What does it mean to be in the weight maintenance phase?
We hear so much about weight loss and weight gain — whether it’s how to do it or when to do it, it seems like everyone is talking about it. But what about weight maintenance?
We’ve all had our bouts of desire to change our body in one way or another, but there’s something to be said about the idea of being content with where we are. It’s time to shine a light on the beauty of weight maintenance and why it’s a great phase to be in.
What is Weight Maintenance?
Surprisingly enough, there is no official definition of weight maintenance (1). For our purposes, when we say weight maintenance, we essentially mean the act of abstaining from significant weight change — whether that be an increase or a decrease.
For some, weight maintenance is something you have been doing for your entire life. If your weight has remained consistent for as long as you can remember, this is you. On the other hand, you can also maintain your weight after having experienced substantial fluctuation.
Realistically, maintenance isn’t staying at the exact same number for the rest of our lives. I so often hear from clients that they’re concerned and upset after realizing they’ve gained two or even five pounds overnight.
While our bodies are pretty capable, they aren’t quite capable enough to create that much adipose tissue in less than a day. From our many phases of digestion to our fluctuating hormone levels, our bodies are constantly shifting and changing. As these processes take place throughout the many stages of our lives, sometimes our weight will reflect them as well.
Say we do gain a pound here or there, does that automatically mean we’re out of the weight maintenance phase? Not quite. We’re human, and as such our weight, of course, is going to fluctuate slightly in one direction or another. The point is when we’re maintaining our weight we aren’t experiencing significant change, but a slight change is to be expected.
Reaching Weight Maintenance
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to stop and realize that we really are in a good place, we don’t need to make any significant change. When it comes down to it, it’s all about how you feel and how your body is serving you. Once you reach a healthy, happy weight for you, you’re in the weight maintenance phase.
That’s definitely easier said than done for quite a few people. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of social media and societal norms, no wonder we have trouble just being happy where we are. If this is something you think you struggle with, you can check out our article on body image for some tips to consider.
What is a Healthy Weight?
Possibly the most common question of all, there are so many different ways to address it. I usually consider five components before answering a client — metabolism, lean body mass, weight history, BMI and body fat percentage.
When we look at weight purely from a medical standpoint, the ratio of lean body mass to body fat is one of the more important components of body composition. With that being said, the recommended ranges vary greatly depending on both gender and age, and sometimes an accurate body composition measurement is hard to come by.
Because of this, when considering body composition it’s important for you to work with your doctor and a registered dietitian to determine what is best for you.
Everyone’s body is different, no one person’s “healthy weight” is applicable to another. How you feel, how you use your body and how you fuel your body all need to be considered when determining what a healthy weight is for you.
The BMI Guidelines
I want to preface this by saying in my opinion, the BMI system is less than perfect. Your BMI is simply a ratio of your height to your weight. Because of this, it fails to take your lean body mass, percent body fat and even genetics into account. More often than not I find myself explaining to clients that it’s not the be-all end-all indicator of health.
With that being said, according to the BMI guidelines, anyone with a score under 18.5 is considered to be “underweight”, while anyone between 24.9 and 29.9 is considered to be “overweight”. Now does that mean everyone outside of this range should be striving to get within it? Absolutely not. The same goes for the opposing side — just because you’re within the “normal” range does not necessarily mean you are the epitome of health, there is so much more to consider.
If you find yourself on the higher or lower end of the BMI guidelines, there are a couple of things to think about before jumping to conclusions. What I mean is, if for example your whole life you have been exceptionally active and had a clean bill of health, yet you are consistently trending on the slightly higher end of the BMI scale, chances are it’s perfectly fine — it’s normal for you.
This is where weight history comes into play. If your weight has always been on the slightly higher or lower end of the BMI scale, the fact that you are outside of the “normal” range wouldn’t be cause for concern. You can always use your BMI charts from your PCP to take a look and see where you’ve been trending. Moral of the story, it’s just a guideline.
Maintaining Your Weight
Now that we’ve discussed what weight maintenance is, let’s discuss how to do it. When you’re steadily losing or gaining weight and finally find your sweet spot — what do you do once you get there? Everyone’s journey to weight maintenance is completely different. The important part is understanding your journey and knowing what it took to get you where you ended up.
Stress and Maintenance
Stress plays such a big role in all of our daily actions and choices. While we need stress for many reasons (check out our article on stress management to learn more about this), excessive, chronic stress tends to do much more harm than good. This kind of stress leads to the release of a little too much cortisol, which can actually start to mess with our hunger cues.
Not exactly ideal for weight maintenance, right? Essentially, I’m telling you all of this to explain just how important it is to keep stress under control when trying to maintain your weight. Stress management isn’t a frivolous, vain activity, it’s completely necessary for your health and wellbeing.
Stress management can be anything you want it to be — from journaling to marathon running, whatever does it for you! If you haven’t already done so, take some time to find a hobby or activity that takes your mind off of your major stressors.
Habits, Motivation, and Maintenance
The habits you formed to get you to your healthy weight are the same habits that will keep you there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a new client come to me having reached their healthy weight only to see it slip away soon after. If you started to add more vegetables and fiber into your diet, keep it up! If you started spinning on Monday mornings and taking Pilates on Wednesdays, don’t stop now!
Once you’ve reached your healthy weight, it’s so easy to lose focus or motivation. Once your goal is attained, what’s going to keep you motivated? This is the point where you really have to stop and think. Think about the why, the how — all the hard work you put in. What made you pursue this goal in the first place? The why is what you used to get there and it’s what you’ll use to stay there.
Relationship with Food
As our lives change and evolve, many times our relationship with food does the same. When we’re excited and feeling great, unhappy and down in the dumps, more often than not food is tied in there somehow. Knowing yourself and your relationship with food can be the key you need to stay right where you want to.
Take the time to get to know yourself and your relationship with food. Does your mood impact your eating habits? Do you ever look to food for comfort? Knowing how your mind and emotions contribute to your eating habits can help you to navigate your diet when life throws you for a loop.
Your experience with weight maintenance is completely individual to you. Whether you’re an old pro or new to the game, the weight maintenance phase is a beautiful place to be. Not only is it freeing to fully accept yourself and realize that you’re at a perfectly healthy weight for you, but it can sometimes show that all of your hard work thus far has truly paid off.
I would love to hear from you – what has your experience been with weight maintenance? I’m sure there are plenty of others out there who would love to hear about your experience too. As always, you can connect with us on Instagram @nutritionstripped @nutritionstrippederica and #nutritionstripped #nswellnesscoaching.
Erica Carneglia, MS, RDN, LDN