Find the right balance: calorie intake and energy use
When you embark on a weight-loss programme you have to look closely at your lifestyle and make some momentous changes. This in itself is no easy feat. However, once you've reached your target weight, the changes don't stop there.
When increasing your calorie intake following a low-calorie diet, you can't jump straight back up to the recommended daily amount. To ensure that an increase in calorie intake doesn't result in weight gain, increase your calorie intake gradually (some dieticians recommend around 250kcal in the first week). If you feel comfortable with the increase in calories, increase by the same amount in the second week. You can continue to do this until you are on track with the recommended daily intake (1,500 kcals for women, 2,000 for men).
Remember that both weight loss and weight management are about the energy balance. Your energy intake is the amount of calories you consume (from food and drink). Your energy expenditure is the calories you use up through breathing, digesting and physical activity. If the energy you take in matches the energy you use then your weight should stay the same. If you use more energy than you consume then, in theory, you will lose weight. If, on the other hand, you consume more energy than you use, then you are liable to put on weight. Finding the balance that works for you is key to healthy weight management.
This may seem an obvious point, but it's worth highlighting all the same. When you finish your diet and want to increase your calorie intake, it's wise to slowly increase your portion sizes rather than veering away from the healthy foods you ate whilst you were dieting.
Continue to steer clear of sugar and watch your intake of saturated fat and carbohydrates. A good tip is to indulge in four or five "mini meals" a day rather than three larger ones. This will help you curb your snacking and ensure you don't feel hungry. It's also a good idea to make sure that you have access to low-fat, low-calorie snacks in case you do need something between meals.
Keep it real: don't set impossible targets
It's really important to manage your expectations. The media is full of digitally altered images of impossibly honed male and female bodies that can be discouraging to us regular folk. Let's face it, we could all look like that if we were digitally altered to within an inch of our lives (and our waistline!) Life is about happiness, health and well-being; don't let your weight rule your life.
Set yourself a maximum weight. If, after your diet is finished, you find that you are coming close to your maximum weight, take some time to re-evaluate your eating habits, exercise pattern and general lifestyle to see where you can make some positive changes.
Employ some restraint but don't punish yourself
Dieting often means depriving yourself of your favourite foods, and this is something that can be hard to maintain long-term. Rather than marking certain foods as off-limits, enjoy the foods you love in moderation.
If you know that there are times of the day, week or month that you particularly want to indulge in unhealthy food, then allow yourself a little something naughty sometimes. For example, if you always used to have a Twix bar at lunchtime, then perhaps allow yourself one every other day, or have just one finger instead of two. Restricting yourself too much can result in the desire to binge, so the motto "everything in moderation" should become your mantra.
Stay active to keep fit, healthy and happy
Your weight-loss journey will hopefully have included lots of lovely exercise. It's imperative that you stay active to maintain your weight, as well as to keep fit, healthy and stress-free. Exercise releases endorphins, which are your body's natural happy high; their effect resembles that of an opiate and these neurotransmitters are responsible for that feeling of well-being that you get from things like love, excitement and even orgasm!
If you haven't got one already, invest in a pedometer. A pedometer is a really cheap and easy way of making sure you get plenty of exercise no matter what you do. By keeping a count of every step you take, you'll find yourself thinking more about how you get around day-to-day. Take the stairs, walk instead of catching the bus, run in circles around your living room. Aim to be taking between 10,000 and 15,000 steps a day to maintain a good level of general fitness.
Deal with stress
Maintaining a healthy weight isn't just about how you eat and exercise, it's about you think, too. Stress has been proven to influence weight gain, so it's important to find ways to eliminate stress in your life.
Take a walk. Those wonderful endorphins that are released when you exercise can really help raise your mood and clear your head. Fresh air can do you the world of good, too. Take in some inspirational scenery and keep your pedometer happy – the perfect combination!
Slow down. The world sometimes seems to spin at a hundred miles an hour. Stop. Pause. Take a moment to consider what's important. Prioritise the important things and learn to let go of the little niggles that bring us down. Meditation can be calming, healing and motivational, too. Try joining a guided meditation session or taking part in a yoga class.
Make time for me-time. Drop the kids at their grandparents'. Turn off your mobile phone. Head to your favourite spa. Not only are spas a haven of relaxation, they can help with weight maintenance, too. A good lymphatic drainage massage will help the elimination of toxins, and any massage will get your circulation going – both of which are good for your metabolism and general health. Most spas also have gyms, so you can get your work-out done and then treat yourself to something luxurious!