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strict diet

QUESTION: “Do you have any advice for someone who is coming off a strict diet for a long time? I don't want to gain all the weight back as I transition to a normal diet. I've seen a weight loss plateau after sticking to same diet for the past two years. I want to be more performance than appearance driven.”

DR. NEAL: If you're looking for a way to keep weight off after losing it, I must congratulate you on the fact that you are able to lose the weight in the first place. Many are not successful at reaching their goal weight. Be sure to congratulate yourself on your ability to attain this goal. However, maintaining that weight loss is a whole other story and requires somewhat of a different mindset.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 510 and Episode 1295 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

There are things you can do right now to set yourself up for success. Here are my tips for maintaining your body weight

Golden Tip to Keep Weight Off: Continue Exercising

I am assuming that exercise was part of your weight loss routine. If it wasn’t, that’s obviously ok because you reached your goal weight. But if you want to maintain it, exercise needs to be a regular part of your routine.

Lots and lots of data have revealed that exercise is one of the most important behaviors for losing and maintaining weight. It’s not just because exercise helps burn calories, but it helps build and maintain muscle. This helps us stay nimble and active as we get older, which is important for our psychological health as well.

Remember, exercise affects nearly every cell in our body in a positive way–from head to toe. Plus, when we lose weight, some of the weight lost is sadly in the form of muscle. It’s just a natural part of the process. While we lose weight, we want to preserve that muscle and one of the best ways to do that is exercise.

More specifically, incorporate some resistance training. Better yet, if you can incorporate some high intensity interval training (aka, HIIT) and resistance training, that would be ideal.

Surround Yourself With Those That Support You

These are folks that are aware of your weight loss efforts and don’t try and sabotage all of the progress you have made. Ideally, they perform the same healthy behaviors that you hope to continue incorporating as part of your new lifestyle. Hopefully they exercise regularly, plan their meals, watch their portions… you know, all the stuff I rant about on my Optimal Health Daily podcast.

Eat Right

With regards to your food intake… well, before I even get there, let’s talk about setting you up for success. By now, you probably know which foods may be “problem foods”–they are foods that maybe you turn to when you are craving something sweet, but aren’t really hungry, or maybe foods that you might overindulge in. Like if you’re me, it’s pizza, french fries, and donuts. You get the idea.

Listen to Dr. Neal's thoughts on the dirty dozen in food on Episode 730 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

“Hide” the Wrong Foods

One of the best things you can do is to simply hide those foods. No need to waste food necessarily and throw them in the garbage, but simply removing them from sight will be enough to change your behavior. You can keep them on the very top shelf of your pantry or cupboard and in the back behind other foods. The advantage of doing this is that even if you happen to remember where those foods are, the fact that it will take some extra time and effort to have to get to those foods will discourage its consumption.

This goes for everybody… me included! The other day, I made the mistake of watching some baking championship on the Food Network. I say “mistake” because watching those shows always makes me want to eat something sweet.

Sure enough, halfway through the show during a commercial break, I found myself rummaging through my pantry looking for something. Luckily, though, I had put some of those sugary foods in the very back of one of the highest shelves. I actually have to get out the step-stool to reach these snacks. Once I realized I had to go to the garage, grab the step-stool, then rummage through the top shelf of the pantry to find these sweet treats, I thought to myself, “Eh, it’s not worth the effort” and gave up. I ended up walking away and grabbing a glass of water instead! Worked like a charm! This same idea can work to your benefit, too.

“Show” the Right Foods After a Strict Diet

Let me give you an example: why does Amazon.com make it so easy for you to purchase products you find on their site? Think about it: they now have “1-Click Ordering!” With one tap or click, you can order whatever you want. You don’t have to go through all of the steps to enter your shipping and billing addresses, then your payment information, then review and confirm your order… now you just tap the screen once and that’s it. Order is on it’s way! That’s no accident! Amazon knows that if it can eliminate any extra steps, you will be more likely to buy (and buy more often).

Let’s apply the same concept when it comes to eating nutritious foods: keep fresh fruit in plain sight in a high traffic area in your home–fruit that can be grabbed quickly and eaten on the run. When you open your fridge, the first thing you should see should be vegetables–ideally, veggies that have already been prepped and ready to eat so that you can just grab-and-go, or toss into your favorite dish. If the vegetables are sitting in plain sight, but aren’t ready to eat yet, then they may not get eaten

Again, think “1-Click Ordering!” Any extra steps means the behavior may not happen.

Getting Off A Strict Diet: Conclusion

There's one more question you may be asking yourself: how much food should you be consuming now after a strict diet?

We could perform some calculations and try to figure out how many calories you’re burning and then determine how many you should be eating. Here’s an even easier way to keep you honest:

Write down everything you eat and drink.

Do this as often as you can. By tracking what you consume, it slows down the process and increases awareness of what and how much you’re putting in your body. A natural consequence of this process will be portion control.

For more on serving sizes, check out our other blog post for more tips on keeping the weight off.

When you get burnt out on recording your food and drink intake, go ahead and stop. When you find some of the old habits returning, go ahead and begin tracking again.

I wish you continued success as you transition from your strict diet days and continue your journey towards a healthier lifestyle!

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 510 and Episode 1295 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") has a Doctorate in Public Health with emphases in disease prevention and nutrition. He is also a Registered Dietitian and Certified Health Education Specialist. He is currently an assistant professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Dr. Neal has published peer-reviewed scientific research and been featured as a nutrition and wellness expert in over 70 media outlets including Parade and The L.A. Times. Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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