There’s nothing like an amazing weight loss story to energize us all and motivate us to keep pushing. So we can hardly be blamed for wanting to just assume the story ends with “happily ever after.” Alas, life is not a fairy tale, and if you’ve ever tried to keep weight off, you know how difficult it can be. In fact, it’s so difficult, some wonder whether permanent sustainable weight loss is a myth…
Before you despair, let’s answer the question right now: yes, long-term weight loss is possible. It’s true, keeping weight off is an uphill battle; but we’re here to help you in the fight. Let’s face this issue head-on and see if we can come away feeling encouraged!
What qualifies as long-term weight loss?
There’s no hard-and-fast answer to this question, other than “the rest of your life.” A 2005 study defined “long-term weight loss” as a loss of “at least 10% of initial body weight” at least one year later. The study reported that 20% of overweight people are able to achieve this.
Things to point out here:
- There are lots of reasons to lose weight beyond how you’ll look.
- While you probably won’t be concerned with how you look in a bathing suit when you’re 75, weighing less and having lower blood pressure, less joint pain, etc. because of it will be better than the alternative.
- Our mentality is that lifestyle changes are for life, by definition. If you can’t stick to them, they have little value.
Why is it so hard to keep weight off?
It should be at least somewhat satisfying to learn that keeping weight off is not simply a matter of willpower. Your body actually works against you, slowing your metabolism as you lose weight so that you have to eat less not to gain weight. On top of that, it starts telling you you’re hungry all the time via hormones released to your brain.
So you’re not dreaming, your body is practically conspiring against you to keep you at the weight you’re at, even if that’s overweight or obese.
What can I do to sustain weight loss?
As ever, losing weight comes down to burning more calories than you take in. Within that, however, there are ways to set yourself up for better odds of success:
- Set realistic goals and stay consistent. A 2017 study found that the people who lost consistent weight within the first 12 weeks of a weight loss program were more likely to maintain those losses up to two years later compared with those who fluctuated in their weight. So aim for something small but doable, even 1 pound per week.
- Make changes you’re likely to keep. You’ll know almost immediately if a diet change, for example, is something you can keep up for 25 years. A low-calorie dish that takes you two hours to make is low probability. Replacing soda with coconut or flavored water is high probability, because you can find these virtually anywhere you can find a Coke.
- Beware of binges. Look, cheat days are fine. As fitness folks we’re legally required to say you’re only cheating yourself, but hey, cheat days happen. However, in another unhelpful turn of biology, when you put on excess weight your fat cells enlarge, and you can even add fat cells. When you lose weight you can shrink fat cells, but you can’t get rid of them. So the sooner you commit to changing your diet and exercise habits, the easier weight loss will be.