Experts Reveal the Most Effective Method for Long-Term Weight Loss and Maintenance

Weight is just one indicator of health. Weight loss is an important goal for people who are trying to improve their health. Weight loss can have many benefits, including improved blood sugar control, a healthier blood pressure, and a reduced risk of chronic illness. You’ve probably heard that a healthy diet and physical exercise can lead to weight loss, but it is easier said than done.

In order to maintain a healthy weight, your entire lifestyle is important. You can’t have one without the other when it comes to exercise and weight loss plan. They may be more useful at different times in your weight loss journey. What’s the best way to lose weight and keep it off? To find out, we took a look at a research and spoke to weight loss dietitian Lainey Yournkin, M.S. RD, LDN. (Follow her on LaineyYounkinDiet).

Related: 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Making an effort to Lose Weight

What is the difference between weight loss and weight maintenance?
It’s not as simple as “energy in and energy out”. The number of calories you need in a given day can be affected by several factors, including age, level of exercise, body composition, illness, injury, and more. Our metabolism is the quantity of energy (aka vitality) that our body uses every day. There are three ways that our body burns energy besides the energy we use during exercise: basal metabolism (how much vitality you need to keep your heart beating and lungs breathing), thermic effect of food (the energy it takes to digest meals) and non-exercise thermogenesis (think about walking to work or climbing stairs). Our body spends the majority of its vitality on basal metabolic rate.

Weight loss can slow down our metabolism (consider: a smaller body requires less energy to heat than a larger one). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you might need to be more strategic in your weight loss efforts. We’ll look at the differences between weight loss and weight maintenance and how you should focus your efforts.

The most important factor for weight loss
Many methods exist to lose weight, but one of the most popular is by creating a calorie surplus. It means consuming less calories than your body burns each day. “Analysis shows that exercise is not the best way to lose weight. Younkin advises that a calorie surplus is needed for weight loss, but research shows it’s easier to achieve and maintain a deficit through modifying your diet than by exercising. When you first start out, focus on what you eat rather than constantly hitting the gym. We have a variety of meal plans for weight loss that will please anyone’s palate.

A restrictive weight loss plan is not the best way to lose some pounds permanently. “A weight loss program won’t help you drop pounds sustainably. Younkin says that instead of drastically cutting calories and losing a lot of weight quickly, you should create a small deficit of calories you can sustain over time. This can be achieved by eating smaller portions, increasing vegetable and protein intake and reducing consumption of simple carbohydrates, alcohol and sugar.

What is the most important factor for weight maintenance?
If you still have some weight to lose, you should wait six months to try to lose more weight. Younkin says that this is the way to reduce your weight over time. But maintaining weight loss is notoriously hard. A study in BioPsychoSocial Medicine found that about 70% of people failed to maintain a 10% weight loss for two years. It may seem that the odds are against you, but if your focus is on weight maintenance rather than weight loss, then weight maintenance will be successful.

A new study has found that exercise is more important than weight loss plan when it comes to weight reduction. People who have lost weight and kept it off all share one thing: they exercise every day, moderate to vigorous. In fact, an analysis in the journal Weight problems found that people who lost a median of around 58 pounds and kept it off exercised for about 40 minutes each day. The exercise does not have to be continuous, but can include 10-minute sessions throughout the day.

Why is exercise more important than weight-loss program, if the weight-loss program has helped you lose some weight in the first place. It all comes down to energy balance. Weight loss requires a deficit in calories, whereas weight maintenance requires an energy balance–no extra but also no deficit. Daily exercise allowed people to burn more energy throughout the day, and in turn, eat more without having extra energy.

You will never see results if you do not continue to eat a certain way. You’ll need to maintain whatever changes you made to your diet to continue losing weight, says Younkin. It is for this reason that restrictive dieters tend to gain back the weight they lost (and then some) These restrictive eating habits are simply too difficult to maintain. It is much easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as those Younkin described above, which include eating smaller portions, increasing vegetable and protein intake, and reducing consumption of simple carbohydrates, alcohol, and sugar. Once these changes are normalized, focusing on exercise can help you continue to achieve results.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Often, people have unrealistic goals for weight loss. Younkin says that if you are constantly limiting your food intake, exercising excessively, or obsessing over food and your body to maintain a certain weight, this is not the best weight for you. You should make changes to your lifestyle to lose weight. Over time, small changes that we enjoy can lead to big achievements.

Younkin offers some specific advice for those who are trying to eat in accordance with their weight loss goals: “Aim to eat every 3-4 hours to keep blood sugar levels balanced, plan healthy snacks and don’t feel guilty if you eat something you do not want to. You should aim to follow the healthy plate method about 80% of time throughout the week. Don’t worry about the rest. It is easy to manage portions with this technique, as you don’t have to measure everything. Younkin says that “paying attention to alcohol and sugar consumption can also help, as they add up over time”.

Find something you enjoy doing when it comes to exercise. This will make it easier to stay consistent. Start small and don’t be all or none with training. Younkin encourages that “something is better than nothing”. You can do a 20 minute walk or a 10-minute run if you don’t have the time to do a 45-minute workout. Later, add more active time. If you feel stuck or have reached a plateau in your exercise routine, try something new or change up the exercises you do.

Accountability can be an important tool in sticking with your healthy lifestyle changes. Younkin recommends working with a friend, hiring a nutritionist or a personal coach so that you don’t have to do it all by yourself.

Backside Line
Weight loss will be difficult, but small lifestyle changes that you can sustain will help you achieve success. Younkin says that weight-reduction plans are not only unsustainable because it’s too difficult to keep up with the restrictions over time but also cause havoc on your metabolism and mental well-being. Do not be distracted by daily and weekly fluctuations in your size. If you lose just one pound every 30 days, you will have lost 12 pounds by the end of the year.