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The secrets of maintenance: How to maintain your results or your ideal “weight” or “look” in the long-term.

September 22, 2013
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Big topic! I’ve been working on this post for awhile. It started out as what was going to a status on my Facebook fitness page, which I was about to post a week or so ago. I ended up not posting it on my fitness page as it was already quite long, and I wanted to add so much more to it. So, instead a new blog post was born.

Here is the question I keep asking myself and what got me started on this post: Why do people so often say that they are worried that the weight they’ve lost is going to “creep back on”? I believe the answer to this is because they haven’t actually changed their lifestyle; they only went on a “diet” or temporarily changed their diet. I personally can’t imagine anything worse than having to be a lifetime dieter; it would make me so frustrated.

Before I go on, I want to say, in my humble opinion, unless you are a competitive figure or bodybuilding competitor, or competitive athlete needing to make weight for a competition, etc. etc., big cutting and bulking cycles aren’t really necessary. Often it just ends up being another cycle of yoyo dieting. I have found especially for us women (with our complex hormones), extreme cutting and bulking doesn’t preserve our precious metabolism. To me these cycles aren’t exactly optimal in the long-term. Just the very cycle of putting on weight and losing it over and over again (even if it’s not that extreme) seems to affect people’s hormones and metabolism in the long run.

Sometimes I wonder why people are always chasing a number on the scale or constantly either bulking, cutting, losing weight or gaining weight. What ever happened to the healthy idea of maintenance?

The way to prevent worrying about crazy weight fluctuations and regaining the weight you lost is to adopt a lifestyle that will stop this from happening. By putting sustainable, stress-free nutrition and eating habits into place that you can maintain long term you will make this happen.

I want to tell you a story about myself. I never really struggled with food or my weight, but I was always just “normal looking”, not heaps shredded or lean, always thin, but a bit squishy. I badly wanted to be ripped, but no matter what I did in the gym I couldn’t really get the results I was after. I joined a CrossFit gym 2 or so years ago, and that was when my entire mindset changed. I went from worrying about making sure I had my protein shake, worrying about my bodyfat number from my latest skin fold test, etc., to worrying about how much weight I squatted and how many prowler suicide sprints I could do in 5 minutes.

I also started eating so much more. Because I was famished all the time. Then I would go train even harder the next day. Wash, rince and repeat. This became my lifestyle. And my body was living proof of just how hard I was working and how much good food I was eating. I practically woke up with a new muscle every morning.

I have more or less maintained my “look” for the past 2 years by eating a good amount of food and training pretty damn hard. I remain lean and I guess you could say "defined" year round. I don’t count calories or track macros religiously. How do I maintain without putting too much effort into it? Because I made my diet and training a lifestyle. I don’t make big changes in my diet, I don’t do bulking or cutting cycles. My activity levels stay high year round and I continue to gain strength, without my “look” changing that much. I have stayed between 60-61.5 kg (depending on whether I’m doing a strength or conditioning phase) for over 2 years now.

Another example, I have a friend who struggled with her weight, training, and yoyo dieting for years. She was always so frustrated because she couldn’t maintain her results. She also joined a CrossFit. In 3 months she lost 10 kgs, looks great, and is maintaining her weight loss. She was surrounded by people who promoted eating good whole foods, training hard, forgetting about diets and body fat percentages, and just focused on getting really really fit and strong. That attitude rubbed off on her. The best part about all of this is that she doesn’t even talk about her diet any more. It used to encompass her whole life; she was obsessed with it. Now she always talks about her training and she is always eating lots of good foods to support her training.

What exactly changed for her? She made her diet and training plan a long-term lifestyle plan instead of the next big fad! And you know how I know this is the key? Because results don’t lie. Now I am not saying for everyone to join a Crossfit gym, lol. That is not my point at all. I used those examples because it is what I am familiar with and it’s my personal experience. My point is, if you are after maintenance or that year-round leanness (or whatever “look” you are after) find a lifestyle eating plan, something that becomes a part of your life, not just a “new diet” and stick with it.

Here is my “lifestyle eating plan”: I focus on eating good quality, whole foods and I use food as fuel. So when I am thinking about what to eat for the week, I don’t think about what will fit my macros so I can maintain my weight. Instead, I think about what will give me the most energy possible to help me progress, get some new PBs, and be an overall machine in the gym. I also make sure I eat enough calories to support my training and to keep my hormones and metabolism as healthy as possible. By doing this, I can get as much food as possible in to my body to support my organs and hormonal functions, as well as my muscle growth and energy..

So in a nutshell, these three things are part of my lifestyle eating plan. 1. I eat good quality whole foods, which will give me the most bang for my buck in terms of micronutrients, antioxidants, which translates to more energy, vitality and good health. Whole foods, (i.e. lots of meat, vegetables, oats, fish, potatoes, nuts, rice, fruit etc.,) also keep me satiated and I rarely struggle with cravings. 2. The majority of the food I eat is for fuel, to fuel me for my workouts and competitions and give me better strength and fitness results. 3. I eat a small amount of food purely for enjoyment, usually on the weekends when I’m relaxing with friends and family. (life is too short not to enjoy food!)

If you can adopt a long-term lifestyle eating plan you won’t have to constantly worry about weight gain, or focus on your weight.

I don’t really care what sort of lifestyle diet you choose, but in my opinion, if your current diet has you in a constant battle with maintaining your weight, then you really need to change what you’re doing.

(If you have a tendency towards or a history with eating disorders in any form, I’ve found that staying away from anything too extreme is often a good idea for your lifestyle eating plan. Whether that means not being too extreme with “clean” eating and also not letting yourself have as much “junk” as you want. Nothing extreme. Everything in moderation. This seems to work better as a long-term plan for these types of obsessive people.)

Here are a few other “maintenance” tips I have learned over the years:

Train your body to handle more food, in order to up your "maintenance calories":

In a lot of cases, and especially for a lot of women, a good way to start on the road to maintaining your ideal look is by upping your “maintenance calories” by eating more food.

A good way to do this is by increasing your calorie intake by 10 %. When you are maintaining on this, go up again. Do this a few times and don’t drop back down. Keep at it.

Trust me it will work. Even though it might be scary initially, it’s worth it! You are going to be repairing your precious metabolism which will make a difference in long-term weight maintenance.

Here’s a repost from my blog post on busting through plateaus:

Plateau buster # 5: Boost your calorie intake and exercise output

A little trick that I picked up along the way for breaking a weight loss plateau is to increase you calorie intake by 25% while also at the same time increasing how many calories you expend by 25%.

By doing this you’re pretty much telling your body that you’re not “calorie broke” and you still have food coming in.  When this happens your body will often go right back into fat burning mode.

All you really have to do is add another small meal or snack in somewhere in your diet or eat a little more with each meal than normal.  Then get in the gym and start building some serious muscle and shedding some fat again.

Stop "rewarding yourself" with food or "punishing yourself" with exercise:

I wrote this a couple of weeks back on my Facebook fitness page, and I wanted to repost it in this blog post, as I feel like the bad habit of doing this (rewarding or punishing yourself with food), creates a lifelong cycle of over-eating and under-eating, which could be taking away from your ability to maintain. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you can keep food and exercise non-emotional in your life, long-term weight maintenance becomes easier:

"Trying to compensate for eating too much by exercising excessively, or thinking you can trade off exercise for food (or vice versa), won’t work in the long-term. If you have a tendency to binge on food regularly, the only way to change that behaviour is by getting to the bottom of what is causing your eating problems. Find out what triggered you to overeat. Was it stress? If so, what’s causing that stress and what can you do to fix it? Locate the root cause of your overeating and do your best to correct it. Masking your food problems by exercising even more in an attempt to burn off the calories you’ve just eaten will turn into a vicious cycle and it will set you up for failure. Because instead of thinking about hitting PBs, getting stronger, fitter, learning a new skill, and enjoying your training, you’ll always be basing your training around “burning calories”, and you will probably find yourself spinning your wheels every day rather than moving forward with your training. Do you constantly look at exercise as a punishment and are you are always doing the math, trying to figure out how much exercise you have to do to burn whatever excess food you eat? Do you weigh yourself every day? Do you get angry because you missed your workout for the day because of the lack of calories burned? If you are answering yes to all of these questions, I personally think you need to change your mindset when it comes to health, fitness and exercise. Exercising and healthy eating are simply tools to help you live a happier and healthier life. We all want to look good. We all want to be fit, strong and healthy, but at what cost?"

Increase your starchy carbs:

Another tip for weight maintenance, and especially getting started on maintaining at a  healthy weight: Increase your starchy carbs! I don’t care what the naysayers say about low carb diets being awesome because our ancestors and cavemen ate this way! The simple fact is that when used properly, carbs are your metabolism’s friend. Take my word for it. You want to raise your hormonal activity level to wake it up. You want glycogen storage to occur and you want to bring a shock to your insulin. That doesn’t mean you have to go out of control and binge on carbs. Just increase them if you normally eat low-carb. A good way to make sure you are getting enough carbs is by making sure you eat 30-35 % of your diet in carbs.

 Increase your protein, and especially the quality of it:

The quality of your protein depends on the nutritional amounts of essential amino acids needed for overall body health, maintenance and growth. Evidence suggests that higher protein diets increase satiety when compared to lower protein diets. Convincing evidence also exists that protein produces an increased thermic effect when compared to fat and carbohydrate. It costs more for your metabolism to digest it. So you can eat more of it and grow more muscle. This is a good thing for your metabolism.

I personally believe that with all your food trying to get high quality whole foods in 85 % of your diet is key. I’m not saying you have to buy gourmet, organic meats. Or make sure you peel all your potatoes because of toxins and blah blah. All I am saying is just try and eat real food. If you have to use protein powder or meal replacements from time to time, that’s fine! I’m not some diehard clean-eating freak. I’m just saying for the most part eating real whole food has made a difference for my body and my performance.

Get your fibre!

Studies also show that a dietary component that has been most highly and consistently associated with long-term weight loss maintenance is fibre consumption. It controls your weight because it adds volume to foods, so it fills you up and makes you feel satiated. It helps to slow down the release of glucose, therefore stabilizing your blood sugar, which means it helps control the rollercoaster of cravings that tend to send people off on their crazy binging/under eating cycles. Fibre also acts like an internal “scrubbrush” too; it keeps your gut healthy, which gives you better digestion (so you can really get all the needed nutrients out of your food) and it helps to keep you regular. All of this plays a part in weight maintenance. Plant-based foods are chock full of fibre. A big reason why I encourage people to eat their fruit and vegetables.

Train like an athlete:

This tip was inspired by my boyfriend. :) He believes that so many of the body disorders and food disorders, the lack of results and weight problems, the yoyo diets, the bullshit posts on forums, the looking for quick fixes, the crazy cycles etc., would be solved if more people bothered to train properly, like athletes. This is another reason why I think I have gotten good results and maintained my level of shreddedness (I just made up a new word :)) year round since doing CrossFit.

There’s just something about that type of hardcore training. It’s training with integrity, having people around motivating you to push harder. This type of training keeps you honest, both with your rest breaks, and your level of intensity during your sessions. You have competitions and goals you’re working towards. It’s hard to explain unless you have been surrounded by it. But when you experience a good, honest training session, there will be no doubt in your mind. You will understand what it means to train like an athlete. If you train like that consistently, your body will show for it. Results will speak for themselves.

Some people worry about over-training when people talk about “training hard” or “training like an athlete”, but I think the over-training term is thrown around far too often. Your body can adapt very well to whatever stress you put it under. Of course it’s important to train smart and to recover properly; if you have niggling injuries, take care of them before you push yourself further. But don’t be lazy and use “overtraining” as an excuse for remaining mediocre and not getting the results they want.

Here’s at article by Matt Perryman, which talks about this topic: How much can the CNS handle?

Remember, when it comes maintenance my suggestion is to stop trying to reach an “ideal weight”. Train for a “look”, not a number on the scale. Or better yet, train for performance goals! Forgot about the number on the scale. Train to be awesome. Train and eat for the look you want, and don’t worry about everything else, especially a silly number on the scale.

Stop the dieting cycles. Don't be a lifetime dieter. Take the time to experiment and find a nutrition approach, eating plan, and training regimen that is simple and doesn’t stress you out on a daily basis and that allows you to maintain your appearance/body weight/look with ease. And then take control of your diet. Don't let it control you!

PS: As per my services page, I offer online individualized nutrition and exercise programming. I have also recently started to offer a "metabolic repair" program, which I have already effectively used with a couple of clients. If you are interested in any of the above, please don't hesitate to contact me here. :)

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