The hardest thing about weight loss is to maintain it. My colleagues and I carried out a study that shows that strict rules are the key to weight maintenance.
We saw that people who were good at keeping weight off after losing it didn’t eat to accommodate desire, hunger, or satiety. Instead, they considered eating as a tool with a higher purpose and they devised their own systems for what, how much, and when to eat. These choices were not guided by feelings of hunger and fullness, but by the singular aim of keeping the weight off.
In our study we investigated the effect of appetite hormones on weight maintenance. 42 participants lost weight on a powder diet and then they were encouraged to maintain the weight loss during the next year.
Those who succeeded after 12 months created systematic routines that fit into their daily lives. They structured their own systematic rules for eating—and stuck to them regardless of feelings of hunger or satiety. They made practical rules for themselves. For example, that they should eat a small meal every three hours, or that main meals must never exceed 500 calories, or that they were only allowed to eat chocolate on Saturdays, and no more than 30 grams.
What mattered most was that they followed these systematic habits precisely. This approach minimizes the number of choices in relation to when, what, and how much they can eat. As a result, the risk of “caving in” goes down radically.
Another important finding is that there are several circumstances that, when combined, determine if people will succeed in establishing permanent and systematic eating routines that help keep weight off in the long term. In particular, the lack of social support, high levels of obligations and stress caused participants to regain lost weight.