Why is it so hard to keep the weight off after dieting?

You’ve worked really hard to hit that magic clothing size or number on the scale. But as the days and weeks go by, you notice your weight starting to creep up again.

The reason could be how you lost the weight. Here are some of the biggest weight loss pitfalls:

1. Your diet is too restrictive.
High protein, low carbs, no sugar – these diets don’t work in the long run. People start to dream about bread or wake up thinking about cookies or chips. They’re so restrictive that it leads to binging.
2. Your diet is too prescribed.
I see magazine covers in the store checkout lane that say 14-day diet or take 20 pounds off in two weeks. Those diets aren’t necessarily horrible but they’re very prescribed. No one is going to follow anything like that for probably more than a week or two at the most. If you’re taking the weight off, what do you do after those two weeks? You can’t just keep following and repeating the diet forever.
3. You eat too little during the day.
We should take in a lot more calories in the day than we do in the evening, and I usually see that flipped. People take in maybe half or less than half of their calories up until dinner time, then they eat the other half or more during dinner or afterward because they haven’t eaten enough during the day.
4. You’re not exercising enough.
The recommendation is at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. That’s for general health and well-being. For weight loss, I find that most people need to get closer to 225 minutes – that’s about four hours a week. If we have a sedentary job where we’re sitting all day, we really have to think about how to build activity into our day.
5. You’re not getting enough sleep.
Research shows that if people don’t get enough sleep, it really affects their hormone levels. It seems to especially increase our levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes us feel hungry. When people are really tired, they reach for sugar to give them a quick pick me up and burst of energy. If we don’t get much sleep, we’re up more and there’s more opportunity to eat.
6. You’re stressed out.
Hand in hand with sleep is stress management. If we have high levels of stress, we go for foods that make us feel better. Fatty and sugary foods hit those feel good receptors in the brain.

If you follow a diet, you’ll get results for that time period. Once it ends and you go back to life as it was before, you’ll probably gain the weight back. The ideal way to lose weight is to lower your calories and move more. It’s really a lifestyle change. We have to make small, gradual changes that are sustainable. 

Here are some tips for lasting weight loss:

1. Track what you eat.
Keeping a food journal increases awareness and is an accountability tool. In my weight management classes, I have people who’ll track diligently for all eight weeks of the class. People will think twice before they eat eight cookies when they see the calories, then they opt to eat a serving, which is three.
2. Track your activity.
Not only track what you eat, make sure you’re scheduling activity and you’re journaling that, too.
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables. 
I recommend following MyPlate from the USDA. It’s a fabulous reminder. Think about half of that plate being vegetables, especially the low-calorie, non-starchy ones. I don’t think most people will eat half a plate of cooked broccoli, but they might eat a quarter of a plate of cooked broccoli and a quarter of a plate of salad or maybe some other cooked vegetable. Try to get some variety in there. The third quarter of the plate should be lean protein and the other quarter a starch. You can have fruit as a dessert or a snack or dairy to get all five food groups in.
4. Weigh yourself once a week.
Weigh yourself periodically and, if your weight starts to creep up, go back to those things you know worked for you before, like journaling food and activity.
5. Be patient.
Weight loss takes perseverance. I see a lot of people who put effort into making too many changes too fast and don’t see a lot of results. Pull back on your efforts a little bit. The expectation should be one to two pounds a week. It should be slow and steady.
I tell people it’s like taking a piece of clay and modeling it. You’ve got a vision in the end. Maybe that’s the vision of your weight loss or your overall health, because it’s different things for different people.

Try to take that piece of clay and gradually mold it so you’ll be where you want to be in the end. 

Live healthier and stay inspired.

Get tips from Ohio State experts right to your inbox.