The reasons you regain weight after it comes off can happen for a number of reasons. But as someone who's worked with women for the last 20 years helping them lose weight and teaching them exactly what to do to keep the weight off, these are the two biggest reasons weight regain can happen.

Spoiler: It has very little to do with food.

The Reasons Your Regain Weight

It’s finally worked! You got on the scale and the 10 pounds you’ve wanted to drop since the New Year are off.

Gone for good, you think! You’ll keep doing what you’re doing and the weight will stay off. If things are really great, you’ll lose a little more too.

A few weeks later, you hop on the scale first thing in the morning. The scale went up a pound. You beat yourself up over that measly pound, thinking back to what you could have done that let this happen. Regardless, you try to buckle down and get back to it. 

A little more time passes and the scale nudged up again. 

Three months later, the full ten pounds are back on with another two pounds to spare. 

The elation you felt months earlier has turned into frustration. Not only that, you begin to convince yourself that the reason you can’t keep the weight off is because of your age, or your job, or the injury you had three years ago, or stress, or the genes in your family from generations before. 

When you have weight to lose and the weight comes off because of something you changed, it feels really good. But when it comes back on, it can feel pretty lousy. 

So what gives? Is your body just resistant to weight loss or is there another reason?


Why Do We Regain Weight?

It’s natural for your weight to vary from time to time. Even as we age, it’s reasonable to expect that the muscle and metabolism that were so easy to manage when you were 20 aren't as cooperative anymore. 

Natural fluctuations of a pound or two can even happen if you have a little too much salt the day before or if you spent the entire day on your feet. This form of weight is simply water retention and should work its way off your body with a little TLC, hydration and healthy food.

But what about weight that creeps back on after you've made solid efforts to lose a significant amount of weight? Unfortunately, as is the case with diets, about 90% of the people who attempt to lose weight this way end up regaining the weight - almost always within two years. 

You worked hard to lose the weight. You probably sacrificed a lot to see yourself wearing a smaller pair of jeans or a dress that really shows your great curves.

I understand this and in no way am I diminishing your hard work! In fact, you can still use the great attitude you had that helped you lose weight in the first place...just with a slightly different focus.

When it comes to weight loss, remember that you're the constant variable in the equation. The food and exercise are always moving parts and less to blame than you think.

These are two of the biggest reason you've regained weight after you lost it.

You Didn’t Change the Behavior

Don’t gloss over this one. If you’re not a dieter, and you feel you really eat healthy and balanced, your problem could be that you didn’t change the behavior that led to the weight gain in the first place. 

Behaviors create habits and habits are hard to break, especially if they offer us a way to cope with uncomfortable situations or have been ingrained from childhood (i.e. a loved one gave you a treat to make you feel better when you felt bad). 

Chances are, if you lost a good amount of weight without dieting, you made some pretty significant changes, right? Those changes might have been uncomfortable or even difficult, but you did it. And when you maintained those changes, you saw progress. 

Remember, though, you made those changes because you identified them as habits or patterns that weren’t serving you. They held you back from losing weight or unhealthy body fat. Reintroducing those behaviors into your life again reintroduces the physical side effects that go along with them, including weight gain. 

Common habits that lead to weight regain

A few examples of common unhealthy habits that lead to weight gain include

  • Eating after dinner
  • Frequent food-related socializing
  • Not planning meals
  • Frequent sugary or refined snacks
  • Drinking your calories
  • Mindless or habitual snacking

Sometimes the pull of those habits is so strong that we end up negotiating or rationalizing ways to keep them in our life. We think things like, “I’ve worked out really hard today so I can eat this burger and fries,” or the alarm goes off at 5:00am for your workout and you think, “I’ll workout after work,” forgetting that you had plans until later into the evening.

I’m using exercise as an example here but the same can be said for food, too. “I’ve been eating leafy greens almost every day for two weeks. I know they’ve been helping me, but I really want sweet potato fries instead…after all, they’re still a vegetable.”

Sometimes bad habits happen at a time when you need to eat or drink something. Try to get creative to find healthier alternatives. 

For example, if you always have a soda, juice or sugary coffee drink with lunch, have a sparkling water with lemon instead. 

If you have to have something after dinner and that usually involves a few cookies, bowl of ice cream or big bowl of pretzels, have a piece of dark chocolate with peanut butter or a bowl of vegetables and hummus instead. 

Change requires denying yourself something that gives you comfort. Fortunately, we can re-establish healthier habits at any time in our life. It may take weeks or even months for this new habit to become something you do without thinking about it, but it can be done. 

You Expected the Unsustainable to Be Sustainable

Let’s say you want to lose 30 pounds. Your friend tells you about a diet that she’s been on for a year that helped her lose a lot of weight in no time at all. You think she looks great and she’s been preaching this way of eating for months. 

So you give it a try and voila, the weight starts coming off! 

But what’s under the covers of this “way of eating” is a diet that is either extremely low in carbohydrates, too low in calories, too high in fat, or requires an overabundance of time exercising. 

For the first few months, you rock this diet like gangbusters. People are complimenting your appearance, giving you both validation and a nice ego boost that anyone would love. 

Look At those Cracks!

Then you start noticing the cracks that you didn’t see before. Aside from the weight loss, your friend who encouraged you to follow the same diet seems miserable all the time. She is obsessed with the foods she can’t eat, implements rules when it comes to “good” and “bad” food…something her children have begun to pick up on, and feels almost too exhausted at the end of her workday to muster up the energy to exercise at all. The weight is still off of your friend, but now she’s complaining more about aches and pains that never came up before. 

Slowly, you start noticing much of the same in your own life. You start looking at simple foods, like bananas and sweet potatoes as if they were some sort of delicacy, you feel guilty for having a nibble of a homemade cookie, and the workouts you did that gave you a nice endorphin boost months earlier are now the most dreaded thing for you to do. 

Then the warm months of summer roll around and it becomes too much to resist a little potato salad at a picnic or a glass of wine when you’re out with your girlfriends. You figure that since you are really only ever this social over the summer months, you’ll come back to your diet after summer is over. By the end of the summer, the glass of wine here and there has turned into a regular occurrence, desserts are back in your rotation - from cookies in the afternoon to something sweet after dinner. You still manage to keep the bones of your plan in place, but these exceptions help you cope with how awful you felt on the diet. Summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter. You’re back up those 30 pounds, plus a few extra. 

You’re almost a year older and more frustrated than where you were before you started.

The False Hope of Most Diets

When diets are too restrictive or have too many rules, they are not only unsustainable, but they can also wreak havoc on your body. Eating healthy is probably the best thing you can do for your body on a daily basis, but don’t confuse restricting calories, macronutrients or a number on the scale with a healthy lifestyle. 

The cruelest thing about diets is that they give us this hope that once we lose the weight, it will stay off for good. Rarely is that the case.

You can certainly weigh less by eating crap or you can live at a healthy weight by eating healthy food. The difference is what’s happening on the inside of your body. 

Diets have a tendency to focus in on the scale and physical appearance. Diets don't care about mental health or the internal side effects, such as constipation, sleeplessness or inflammation that often accompany the foods that are associated with these diets.

Bottom Line: If a diet or way of eating comes with too many rules or restrictions, run. It may give you the results you want on the scale for a little while, but the ability to maintain this way of eating has limits, oftentimes affecting your quality of life.