Let’s chat maintenance!
What to expect, how to prepare. When your expectations are in check, you are more likely to not only succeed, but be happy with your success as well. This isn’t all about why maintenance is a good idea (although it would be impossible not to plug it at all), it is about what you can plan on experiencing.
You will need to take a break- You don’t want to diet forever, so do a good job! Don’t go to far off plan, and don’t go off plan too often. Eventually you will need to take a dietary break whether you want to or not. It won’t matter whether or not you have reached your fat loss goal. The body needs a recharge. That is where maintenance comes in.
You can never go back– You can’t just go back to eating the way you did before and expect to keep your results. In fact if you do, you will not only erase all of your hard work, but likely find yourself heavier than before! Dieting down-regulates metabolism. Read that again. Dieting down-regulates metabolism. Eventually you may go into a build, and that will allow you to eat more over time. However just deficit to maintenance, you won’t be able to eat the same amount as before the fat loss. This is true even if you do everything 100% correctly. No extreme deficits, or excessive activity. 100% dietary perfection won’t save you from a lower metabolic rate (in addition to weighing less requires fewer calories to begin with). This is just human physiology. This means that when it is time to maintain your fat loss, you will likely need less food than you were used to eating before. Depending on how much fat you lost, maybe lots less!
Your hormones run the show– Hormones take a hit when you diet. You may not care about that now, but once you live with low levels of hormones you will understand how crucial this piece of the puzzle is. Eating at a deficit breaks the body down. We do everything we can to make sure that breakdown comes from fat stores and done in a healthy way, but there is no way to avoid some of the negative effects on hormones. Hormones slow down as part of a survival mechanism. As much as I would love to tell my hormones that we aren’t in a famine, I can’t. Neither can you. Maintenance helps to bring these levels back up. Expect to start to feel more energy.
You’ll struggle– Maintenance in no fun for many people. There is no goal. We aren’t building anything, and we aren’t leaning out. We are just hanging out, while the body regulates and adjusts to the new size. For some, this comes with lack of motivation. It becomes less fun to follow a meal plan or track your foods. Off plan eating becomes more appealing and it is easier to justify choices that you wouldn’t have made before when leaning out. Knowing that you may struggle with this is important. You will recognize it for what it is and avoid the accompanying pitfalls. As I said before, if you are coming off a caloric deficit, your metabolism is slowed some. When you throw your plan out the window in maintenance because your are bored, you are setting yourself up for fat gain. This makes future fat loss harder than it was the first time around. Be patient and mindful during this “boring” phase.
You will get hungry, then full, then hungry again– The first week or two of maintenance can be a hunger roller coaster as your body adapts to the new food intake. It won’t be like the mostly empty feeling that you had at the end of your deficit, but it will surprise you when it shows up!
You may gain a little– I know we said this is maintenance, and it is. But understand that maintenance means muscle and fat maintenance really. When you increase your food (yum) you will likely retain a little bit of water and glycogen weight. More food, weighs more and this can affect scale weight too. This isn’t a bad thing. If you can get over the scale, you will realize that this often makes you look better.
You may feel bloated– This happens as food volume is increased. If your digestion slowed some while dieting, it can take a while to run on all cylinders again. This may translate to some uncomfortable digestive issues in the beginning. It will eventually level out though.
You will be fueled– You may not get stronger week in and week out, but you will likely see a little boost in strength or at least recovery.