Follow these simple steps—courtesy of experts and the latest studies—and you’ll maintain your happy weight without the stress.
1. Don’t Go Back to Old Habits
If you want to keep the weight off, you’ve got to keep up your healthy living habits. Whether you reduced your intake of sweets and alcohol, started a regular exercise program, or began drinking water with meals, it’s important to maintain that lifestyle, says Georgie Fear, R.D., author ofLean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.
2. …But Give Yourself Some Variety
Sticking with your new habits doesn’t mean you have to eat the same things every day or keep up HIIT classes six days a week, says Fear. Mixing things up is critical to fighting boredom. So go ahead, eat some pasta, take a yoga class, and enjoy yourself.
3. Lift Weights
When researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health followed 10,500 healthy adults for 12 years (granted, they were all dudes), those who spent 20 minutes a day lifting weights gained less belly fat than those who did 20 minutes of cardio daily. That’s because resistance training burns calories and builds muscle. And that extra lean muscle keeps your metabolism in peak shape.
4. Keep Tabs on Yourself
Fear says that when her clients reach their goals, she asks them to come up with a list of four warning signs that they’re headed down the wrong path. These include behaviors like eating after everyone else goes to bed, physical signs like feeling tired, and emotions and thoughts like feeling entitled to overeat after a hard day, says Fear. These are scale-free signals that you need to re-calibrate. Have a plan in place for when you see one of your warning signs, she says.
5. Get Excited About Breakfast
We know, we know. It’s the same ’ole breakfast tip again. But it’s worth repeating since 78 percent of people in the National Weight Control Registry, a large-scale study of adults who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a year or more, eat breakfast every day. And in Cornell University’s Global Healthy Weight Registry, which follows people who have always been at a healthy weight, 90 percent of them eat breakfast365 days a year. That being said, if you hate breakfast or it makes you feelsick, research has also shown that you’re not doomed to gain weight.
6. Treat Yourself When You Want
Deprivation diets don’t work—ever, says Toronto-based dietitian Abby Langer, R.D. You need to eat the sugary, fatty, carby foods you crave every now and then to save your willpower over the long haul and keep your sanity. The best way to eat the foods you know aren’t great for weight loss is to chow down mindfully.
7. Move Every Day
“People who lose weight and keep it off tend to expend about 2,000 calories a week in physical activity,” says Fear. That amounts to roughly four hours of running per week. However, when and how you divvy up those sweat sessions is your choice. Every workout doesn’t have to be a balls-to-the-wall sweat sesh. Just try to get moving in one way or another every day (you can also use these tricks to amp up the calorie burn during the workouts you love.)
8. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
One day of unhealthy eating does not equal weight gain, says Langer. So don’t dwell on that Chinese takeout or try to compensate by depriving yourself. Plus, food guilt can actually make you gain weight—so don’t sweat it. Instead, stay focused on doing what feels good today and your body will be happy, she says.
9. Be a Mindful Snacker
While regular meals and mini-meals can keep your blood sugar levels steady and fend off hanger attacks, there’s a big difference between snacking and mindlessly eating, says Langer. Picking from your kid’s food, or munching while you’re standing around the kitchen can become habits that leads to weight gain, she says.
10. Start Being Nice to Yourself
After hitting their goal weight, many women start fretting over a whole new set of body-image problems. That line of thinking can lead to weight gain. Instead of bullying your body, admire yourself. “Compliment yourself every day for feeling healthy and looking good,” says Brian Quebbemann, M.D., president of The N.E.W. Program, a California-based bariatric and metabolic weight-loss center. It’ll help you keep a healthy relationship with your body. And by focusing on how being healthy feels awesome, you’ll be less likely to fall into old bad-for-you habits.
11. Fill Up on Nutrient-Dense Foods
Instead of counting calories, focus on the nutrients in food, says Alexandra Caspero, R.D., owner of Delish Knowledge. Fruits, veggies, lean meats, and unrefined carbohydrates are low in calories and high in the vitamins and macronutrients you need to stay at a healthy weight. After all, 200 calories of cookies and 200 calories of oranges are both 200 calories—but one’s the clear nutrient winner.
12. Get an Accountability Partner
Finding a friend who you can talk to about your weight-maintenance journey is vital to your long-term success, according to a 2014 study from The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. If you don’t feel comfortable enlisting a friend or family member to keep you accountable, consider joining a healthy living Facebook group and posting regularly. You can also start a private Instagram account and invite others to cheer you on.
13. Don’t Reward Yourself with Food
Let’s get one thing straight: You shouldn’t cut yourself off from dessert, says Fear. Saving sweets for a post-weight loss reward can lead to bingeing. Treat yourself to new clothes, a massage, or mani-pedi when you reach that milestone, she says. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s centered on continuing to nourish your body and spirit.
14. Choose Workouts You Love
“Instead of worrying about calorie expenditure, focus on [finding an]exercise that you love doing,” says Caspero. Research shows that those who enjoy exercise are more likely to do it—even compared to those who make time for it, spend money on a trainer, or have a specific goal in mind. Exercise can feel like punishment if you view it as a chore, she says. So try to remember that fitness is about so much more than what you look like.
15. Prioritize Your Mental Health
If you want a healthy body for life, you’ve got to get your mind right, too. In fact, research in The Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that people struggling with depression are less likely to maintain their weight loss. It might sound obvious, but it’s worth sitting down with a mental health professional if you’re struggling.
16. Turn Off the TV
According to the National Weight Control Registry, about two-thirds of people who lose weight and keep it off watch less than 10 hours of TV per week. Maybe it’s time to limit your time with Kimmy Schmidt and Frank Underwood to a twice a week rather than 10 times in 24 hours. Just sayin’.
17. Hit Your Five-a-Day
Apart from boasting tons of health-boosting vitamins, fruits and veggies are naturally low in calories and high in fiber, so they keep you on track (see tip 11). According to Cornell research, two-thirds of healthy weight men and women have veggies on their dinnertime menu each night, half include produce in their breakfasts, and 44 percent say fruit is their go-to snack.
18. Cook at Home
While you definitely shouldn’t totally forego your fave restaurant, DIY-ing dinner is a super-simple way to make sure your meal is as nourishing as possible. Plus, people who never have trouble with weight gain tend tocook at home, according to Cornell University’s Global Healthy Weight Registry.
19. Eat More Protein
Protein keeps your satiety levels up, your blood sugar stable, and creates more metabolism-boosting muscle. And gaining muscle is especially important for women who lost that lean mass while dropping pounds. Protein (along with strength training, of course) will help you get it back.
A 2015 review published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism suggests that people need to get about 25 percent of their daily calories from protein to maintain a healthy weight. Translation: Aim for 30 grams of protein at each meal, says Fear. It sounds like a lot, but you can find that amount in half of a chicken breast or in one cup ofGreek yogurt with almonds.