounds from January to April through eating healthily and regular exercise, which I loved. My confidence and mental health, which had been affecting me for a while, were so much better. At the beginning I went to the gym with a friend and we did workouts together, but by the end I was quite happy going by myself and going into the weights section alone. It was such a relief to finally be feeling good and so much more positive about my life.
Then something happened. I started feeling like I could treat myself more. Without noticing, I stopped going to the gym and wasn’t making the right food choices. I started to stress-eat around exam time and shut off anything to do with exercise, spending time in the library eating chocolate bars and chips as a comfort blanket. I didn’t really notice the weight piling back on. I tend to self-destruct like this when I feel like everything’s too much.
It’s now a few months later and I’m right back where I started. I feel so frustrated and angry for letting myself do this when I tried so hard. I try to eat healthily but after two days I’m back to binge-eating in the evenings for no reason. I have no motivation to exercise. I feel like I’m at a standstill and don’t know how to get started again.
What can I do to improve my situation? I feel stuck in the same cycle that I’ve always found myself in and find it so hard to stick to a regular routine.
— Yo-Yo Dieter
Your frustration is very understandable — believe me, I know the feeling — and I honestly believe keeping weight off may be harder than losing it in the first place.
For lots of people, you get in a “zone” when you’re losing weight. A certain headspace, if you will, where you’re focused on your goal. You find out what works for you, and you gradually get there. It feels good.
But then once you’re feeling happy with the amount of fat you’ve lost, you want to move into maintenance — and that’s often the most difficult bit.
Firstly, it’s hard to know how much you can “relax” in order to maintain your current body composition rather than gain weight. Once you move away from your weight loss mindset, it’s also all too easy to slip right back into all your old eating habits, which for many of us were what got us feeling like we should slim down in the first place.
So what’s the solution?
Don’t beat yourself up
Firstly, as always, don’t beat yourself up.
“While I’m not condoning eating copious quantities of chocolate and not taking part in any physical activity, have you ever thought that this constant berating of yourself is feeding into your behaviour?” sports and eating disorder specialist dietitian Renee McGregor asked.
McGregor told Insider that holding yourself to too high a standard could be setting yourself up to fail.
A post shared by Renee Mcgregor (@r_mcgregor)Sep 7, 2019 at 1:00am PDT
“It’s obvious from your message that you have some real beliefs about what makes you happy and a good person. While training and eating right are healthy behaviors, they should also never become obsessive,” she said.
“The issue now is that because you’ve got this belief system that to be healthy you have to go to the gym daily and eat in a certain way, when you don’t quite meet this, you feel like you’ve failed and so you beat yourself up.”
And if you don’t switch this mindset, you’ll never make any sustainable changes.
Working on your mindset it crucial
The key is to try and re-train your brain as much as your body.
McGregor pointed out that taking a black and white approach to “good” and “bad” days is unhelpful.
“What can often happen is that individuals over-restrict on ‘good’ days,” she said. “The body then finds this difficult as it is always trying to achieve energy balance; similarly if you don’t provide your body with enough fuel, you will crave more sugar as glucose is the body’s preferred currency to provide energy.
“So you set yourself up to fail. You over-restrict, your blood sugars drop, you eat something you deem as ‘bad’ which then sets up the thinking that you have failed, resulting in you eating to excess, feeding back into the self-sabotage that you are a bad person.”
But it’s totally possible to move away from this downwards spiral, and that’s what will make any changes you implement become part of a new healthy, sustainable lifestyle, meaning any weight lost in the process is more likely to stay off.
A post shared by Rachel Hosie (@rachel_hosie)Apr 22, 2019 at 4:45am PDT
You have to stop thinking about weight loss as something which has an end goal in sight. There’s no finish line.
I don’t mean for that to sound depressing, or make it seem like you’re going to be trying to lose weight for the rest of your life. Instead, you should figure out which healthy habits are enjoyable enough for you to become part of your lifestyle.
This mindset also helped me stop beating myself up — if, say, I indulged more than usual on a holiday and put on a few pounds as a result, I feel OK about it because I know in the scheme of my life, it’s insignificant. I come back from holiday, and I go back to my normal routine.
Stop thinking about ‘dieting’
Registered nutritionist Lily Soutter agrees that it’s important to stop thinking about being on a diet.
“‘Dieting’ can be a huge driver for binge-eating. In fact, the more restrictive we are with our diet the more likely we are to binge-eat,” she explained to Insider.
“Focusing on weight loss can be counterproductive to binge-eating recovery, however, binge-eating recovery can be the best step to achieving a healthy body weight.”
A post shared by Lily Soutter BSc (hons) (@lily_soutter_nutrition)Oct 12, 2019 at 1:52am PDT
Don’t cut anything out of your diet or tell yourself you can’t have it, as that will just make you want it even more. If you love cookie dough ice cream, you’re not going to be able to live the rest of your life without it, so allow yourself some and learn that “enough is as good as a feast” (or so my mother always says to me). This essentially means re-training yourself to be satisfied by a normal portion size rather than feeling like you need to consume vast amounts.
“If chocolate is a common binge food, instead of going cold-turkey, enjoy this food daily to reduce its desirability,” Soutter recommended.
“But be mindful of portion-size and the environment in which you consume this food, only buy small packs and eat slowly and mindfully, ideally in the company of others.
“Often when we eat mindfully we tend to feel more satisfied with our food which better regulates our hunger and fullness cues.”
It’s never too late to start again when it comes to working towards a healthier lifestyle, and don’t worry about the fact that you lost weight then regained it — most of us try various approaches, diets, and ways of exercising before finding what’s right for us.
It’s not failing. It’s how we learn.
Start by making small changes
But you need to start small.
“In order to change you need to make realistic changes, baby steps that don’t feel too difficult,” McGregor advised.
“If the gym feels like a big jump at the moment, why don’t you start with daily walks; if this feels manageable then sign up to a class, something like yoga which may feel more nurturing than the gym.
“Similarly with eating, don’t create any rules about what you should or shouldn’t eat. The first aim should be to prevent blood sugar fluctuations — to do this try to eat something at 3-4 hour intervals.”
Soutter pointed out that eating regularly can help remove the urge to binge-eat, too.
A post shared by Lily Soutter BSc (hons) (@lily_soutter_nutrition)Oct 21, 2019 at 12:35am PDT
McGregor recommends eating satiating snacks like Greek yogurt with fruit, oatcakes with houmous or peanut butter, or an apple with brazil nuts.
“This more gentle approach will help you to create sustainable, balanced behaviours and focuses on having a healthy attitude towards food and exercise,” she added.
Soutter agrees that taking on too much too quickly is likely to end in disaster.
“It can be all too easy to be overly restrictive when starting up an exercise and nutrition regime,” she says. “However, following a routine which is overly taxing and unrealistic can trigger an ‘all or nothing’ mentality.
“On the other hand, small incremental and sustainable changes can make a big impact long term.”
If you lose some weight and then gain some weight, that’s OK. There’s no rush. And remember, health really isn’t to do with the number on the scale.
If you’re making healthy decisions like snacking on an apple rather than a chocolate bar, prioritizing your sleep, and getting more activity into your day, applaud yourself for that. By trying to make positive changes, you’re already doing amazing.
Wishing you well,
As Insider’s Senior Lifestyle Reporter and a self-confessed fitness fanatic, Rachel Hosie is fully immersed in the wellness scene and is here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you’re struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light vs. heavy weights, or don’t know whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips — she regularly speaks to some of the world’s most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she’s always up-to-date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest, healthiest life.