Weight loss vs. weight loss maintenance: different strategies for different goals

On Tuesday, I wrote about weight loss. Specifically, what I learned about the best diet for weight loss at the recent Fitness and Health Bloggers Conference. Today, I’d like to expand on that post and compare it to the very different strategies required for weight loss maintenance.ย Indeed, weight loss and weight loss maintenance are two very different beasts.

To summarize my previous post;

To lose weight, worry less about macronutrient composition (fats vs. carbohydrates vs. protein) and more about cutting calories. None of the popular diets are superior to all others when it comes to dropping pounds. Choose a nutritional plan that you can follow until the weight is off. And a little exercise won’t hurt.”

If you read the post, you’ll remember that the focus was on restricting calories, rather than on increasing activity. Of course, movement and exercise are important for other reasons (improved cardiovascular health, injury prevention, mood elevation, to name a few), but for those who have lots of weight to lose, portion control and caloric restriction are key.

To lose weight –>> eat less, move a little

But what about once the excess weight is lost? Should you continue to ‘diet’? Will you need to count calories for the rest of your life? What role should exercise play in the maintenance of weight loss?

According to recent research, exercise is more important than caloric restriction for weight loss maintenance. In order to keep the weight off, you need to incorporate 30-60 minutes of physical activity into your schedule, most days of the week.

Of course, we’re all familiar with the saying “you can’t out train a bad diet”. So continuing to focus on reasonable size portions of the healthiest foods you can will go along way to keeping the pounds at bay :).

However, increased activity requires you to up your caloric intake. Not by a lot; perhaps a couple of hundred calories more per day than you were consuming during your weight loss phase.

To maintain weight loss >> eat a little more, move a lot

Why such different strategies?ย It’s all about the numbers.

Each of the following ‘treats’ equals about 500 calories:

  • grande Starbucks Cookie Crumble Frappuccino
  • 9 Oreo cookies
  • 1 large bagel plus 2 Tbsp Skippy peanut butter
  • small, butter popcorn at the movies

Yet to burn 500 calories through exercise, you’ll need to spend anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes exercising (calories burned through exercise depend on a number of variables including weight, sex, age, muscle mass and exercise intensity; the more you weigh, the harder you work and the manlier your are, the higher your rate of calorie burn. Not fair, but that’s the way it is).

For many overweight people, sustaining exercise for long enough to burn 500 calories is physically impossible. And most of us, regardless of weight, would rather skip the cookies than head to the gym ๐Ÿ˜‰

As the pounds come off, it becomes harder and harder to shave calories from the diet.

In fact, most nutritionists recommend not letting daily calorie intake fall below 1 200 calories;ย not only is it hard to stick to such a low calorie diet without experiencing intense food cravings and extreme lethargy, over time, your metabolism may even slow down, making it harder to lose weight and keep it off once you return to a higher calorie intake

So how to keep the hard-earned lost pounds at bay? Up your level of physical activity and eat a little more!

Near daily exercise will not only burn calories, it will build muscle and stimulate your metabolism to burn calories at a higher rate. You’ll need to up your food intake by a bit; the only way to know how much is to journal both food and exercise and pay attention to how your clothes fit!

What’s the bottom line?ย Lose weight by eating less and moving a little. Maintain the weight loss by eating a little more and moving a lot! Need some workout ideas? Visit my free workout library!

Have you lost a significant amount of weight and been able to sustain it long term?

What tips and strategies did you find most helpful?


  1. Hey Tamara!

    I have lost a good amount of weight in the past and have been able to keep it off. But lately, I’d rather be 9-10 pounds lighter.

    I am beginning to think that the weight I am at now, is where I am supposed to be. High school weight may not be ideal, but I’d love to be there again.

    My lowest weight was when I was eating raw vegan, but I soon realized that I wasn’t eating enough and started back eating cooked foods.

    I gained weight and started looking better. Since then, I have been able to maintain my weight. But now, I know I need to move a lot to maintain and eat a little more. Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great information, Tamara! It has definitely helped me!

    • Thanks for your comments Evelyn.
      I think that the last 10 pounds need yet another strategy; adding in attention to macronutrients. I’ve found that as I hover at about 6 pounds above where I’d really like to be (maybe, like you, my body will never get there, but I can always hope!), playing with fats/proteins and starchy carbs does help. But darn it, it’s so hard!

  2. Maintenance to me is harder than the losing it, ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think for many, it sets in that the habits they adopted to lose weight actually have to be maintained for life & that is a hard pill to swallow for many when their thought process was about losing & then being able to eat again That is just not gonna happen. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yes, you can adopt strategies to treat yourself but long term, you are going to have to keep on moving as you wrote & being mindful of what you eat is always going to be part of it! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have lots of experience on this & thru the years as well! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Great post!
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Oh Crap, She’s Up!My Profile

  3. I’ve been in maintenance for two years, and it is a daily decision to eat healthy and keep exercising. Fortunately, along my weight loss path I stumbled into running and triathlon, and fell in love with the sports, so exercise isn’t a chore, but darn, sometimes you really WANT that extra dessert!
    Kris recently posted…Happiness Online July โ€“ Buy Some HappinessMy Profile

    • Sounds like you’ve found the winning combo Kris! And it’s okay to have dessert, just not every night!

  4. You did a wonderful job of explaining the differences and distilling the info in a way that makes sense, both to pros and enthusiasts. You are really great at explaining confusing topics, which is an art. Kudos to You-Do!
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…Lose Weight or Maintain Weight Loss?My Profile

    • Thanks so much; kind comments always appreciated (even more so than snappy ones!)

  5. Another great post. As you mention, daily exercise, especially weight training and high-intensity training, can result in a higher calorie burn throughout the day, even when not exercising, which can be a real motivator in and of itself.

    Sounds like that was a great conference you attended. Thanks for sharing some of it with us. ๐Ÿ™‚
    crubin recently posted…Confessions Of An E-Book DiscriminatorMy Profile

    • The conference rocked! And I got to meet so many of my on-line friends in real life! There’s a post brewing in my brain about that point too, so you’ll most likely be meeting them soon, here.

  6. Tamara, this topic is near and dear to my heart and I’m so glad you’ve covered it! I’ve maintained my weight loss of 50 pounds for nearly 20 years by enlisting the help of my mind – keeping a log of food intake most days, journaling about issues that prompt overeating and making the conscious decision most days that I just feel better when healthy habits are my norm. Can’t wait to check out your free workout library – your site is chock full of some many goodies!
    Shira recently posted…Five Ways to Make Your Wellness Well-RoundedMy Profile

    • Ah, yes. I forgot that most important slide, didn’t I? The things that successfully weight loss maintainers do; log their food, eat breakfast (I forget the others).

      I need to start food journalling; I’m a little off my game this week…

  7. I lost 40 lbs. over 20 years ago and successfully maintained by monitoring my weight carefully (weigh in almost every day), exercising almost every day of the week (and since March of ’11, every single day) and often journaling. It’s a constant process – when I go up a couple lbs., I watch what I eat carefully and watch it go down again. Switching up the exercise is necessary – otherwise you get in a rut & your body doesn’t respond any more – also keeps it fresh & interesting so you don’t get bored! Currently focused on losing more – was at a healthy weight & BMI (altho toward the upper BMI end), but want to get to the low end of the BMI for health and joint reasons – so counting calories, upping the intensity of some of my workouts. So far, 15 down from my 20+ year set-point, w/another 10 to go!
    Sarah @ Semi-Sweet recently posted…Napa Cabbage SlawMy Profile

    • That’s amazing Sarah! Both the amount of weight lost and the number of years you’ve stayed lighter!
      I’m curious about your comment stat you weigh in almost every day. I HATE the scale and try not to empower it! But it’s much easier to avoid the tell tale signs of weight gain if don’t weight at least once in a while.
      Thanks for visiting and commenting! Looking forward to hearing from you some more!

      • I know some people hate the scale – and for some people it creates an unhealthy obsession with or dislike of their body. I don’t seem to have that issue (trust me, there are others!) – the scale keeps me accountable. I don’t get hung up on a pound or two on a daily basis – often that’s attributable to diet (salt, more starch, even more sugar). Even though I weigh in daily, I try to look at the weekly numbers and adjust my eating/activity accordingly. It takes a while to see a difference in my pants, for example, but I can see a couple pounds right away on the scale! All this is about what works for YOU, though. This is just one strategy for one formerly pudgy girl.
        Sarah @ Semi-Sweet recently posted…Napa Cabbage SlawMy Profile

  8. I agree with you and I think that it’s far more effective to watch our calories rather than “move more”. Nutrition is way more important ( in regards to fat loss).
    Charissa recently posted…Fourth of July DessertsMy Profile

    • Amen. (I am returning to using myfitnesspal daily after a little straying from my usual clean eating…)

  9. About four years ago, I lost around 35 lbs and am in maintenance ever since. What helped? Keeping an eye on my weight.

    Many people during their diets religiously step on a scale. But once the diet is over, the scale is forgotten. As weight sneaks back quite slowly, this often ends in them only noticing that they gained their pounds back when their pants start feeling really tight again.

    Stepping on the scale once a week may already be enough. I personally have a safety of zone +/- 4 lbs around my ideal – if the weight gets too high, I reduce calories, if it gets too low, I up them. This keeps any gain or loss manageable, while not going crazy over any daily fluctuations.
    evilcyber recently posted…Workout Tips For Summer HeatMy Profile

    • Really intriguing how the scale works/doesn’t work for different people. I wonder what that says about our brains? (I think a lot about brains…)

      But as long as you figure out what works for you, that’s great!

  10. What a great post! I agree. Watching what you eat helpt about 80 percent in how high or low your weight is!
    Sayenna recently posted…Losing Weight By CyclingMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comments! Sometimes it seems like nutrition is even more than 80% of the battle…


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