This is true no matter what method you follow to lose weight. For example, studies show that people who follow very low calorie diets (between 800-1,200 calories per day) regain between 26% and 121% of their lost weight five years after treatment. People who follow behavioural weight management programmes (such as WW, formerly Weight Watchers) regain between 30-35% of their lost weight after one year.
Even people who use weight loss medications, such as Wegovy, are shown to have regained about two-thirds of the weight they lost one year after stopping the drug.
There are many reasons why we regain the weight we lose. First, maintaining weight loss is less rewarding than seeing the number on the scale decrease while you’re losing weight. This makes it hard to maintain motivation and continue looking after your weight
Second, it’s often difficult to maintain the lifestyle changes we made in order to lose weight – especially if these changes are unrealistic and hard to stick with in the long-term (such as very low-calorie diets or cutting out whole food groups).
Third, weight loss can trigger increased production of hunger hormones – and can even slow your metabolism. These changes can make it difficult to resit overeating and can contribute to weight regain over time.
But while weight regain may be a common experience, that doesn’t mean there aren’t many evidence-backed things you can still do to prevent it in the long run:
1. Be flexible
It’s important to understand that maintaining a healthy weight will require lifelong management – so having rigid expectations and thinking you’ll always adhere perfectly to your lifestyle changes is unrealistic.
Don’t feel guilty when you have a slip-up. Instead, make plans to get back on track as soon as possible. For example, if you think you may have overeaten on the weekend account for this by adding a couple extra walks into your routine the next week.
Doing this can prevent an “all or nothing” approach to weight management – whereby you feel guilty when you don’t achieve your goals and so instead abandon your efforts.
2. Plan for disruptions
Recognise that there will be disruptions to your weight management efforts – such as holidays, weddings and birthday parties.
Plan ways to navigate these disruptions successfully. For example, losing a few extra pounds ahead of time may adjust for extra weight that may be gained during these occasions.
Or, if you’re going to a barbecue, bring along a healthier option (such as vegetable skewers) so you have a lower calorie option to choose. Doing this will help you enjoy special occasions with less worry.
3. Be proud of your achievements
Our weight naturally fluctuates over time – and so being proud of yourself when you achieve your goals, regardless of the number on the scale, is important.
Research also shows that people who focus more on how they can achieve their goals – rather than the outcome – are more likely to stick to behaviours important for maintaining weight loss. This might be because they’re less likely to be affected by setbacks (such as regaining some weight).
4. Make habits