The Benefits of a Maintenance Diet

September 10, 2021 6 min read

The Benefits of a Maintenance Diet

Doesn’t it seem strange that there are far more products out there to help people lose weight than there are to help people maintain that weight loss.  In reality, the latter is far more of a struggle for individuals.  Many people are actually able to lose some weight, but most people (on average 95% of people), regain the weight they lose.  The lack of information and education around how to maintain weight loss can leave us feeling like we’ve ‘failed’ at dieting.  

Sadly, what most people do post-diet is go right back to old habits of eating or take extreme swings up and down with calories toggling between restricting and over-consuming. Others will increase calories all at once causing rapid weight gain because their body and the metabolism do not have the ability to compensate for the changes the diet had created. 

Not only is knowledge around how to maintain weight helpful for post-dieting, but there are also a ton of other benefits around increasing calories to a level where you maintain your new weight!  

What is a Maintenance Diet?

A maintenance diet is a phase of dieting, usually post weight-loss phase, where you increase calories up to an intake level that allows you to maintain weight.  The timeline of this phase is largely dependent on three key factors: 

  1. Whether you’ve reached your goal.
  2. What your body’s biofeedback is. 
  3. How long you were in a calorie deficit.  

If you still have weight you’d like to lose, taking a break to give the body more calories is often a necessary part of this process - especially if you’ve found that your weight loss has plateaued.  In this scenario, the maintenance phase should be at least as long as your calorie deficit phase was, if not longer.  We usually recommend a minimum of 3-4 months eating more, at maintenance, before trying to cut calories again. The longer you consume at maintenance, the more successful we find calorie deficits for weight loss to be!   

When it comes to biofeedback, if you are struggling with sleep quality or extreme hunger, or performance is lacking in the gym - these are all reasons we may want to increase calories to maintenance for a while to give the body more support.  We have to listen to our body if we want it to work for us.  

The biggest misstep we see with this phase is that people are afraid to eat at their true maintenance, and in turn, end up not seeing as many benefits from nourishing their body with more beneficial calories.  They typically don’t see as much success either when trying to go back into a calorie deficit phase.  For example, if your ‘calorie deficit’ where you were losing weight is 1600 calories, and you decide to increase to 1800 calories to maintain your weight, that does not mean 1800 calories is your ‘maintenance’.  It probably means you’re no longer in a severe calorie deficit, but it is very likely that you could continue to increase calories little by little much higher and still maintain weight.  

We often refer to the for a general guideline of where your maintenance may be, but remember this is not an exact science and there are many other factors that can go into determining your maintenance intake level.  

Main Benefits of Maintenance Phase

We get that eating more can be really scary, especially if you still have weight that you’d like to lose and you’ve lived most of your life under-eating.  Aside from the fact that under-eating kills metabolism, like we’ve talked about HERE, there are so many reasons to eat more!  

Here are the main benefits of eating at maintenance: 

  • Helps to reduce appetite stimulating hormones and increases appetite suppressing hormones. 
  • It increases your metabolic function and efficiency.
  • Increases thyroid hormone production, particularly the ability of your body to convert inactive forms of thyroid (T4) to active forms (T3). 
  • Allows for better recovery from workouts due to adequate calories for the body to repair muscle and connective tissue.
  • Allows for strength development due to adequate calories to support muscle growth. 
  • Provides a mental break and physical break from the effects of dieting.  
  • Decreases the chance of rebound weight gain, which is more likely to happen if calorie deficits are maintained for too long without a break.  
  • You can continue to see progress!!  We often see individuals eat MORE and continue to lose weight, or change their body-composition. This article provides a great example of that visually.  

If maintenance phases are done well, you should enjoy them!  This is the phase where people tend to feel their best because the body has adequate calories for energy, performance in the gym, sleep quality, and it leaves a healthy amount of wiggle room to enjoy the foods you love in moderation.  You should also be able to maintain your new lower weight by eating more because you now have driven a higher functioning metabolism with extra calories.  

How to Do Maintenance Right

Maintenance phases sound pretty great, right?  So how do we go about implementing them in the most effective and beneficial way?  

First thing is first, if you are still in your fat loss phase eating at a calorie deficit, we have some recommendations for you to set yourself up for the best possible maintenance phase:

  • Don’t stay in your fat loss phase for too long.  We recommend 12-16 weeks as the maximum amount of time for someone to be in this calorie deficit phase - depending on how you may be cycling it (i.e. refeed days or weeks).  
  • Don’t drop calories too low.  The more extreme your calorie deficit (i.e. less than 1400 calories for most), the more your body and metabolism will adapt and the more likely weight regain will happen.  

Once you decide you are going to begin your maintenance phase, here are the top tips:

  • Ease into it!  It is suggested to add in about 150-250 calories per day, and hold that intake for a couple of weeks to allow weight to stabilize.  You may see weight go up by a small amount initially, but it should level back out.  After 2-3 weeks at that new intake, increase calories again and hold until your body and hunger regulate at the new higher intake.  
  • Eat extra protein and fiber with dense foods as you come out of a calorie deficit.  Having a bit lower volume to foods can help those who struggle with being hungry, and it also helps with food mass and weight fluctuations.  For example - a cup of rice and a few ounces of chicken are going to be a lot less food for your body to break down and absorb versus a huge plate of vegetables, potatoes, and chicken.  This can help with mitigating how full you feel, bloating, and potential weight swings. 
  • Avoid highly palatable and processed foods at first.  These types of foods make us want more and more of those foods, and post-diet, we are most prone to over-consuming.  Try to keep food pretty consistent to what you were eating during the calorie deficit phase. 
  • You don’t have to ‘fit it all in’ with the foods you were possibly restricting while in a fat loss phase.  The beautiful thing about maintenance is it allows room to fit some of those foods you love in with no problem, so make a plan to include them in moderation here and there to manage cravings coming out of the calorie deficit. 
  • Weigh yourself a few times a week to monitor weight, but allow for an average across the week as well.  We don’t recommend only weighing yourself once a week, as it doesn’t allow us to see trends and averages.  It is totally normal to see weight increase at the start of a maintenance phase just from the additional water in our tissues and additional food in our GI tract.  Weight shouldn’t fluctuate much more than 2-5 lbs throughout the transition and into the maintenance phase.  

Hopefully after this article you can understand the importance of the diet AFTER the diet and why it is not only necessary, but beneficial to maintain the weight loss that you work so hard for! 

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