Would You Need A Post Diet Maintenance Strategy To Keep The Weight Off?

Key points:

  • Weight maintenance is a term used to describe the scientific and physiological processes that contribute to a person’s ability to sustain results. This is post encompassing patience and regular motivation. 
  • Millions of years of natural selection have left our body designed to store as much energy as possible to prepare for times of low food availability, exactly what happens when you jump on a dieting phase.
  • Thermal Effect of Food, hormones, and the metabolism of the body alters during the dieting and maintenance phase. The Maintenance phase, if plugged-in properly, helps the body to adapt to the change and then progress. 
  • The right time to take a break and allow the body to adapt to the change encountered is when the body energy levels are constantly low and there are no significant changes being observed in the body, typically within 8-12 weeks of continuous dieting. 
  • When the body is in the maintenance phase, the body stops resisting the changes that have taken place and adapt to them. This helps the body to be ready for the second phase of weight loss.   

 Usually, after a year of rigorous dieting, people successfully lose a lot of weight and achieve their goals. This is followed by getting applauded, recognised and appreciated by everyone around. This huge transformation inspirers many people and motivates them to start their fat loss journey.

However, we do see these same people slowly regaining their lost weight, and before they know it, they are back to where they had earlier started.

What Exactly Does Your Body Go Through While Losing Weight? 

When we eat less, the TEF (Thermic Effect of Food) of the body goes down. The food that we consume is used to digest, absorb, and metabolize the rest of the food and a certain amount of energy is lost as heat; this process is known as the Thermic Effect of Food. TEF is about 10% of the calorie intake, but it even depends on the metabolism of the body. The energy required to digest every macronutrient can be expressed in the form of a percentage of the energy provided by the macronutrient.

Fat provides 9 food calories per gram, and its TEF is 0–3%.

Carbohydrate provides 4 food calories per gram, and its TEF is 5–10%.

Protein provides 4 food calories per gram, and its TEF is 20–30%.

Due to less food consumption and more energy being used, the body remains in a constant energy deficit quotient, resulting in lower NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). NEAT is the energy that the body uses for daily life activities excluding sleeping, eating, or sport-like activities; trivial tasks like typing, reading a book, or drinking a glass of water account for NEAT. [6] A drop in the hormones is also observed, such as leptin (inhibits hunger) and thyroid (growth and development) hormones, causing the risk of an increased calorie intake post weight loss.[2]  Our body becomes energy deficit and starts working in energy-saving mode. To fight the changes the body is experiencing, the body fights back against the weight being lost.

As a whole, as we start eating in a deficit, our metabolism slows down and at the end of a dieting phase it is the slowest and suppressed. Moreover, an entire deficit phase comes with it’s own psychological challenges of diet fatigue.  Strategically, moving out of these physiological and psychological changes is of utmost importance, when we talk about long-term weight loss maintenance.

What is the Importance of Post Diet Maintenance Phase ?

The more we want to lose weight, the more the body fights back. After a certain duration of dieting, there comes a point where despite putting in a lot of energy in working out and eating mindfully, the weighing scale shows a constant reading. Along with this, the hunger levels spike up, due to a high level of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and low level of leptin; the body stresses more, which even affects the sleep cycle and anger, this happens due to high secretion of cortisol (fight-or-flight) and catecholamine (stress hormone) and low levels of serotonin (mood hormone). [7]

This is when you need to realise that the body needs a break. The cycle for the maintenance period might occur after 8-12 weeks of dieting and regular workout. The moment the body catches a breath, our energy levels spike up, hunger disintegrates, performance increases, and stress levels go down. Basically, everything that was going wrong during the dieting phase, will be back to normal. You will feel like yourself, again.

You must be thinking that this is not your ideal weight, you need to work harder to reach your desired body type. Right? When the body stops losing weight, it is usually because the body is primed by millions of years of evolution to prepare itself from impending famine. This is because, millions of years of natural selection have left our body designed to store as much energy as possible to prepare for times of low food availability.

During the fightback mode, the body cells multiply at a lower rate and start operating on low nutrient levels, decreasing the amount of energy being released. [8] This period should be taken as a pause in the diet; you’re lowering the intensity to allow yourself to come back stronger. And once you take a maintenance break, the weight loss becomes more effective. It is similar to the concept of climbing to the 10th floor, going from the ground floor to the tenth in one go can be draining. But if after every floor, you take rest, reaching the tenth floor does not drain you much.

Implementing a Maintenance Phase:

Kickstart this phase by adding back calories into your diet. Add back conservatively, as your actual maintenance calories would have dropped from the time you first began. Once you start your maintenance phase, yourbody enters the “resting phase”. The body stops resisting the change that it was encountering, and starts reversing the negative adaptations from the dieting phase.

You may gain some weight, mostly from stored carbs in the form of glycogen. Some amount of the fat you lost may be back, but that shouldn’t be considered as a setback. As two steps forward and one step backward still counts as moving forward. During this phase, the diet meals can be replaced with wholesome meals, the water consumption should still be high, sugar consumption should be less and emotional well-being also plays a crucial role. Along with this, having a good night sleep is crucial. [10]

Your body will have cravings. While you were on a diet, your hormone secretion of leptin and thyroid decreases, which in turn increases your cravings for sugars and processed carbohydrates. [1] So, indulge in guilty pleasures, but stop when your body feels full. If you make guilty pleasures a habit, it’ll definitely lead to weight gain and a series of cheat meals can never go away.

You will feel more energetic and stronger in this phase. Use these calories wisely; by getting the most out of your workouts or just being physically more active.

The cycle continues; maintenance as the word means, it to maintain, maintain the weight.

Conclusion:

Maintenance can feel like a difficult option for people looking forward to losing more in less time. But what we need to understand is that, post a dieting phase, our body is primed to gaining weight, and this post-dieting phase is critical to master.

Time and again we see success with people who have an ‘exit-strategy’ post their dieting phase in the form of a maintenance phase. People who ease-out into normal eating, moving out of a dieting phase, reset metabolic and psychological homeostasis at a new bodyweight and establish a new settling-point. 

Additionally, this prevents the post-diet weight regain, that people struggle with the most.

This way the body corporates more in the next round of weight loss and it is scientifically proven to be more effective. After all, one step at a time!

References

  1. LeCheminant, J., Jacobsen, D., Hall, M., & Donnelly, J. (2020). A Comparison of Meal Replacements and Medication in Weight Maintenance after Weight Loss. Retrieved 29 September 2020, from.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16192259/
  • Swaminathan, R., King, R., Holmfield, J., Siwek, R., Baker, M., & Wales, J. (2020). Thermic effect of feeding carbohydrate, fat, protein and mixed meal in lean and obese subjects. Retrieved 29 September 2020, from. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4025189
  • Polidori, D., Sanghvi, A., Seeley, R., & Hall, K. (2020). How Strongly Does Appetite Counter Weight Loss? Quantification of the Feedback Control of Human Energy Intake. Retrieved 29 September 2020, from. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27804272/
  • Cheng, C., Adams, G., Perin, L., Wei, M., Zhou, X., & Lam, B. et al. (2020). Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to Promote Hematopoietic-Stem-Cell-Based Regeneration and Reverse Immunosuppression. Retrieved 29 September 2020, from. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4102383/
  1. Phelan, S., Wing, R., Loria, C., Kim, Y., & Lewis, C. (2020). Prevalence and Predictors of Weight-Loss Maintenance in a Biracial Cohort. Retrieved 29 September 2020, from. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21084075/
  1. Heymsfield, S., van Mierlo, C., van der Knaap, H., Heo, M., & Frier, H. (2020). Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. Retrieved 29 September 2020, from. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12704397/
  1. DL, W., & L, M. (2020). Is there an optimal macronutrient mix for weight loss and weight maintenance?. PubMed. Retrieved 29 September 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15561637/. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15561637/
  1. Soenen, S., Bonomi, A., Lemmens, S., Scholte, J., Thijssen, M., van Berkum, F., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2020). Relatively high-protein or ‘low-carb’ energy-restricted diets for body weight loss and body weight maintenance?. Retrieved 29 September 2020, from. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22935440/

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