5 Surprising Reasons You Gained the Weight Back — and How to Keep It Off for Good

Sustainable, positive changes to your eating habits (like cooking more at home) can help you keep the weight off for good.
Image Credit: Vladimir Vladimirov/E+/GettyImages

There's a reason we all love Amazon Prime: instant gratification. What's more glorious than ordering something online and receiving it just a day or two later (and in some cases, later that afternoon)?

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But while Amazon is a unique empire of its own, there's a reason they say Rome wasn't built in a day. And that rule definitely applies to weight loss.

And while achieving your weight-loss goals quickly is a motivating and gratifying experience, gaining the pounds back can feel pretty discouraging. Read on to learn the surprising reasons behind weight gain after weight loss and how to keep the pounds off for good.

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1. You Picked an Unsustainable Diet

An unsustainable diet is a big reason why people tend to re-gain weight they've lost, according to Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, an obesity medicine physician-scientist. An overly restrictive meal plan (i.e. a very low-calorie diet) is practically impossible (and unhealthy) to keep up over the long term, so once people deviate from the regimen, the lost weight typically comes back.

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So, how can you tell if a diet is unsustainable? The easiest way to know is based on the amount of calories you're eating. You can safely cut about 500 calories each day for sustainable weight loss, according to the Mayo Clinic. So, for example, if you normally eat about 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight, you could drop to 1,500 to lose weight.

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But even these numbers vary from person to person depending on factors like current calorie intake, body composition and activity levels. Bottom line: You can't maintain a super-low-calorie diet in the long run.

A diet may also be unsustainable if it involves cutting out certain food groups, like carbohydrates, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, registered dietitian, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of ​​Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.​ When you cut out an entire macronutrient like carbs, you may feel drawn to overindulge when you stop the diet.

"People who avoid carbs may be drawn to overeat them — even if they're boxes of dry crackers! — because they've missed them while restricting them," she says. "Ditching entire food groups will mostly likely lead to overeating of that same group once you 'break' your diet."

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The best way to avoid choosing an unsustainable diet is to work with a dietitian or medical professional to help set up a plan that works for you — that involves creating a realistic, healthy calorie deficit (when you burn more calories than you consume), Taub-Dix says.

Sustainable diets also incorporate nutritious foods that you actually enjoy eating without cutting out foods (or food groups) that you like. Even when following a weight-loss diet, you should still be able to include foods you love to eat, even if it's at more moderate quantities, in some cases.

Some of the best, healthy eating plans for weight loss include the Mediterranean diet, anti-inflammatory diet and DASH diet.

2. You're Ignoring Your Set Point

Everyone's body and brain has a baseline weight or set point that feels healthy and sustainable. In many cases, that set point can be higher than your desired weight or weight-loss goal, Dr. Stanford says. And even if you reach your desired weight, your body doesn't easily reconfigure its baseline.

As a result, your body has a constant desire to return to its ideal, most comfortable weight even if it's not the number you prefer in your head.

Your hormones play a factor here, too, Dr. Stanford says. The farther you move away from your ideal baseline, the more your hormones influence your hunger and fullness levels in an effort to bring you back to a comfortable spot. Usually, you start to feel more cravings and higher hunger levels in your day-to-day life.

Fix It

Setting realistic weight-loss goals is the key to long-term success. It's not uncommon to pick a goal weight that you may have sustained at a different point in your life. But that doesn't mean it's what's best for your body right now.

Working with a qualified professional (like your doctor or dietitian) is the best way to find and choose a weight that your body can realistically work with and maintain.

3. You're Skipping Meals

Everyone gets busy, and skipping a meal or two here and there isn't the end of the world. But when it's part of your weight-loss plan, it may be the reason you've gained some weight back, Taub-Dix says.

Often, people tend to skip meals in an effort to cut back on total calories, she says. But in the long run, that's not a practice you can maintain over the long term. Plus, it often leads to overeating during your next meal, especially on foods that may be extra high in sugars or fats (read: high-calorie foods).

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A balanced approach to your meals throughout the day is a better alternative, Taub-Dix says. It's totally OK to eat some lighter and heavier meals throughout the day (for instance, some prefer a lighter breakfast and larger lunch). But you want to make sure your macronutrients (protein, fats and carbs) are relatively balanced at each meal to help keep your body feeling full and energized.

4. You Neglected Exercise

Exercise is one factor that's often forgotten when it comes to maintaining the weight you've lost, Dr. Stanford says. If you want to keep the weight off in the years to come, your overall activity levels need to increase, too.

"[Some] may not realize that physical activity needs to be increased dramatically for weight maintenance," she says. "For example, the person will likely need to double the intensity and duration of their exercise for weight stabilization."

That doesn't mean you necessarily need to go from 0 to 100, but you do need to boost the amount of calories you burn each day. In order to keep your weight steady, you need to burn the amount of calories you consume. And while your metabolism does a good amount of calorie burning on its own, the amount you burn during exercise helps you meet that equilibrium of calories in, calories out.

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Increasing your overall exercise is a must. But that doesn't mean you need to do hours of cardio each day. Strength training is a great way to help keep the weight off for good, California-based personal trainer Carolina Araujo, CPT, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

"Strength training increases your body's muscle mass, which speeds up your metabolism," she says. "The faster your metabolism, the more calories you burn just doing day-to-day activities. So, when you increase your total muscle, you have a much higher chance of keeping off the weight you lost."

5. You Focused on a Single Event

Deciding to lose weight for a wedding or vacation is pretty common — and it's not necessarily a bad thing. But when that's the only motivating factor for weight loss, people tend to gain the weight back pretty quickly, Taub-Dix says.

Often, losing weight for a single event also causes you to commit other weight-loss mistakes (like skipping meals or pursuing an unsustainable meal plan) in an effort to lose the weight as quickly as possible. Then, after the event, what you're left with are unsustainable habits that will inevitably lead to weight re-gain when you can no longer keep them up.

Fix It

When you decide to set a weight-loss goal, it's totally fine if the immediate motivating factor is an event. But make sure that's not the only reason you've decided to lose some pounds — becoming healthier and feeling better in your day-to-day are more positive, long-term motivators, Taub-Dix says.

When you focus on the more positive side effects of weight loss (beyond the way you look), chances are, you'll feel more encouraged to set up healthier, more sustainable practices and routines. These are way more effective in helping you keep weight off in the years (and not just weeks) to come.

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