How to maintain weight loss in a sustainable way

Niamh Hennessy
Lead Dietitian, Cromwell Hospital
10 October 2023
Next review due October 2026

It can be tempting to follow a ‘quick fix’ weight loss diet. But these usually don’t work, and you can end up gaining more weight than before you started. For the best long-term results, your weight loss plan needs to be sustainable. Here, I’ll explore how to avoid fad diets and maintain your weight loss in a sustainable way.

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Why don’t fad diets work?

There are so many different types of diets available, such as the ketogenic diet and the 5:2 diet. There are also more extreme, trendy diets such as the celery juice diet, or the raw food diet. While some people may be able to lose weight on these types of diets, they are hard to maintain over the longer term.

A lot of these diets cut out core food groups such as carbohydrates, which can make following them difficult. Initially, people may stick to these regimes and notice some weight loss, but over time they can become quite restrictive and unachievable.

Similarly, very extreme diets that promote major calorie restriction can be unhelpful. This is because of a process called adaptive thermogenesis. Here, your body notices a major reduction in calories and starts to preserve your energy stores. It does this by reducing how many calories you burn at rest and during exercise. You may find that your appetite increases too. This happens to try and encourage you to eat more.

So, extreme weight loss plans don’t tend to be very successful over the longer term.

What is sustainable weight loss?

Sustainable weight loss is when you create a consistent, but small, calorie deficit. This is achievable over the longer term and doesn’t cause adaptive thermogenesis.

Sustainable weight loss plans are easier to stick to as you can continue to eat a balanced diet containing all core food groups. With this approach you will notice a less dramatic weight loss, but over time, small weight reductions will add up.

Many people following a sustainable weight loss plan will aim to reduce their daily calorie intake by around 500 calories per day. When followed consistently, this can lead to a weekly weight loss of around 1 to 2 pounds.

Five steps to sustainable weight loss

1. Reduce ultra processed foods

Unfortunately, ultra processed foods are hard to avoid. But keeping them to a minimum is a good idea. This is because they tend to be high in calories and are usually easy to overeat because they are made to taste good.

Instead, cook from home where possible and try to make your own healthy snacks for when hunger hits.

2. Prioritise sleep

When trying to lose weight it’s important to consider your lifestyle as a whole. For example, studies have shown that when you sleep badly, you may be more drawn to high calorie or high sugar foods such as biscuits and crisps.

Sleeping well can help to reduce these cravings and this can help you to manage your weight better.

3. Manage your stress levels

Stress itself may not lead to weight gain, but being stressed regularly can lead to other habits and behaviours that are linked to weight gain. These include drinking too much alcohol, not exercising, and eating sugary snacks.

By prioritising rest and relaxation, it can help you to reduce your alcohol intake and feel more like eating well or being active.

4. Eat enough protein

Protein is great at keeping you full and stopping you from overeating. Try to include a source of protein when eating carbohydrates. Good sources of protein include nuts, Greek yoghurt, lean meats, eggs, cottage cheese and tuna.

Combining a good protein intake with regular resistance exercise can also help to increase your muscle mass. Having a higher muscle mass can increase the number of calories you burn, even when you’re at rest. This in turn can help you to maintain your weight too.

5. Choose slow release carbohydrates

Eating lots of refined carbohydrates such as white bread, cornflakes and white pasta can cause you to feel hungry a short time later. This is because they cause blood sugar dips, which makes your body think it needs to eat again.

Instead, try to eat slow-release carbohydrates such as rye bread, oats, or sweet potatoes. These should keep you fuller for longer, especially if you combine them with protein too. This can stop you from overeating and improve your energy levels as well.

While fad diets may lead to short term weight loss, they can be hard to sustain, and many people regain the weight they lost. Instead, try an achievable calorie deficit from a balanced diet and active lifestyle. And, try to manage your stress levels as much as possible. This can result in better long term weight loss.

The Bupa weight management plan is designed for people with a BMI over 30 (or over 27 if you have a weight related condition). The plan is designed to empower you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight in a sustainable way.
Discover more about our medicated weight loss plan.

Niamh Hennessy
Niamh Hennessy
Lead Dietitian, Cromwell Hospital



Julia Ebbens, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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