The Slippery Slope of Weight Regain

I do not know any adult who relishes weight gain, unless they are gaining weight as part of a fitness regimen. Even though pregnant women need to gain weight, I’ve never met a pregnant person who truly looked forward to seeing the number on the scale inch up.

Weight regain after weight loss is such a common issue. I rarely do a public speaking event without someone in the audience asking about it or another person privately coming up to me after the event to ask how to stop regaining the weight they worked so hard to lose.

The weight loss process is a very fragile one when you really think about it. We are fighting our bodies desire to overeat by monitoring and regulating the amount and types of foods we eat. We are fighting our emotions that likely played a role in our being overweight in the first place, and we are fighting the societal norms that are making being overweight more and more acceptable.

After all that hard work in conquering our desires and going against the pressures of the “eat it all society,” you would think that regaining our lost weight would be the last thing to happen. Sadly, regaining our lost weight is often exactly what happens.

There are a lot of studies that give statistics on weight regain after weight loss, but the general consensus seems to be that only about 5 percent of people who lose weight keep it off for any length of time.

The Regain Pattern

It often starts subtly, just like our weight gain did. We either see the scale inch up a bit or find our new smaller sizes pants begin to tighten slightly. We stop being careful with small things like dressings on salads, extra servings of food, or how many sweets we consume. We slack off on our exercise a bit. We begin the slide back into old habits.

At first, many of us will try to put the brakes on weight regain by going back to the types of habits that helped us lose weight in the first place, and we are successful. But then we begin the slow slide back into those old habits, which inevitably result in a regain.

A few pounds becomes 10 pounds, and 10 becomes 20. Now you may find yourself struggling with not only making healthy food choices, but feeling defeated emotionally. The cycle continues until many, many of us regain the weight we fought to lose.

Stopping the Regain Before It Gets Out of Control

The key to getting off the slippery slope of weight regain is to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control. There are several ways to do this. If you hate the scale, you will hate number one. Fortunately, there are more ways than standing on the scale to monitor your weight. The key is to do them!

1. Stand on the scale regularly. The National Weight Control Registry members who have maintained their weight loss for over a year tend to weigh very regularly – most of them daily. That daily checking in is your first line of defense on weight regain – especially if you understand your bodies normal fluctuations and don’t let yourself get upset when you are seeing a hormonal weight shift or the results of too much sodium-filled food.

2. Monitor the fit of your clothing. Are you favorite jeans feeling snug in the waist and hips? Is your fitted shirt pulling across the shoulders or popping the buttons? Look at these signs and take action immediately.

3. Take your measurements. I find this motivating when I’m doing strength training regularly because I can often see a decrease in some of my body measurements without movement on the scale. I don’t find it motivating if I have gained a few pounds because I can see the tape measure move in the wrong direction.

What to Do If Your Weight Creeps

1. Acknowledge the problem that day. Don’t wait until Monday or after the next holiday. Admit to yourself that your weight has shifted more than you are comfortable with and write that acknowledgement down.

2. Analyze your eating patterns over the past weeks. Have you just increased your portions too much, have you stopped exercising, or have you been having some extra bites of high calorie foods that are contributing to you adding a few pounds.

3. Go back to the healthy habits that enabled you to lose the weight in the first place. If it worked for you before and you followed a healthy diet, by all means go back to your original eating plan and drop those few pounds.

4. Don’t over-analyze the problem and spend so much time thinking about it that you fail to do anything about it.

Have you ever been on the slippery slope of weight regain? How did you handle it? Diane

Congratulations to Vickie on being the winner of the $25 Subway gift card giveaway!

26 thoughts on “The Slippery Slope of Weight Regain

  1. Miz says:

    for me it has DEFINITELY TAKEN monitoring the fit of my clothing and being HONEST with myself or Id definitely have regained all I lost…

  2. Chris says:

    When I lost my weight in 2010 I knew I’d gain some back, I lost 80 pounds in the beginning. Knowing I would gain some back, I decided I would control how it would happen, So I switched from weight loss cardio like crazy and eating almost nothing, to basically eating what I wanted and building muscle. Having the muscle mass to burn calories is awesome. Since my lowest weight point at 150 pounds I have added 15 pounds, a healthy weight for my height and age

  3. Karen@WaistingTime says:

    OMG yes!!!! Often. It is insidious. Happens slowly. Or so it seems. Then, boom, overnight, I’m heavier and my clothes are tight. One thing that has worked against me in the past is my penchant for wearing loose fitting clothes. They allow too much leeway in that gradual gain. I have read many success stories from people who have a “red line” weight. If they reach that, they put the brakes on, no more considering themselves to be maintaining, but back to all the things they did to lose weight.

  4. Nancy A. says:

    I lost 56 pounds in ’96 and have kept it off successfully. Then recently I have felt hungry and want to eat things I know I shouldn’t have. Keeping off the weight is harder than losing it, I think. I’m fighting it every day. Got on the scale and found out I had gained 8 lbs. While not sounding like a lot, I don’t want it to keep going up. I get mad at myself when I eat the wrong things, but we are all prone to want more when with friends. I love your site, it helps me see there are a lot of people like this.

  5. Amanda says:

    I had several “moments” of regain in the past, generally tied to something in my life. Like starting dating again after my divorce, stopping smoking, stress fractures… all those events were followed by some weight gain. And once I realized what was happening (and whined for a little bit — this was all over 3 years ago), I sucked it up and straightened myself out. That always involved calorie counting, and usually involved being consistent with my exercise (the one exception to that being when I was still recovering from the stress fractures and was told to be as sedentary as possible). I never came even within 30 pounds of my high weight, and I attribute that to being able to see what was happening and nip it in the bud.

    Now I just get on the scale daily. I don’t care what I ate the day before, I hop on the scale. Some days it’s lovely, other days not so much. But when I know my food intake and exercise have all been on target, those less-than-pleasant days can pretty much be put down to cyclical water weight.

  6. Jody - Fit at 54 says:

    Such a great post Diane!!!! I am so with you on your points above!!!!

    For me, the biggest thing I think people have to do yet many DO NOT is go into the weight loss journey knowing this is a lifelong process. It is not about losing weight, getting to a goal of scale weight or fitting into a dress or pair of pants or a certain size.

    IT is about the hard truth that once you lose weight, you can’t go back to eating like you did when you were heavy. Yes, we can plan for fun treats or whatever you want to call them but maintaining can be way harder than losing because one thinks they now deserve to eat those foods that made them heavy in the first place & it just does not work that way.

    Go into it knowing it is life & you are getting healthier & improving your life & don’t look at it as a bad thing. Losing weight & making healthier lifestyle changes is going to improve your life not make it worse. 🙂

  7. KarenJ says:

    Diane, great post! As I have mentioned before, I maintained a 25 pound weight loss for 20 years until I hit menopause, when I gained it all back. It’s not that I wasn’t aware, it’s just that I was eating healthy and exercising, so I didn’t know what to do. I am now down 22 pounds through eating a gluten free, low-glycemic diet and eating even SMALLER PORTIONS. My additional advice would be to keep adjusting your “diet” over time. Don’t assume that what worked for you when you lost the weight will continue working. Keep an open mind because over time, you may need to make more changes, especially as you age. Secondly, the major reason why people regain weight is because they don’t become a thin person in their mind. You can’t just change your body. You have to think of yourself as a thin, healthy person and act accordingly. If you think of yourself as a fat person who has a thin body, you will always go back to your “fat” behaviors. For example, being “good” during the week, and then giving yourself permission to go “off” on weekends. Thin people always do their best to eat healthy in reasonable portions.

  8. Leah says:

    The last time I got to 170 I was walking every morning. As the weather cooled and I couldn’t go for my walks my muscles began loosening up again, and my clothes got snug. I knew I wasn’t overeating much yet, but that little bit of snugness to my clothes vexed me so much I began to give up on my dieting attempt and slowly the pounds began to creep back on. Within about five months I was up 10 pounds and at an annual checkup the doctor sent me for bloodwork because I was “obese”.

    That upset me so much and over the next two years, working from home doing medical transcription (read: sitting for a minimum of 4 hours a day just to work) and feeling like I just couldn’t win this battle I gained 50 pounds. That weight pretty much stayed on until this last attempt at losing weight.

    Funny, but I would’ve just realized my pants were snug from the walking, but they would loosen up again as soon as I could get walking (we couldn’t afford a gym membership and didn’t have a t.v. or even a computer then to do workout DVDs ) then maybe I would’ve kept the weight off. I needed to understand the fluctuation, but I didn’t and gave up hope.

    Not this time. No matter what I will keep on track, choosing the scale as my monitor, and I’ll be aware of where I’m at.

    This post reminds me that I started following you because you gave me hope that I could reach my weight goal and keep it off permanently. You still give me such hope! Thanks, Diane. 🙂

  9. Michelle says:

    Not that I think drugs are the answer to everything, or that I would use something like this as an excuse, but I thought this was an interesting article that appeared this morning.
    They’ve discovered a region of the brain, and a neurotransmitter there that is linked to pleasure while eating. It makes me think of the “eating so I don’t have to feel” that so many (including myself) tend to do. Something for me to keep in mind when I find myself eating when not actually hungry.

  10. Taryl says:

    Who hasn’t been here, especially among the lot-to-lose crowd? I credit vigilance and accountability to the reason I have had a few small regains along the way, but never given up and fallen off the wagon. Not closing my eyes and ears and just eating, or thinking I can ever stop dieting, has ironically given me a lot more emotional leeway in this process. It’s okay to go slow, stop for a bit, or even reverse during pregnancy or vacation. But it is NEVER okay to let it continue and not get a handle on it quickly after the event has concluded. Constant, lifelong accountability, complete with a lot of self forgiveness and willingness to get creative, if need be, to keep the weight off.

  11. Lisa says:

    I’ve only “regained” once during my maintenance. It was very slow at first. There were a lot of factors: 1) I thought I didn’t have to count my calories anymore. 2) I started taking a medication that had a side effect of weight gain. 3) I was running a lot and eating a lot!

    I regained 15 pounds. I was in denial for the first 8 or so. I blamed it on training, gaining muscle, etc. But once it was more than that, I knew I had to do something. No more denial! It took almost a year to lose that 15 pounds but I did and I’ve kept it off for 4 years.

  12. Caron says:

    I am always weighing myself, monitoring my food intake and trying to get in plenty of exercise. I know from past experience that if I go back to my old habits, I will gain steadily.

    I read posts of people who have lost weight and now they are going to eat intuitively. I kind of cringe when I see that word. They were eating intuitively when they became overweight. Sigh.

  13. Dukebdc says:

    Maintenance for me has been about knowing my own patterns and habits. Unlike many people, I don’t gain weight on vacation, so I don’t bother worrying about it. However, I am a secret eater -buying snacks and junk that I hide and eat when alone. Right now I am trying to take off 5 pounds to get back into my maintenance range. I got above my happy weight when the secret eating started back up. Calories counting and avoiding liquid calories are my keys to success.

  14. Karen P says:

    Oh yes! I work the 12 rules from Refuse to Regain (Barbara Berkeley) every day. It’s very, very hard to keep a life-work-weight maintenance balance. I work on it every. single. day. That being said- it was harder to be obese. Life was not good for me overweight- physically or mentally.

    Pick your hard. Working the weight maintenance steps- while time consuming, becomes the new normal. Daily weighing, not eating trigger foods (think wheat/ processed sugar), and time to make, eat and bring home made foods, plus exercise continue to be the tools I use the most.

    Since I consider obesity to be a chronic disease, I treat it every day, with every meal. Just like I have to take thyroid medicine for my thyroid disease everyday, I’ve got to manage “treatment” of my tendency to be obese. There is no off day, it’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility to manage my health as best I can. That includes the slippery slope of weight regain.

    Good posts and thinking points, Diane. As always. So good to be in community with others in the weight maintenance pathway.

  15. Sarah says:

    Since I’ve lost weight I’ve basically put back on a pound a year on average – 6 years, 6 pounds. I’m still a healthy weight, so it doesn’t really matter, but I certainly agree with your action points as they are pretty much what I try to do.

    At the moment I’m trying to think of ways to improve my eating so that I am eating and enjoying healthy food rather than focusing on my weight. Of course portion size is also an issue and something that needs to be watched.

  16. julie says:

    I lost 60, regained 15, lost 5, and there I seem to stay. I get on the scale almost every day, and if it’s 3+ pounds more than it should be, I take a look at my lifestyle. What it is 90% of the time, is life got hectic and I’ve been eating out more. Even if I take half as leftovers, this seems unusually fattening for me. Gym mostly irrelevant, alcohol seems irrelevant, it’s the restaurant food.

  17. Quix says:

    I lost about 110 and gained back 25 and have held that for the last 2 years. I’m still trying to figure out what my happy weight is – I had to eat too little to maintain the loss at my lowest, and I didn’t get there as fit as I am now. It’s been interesting shifting from eating to lose weight to eating to fuel my endurance training and racing. I’m a work in progress. Am I any worse off 25 lbs heavier but able to run 26.2 miles instead of dropping from exhaustion at 6?

    (These are the thoughts going through my head as my racing season is ending and I’m going back to eating and working out like a normal human for a bit of a break).

  18. Stephanie G Travis says:

    Diane .. Thanks for this post. This is the reason I have never tried to lose weight. If you call it a cop-out, I would not argue. But my take on it is that I had to deal with emotional issues before I started the weight loss journey. I knew I could get the weight off. I was not confident I could keep it off. I am still very fearful of regaining the weight, but now I have confidence I can do anything. I have already decided that I am going to treat the maintaining of my weight loss as seriously and diligently as I’m treating the weight loss. I already have the domain name! I think one way I am going to successfully keep the weight off is to help others.

  19. Elizabeth says:

    One of those tips that helps me the most is a weekly weigh-in. It keeps me accountable and prevents a big weight gain. When I was heavier, I always avoided the scale because I knew it would be “bad” news. In fact some weeks I have to give myself a pep talk to step on the scale.

  20. Kate Hubbard says:

    Great, great points!! It’s easy for the weight to sneak back on. Your advice for keeping yourself on target are great! I’m still losing weight, but I’ll come back to this post when I’m at my goal.

  21. Tiffany says:

    It is definitely difficult not to become complacent or feel like the fact that others (or yourself) may not look at you as someone who needs to be “watching what they are eating” to continue to watch what you’re eating! lol

    Thank you for this post- I have highly appreciated you blog through all seasons of my weight loss journey!

  22. Tish says:

    Great post Diane. Thank you. For me, the best strategy is to weigh myself daily. First thing. I know that if I don’t that my weight will start to creep up. I keep a weight journal and take it everywhere.

  23. Bobbi says:

    I found your site because after a very hard fight to get down to 205 I gained 10 pounds back. I was eating all of the wrong things. Packs of cookies in 3 days, three large cranberry muffins in 2 days, chocolate bars (dark) to lower my blood pressure. I even purchased two small bags of potato chips and ate them in 3 days.

    I agree that we think we can go back to our old habits and it will not effect us. I try to be realistic but the emotional eating is very difficult to control. Well, when I saw the solid 10 pound gain I became very angry with myself. I could see my slip moving up on my lower leg. I could feel the movement of fat on my waist, and I could see that my thigh had gotten heavier. The most difficult part of weight gain is that you do not know if you are gaining by those measures because it is subtle when it happens. I think, well now I really look the same and feel good. The snugness of my pants is because the dryer over dried the fibers of my stretch pants. I now realize that emotional eating and eating sweets if my warning sign.

    I cannot say that I have the magic potion for emotional eating when it happens when I am frustrated, sad, happy, insecure, etc., but I do know that I do not try to fool myself on purpose. I agree with the writer who said that it is a life long change. I tried to bring sweets into my house to see if I could control my sugar cravings, you know to eat like small people eat. My friend would eat 1 piece of boxed chocolate, rather than the three pieces that I consumed, she would eat 2 cookies or 1 rather than the portion size on the cookie wrapper, and half a muffin, rather than the whole muffin. Well, I have no such self control.

    I cannot bring sweets into my home. That is it. The best advice that I remember is to eat sweets outside of your home. For example, if I want to eat an ice cream cone, I will purchase and eat it at the ice cream shop. NO ICE CREAM IN MY HOME.

    I hope this post may help others. I am now ready to loose the 10 pounds and go under the 200 pound marker. Thank you all for your help and encouragement.


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