For the past three months, you’ve counted every single gram of food and ounce of fluid that’s entered your mouth. You’ve dedicated an hour each week to preparing food in bulk to set you up for success during the week and have made packing protein-rich snacks a priority when tackling a busy day or social occasion.

And guess what!?

Throughout this time, you dropped 15 pounds! But even better, you feel (and look) better than ever. No longer do you hit “snooze” three times each morning, nor do you feel fatigued around 10:00 a.m. and again near 2:00 p.m. Your confidence has reached an all-time high and this new sense of badassery has manifested across multiple areas of your life.

This Saturday marks the culmination of three hard months of work. After your workout, you plan to head to your favorite burger joint to enjoy a large patty topped with enough bacon to feed a family of four. And of course, you plan to wash that down with a cookie and cream milkshake.

After surviving a food coma on Sunday, and eating only what you could stomach to survive, you’re faced with a tough question as you prepare for Monday:

Now what?

For months, you focused on the scale as a guiding light to your goals; a tool that shaped your daily and weekly habits. But now that weight loss is no longer the goal, where should you turn your attention?

What should you expect?

How can you maintain your healthy habits and ensure your hard work doesn’t disappear quicker than you can say “more ice cream, please?”

Read on to learn three surefire strategies to help you maintain your hard-earned work now that you’re no longer dieting!

1. START INCREASING – YES, INCREASING – YOUR CALORIES!

At the end of your diet, your calories are likely significantly lower than when you started and hunger and fatigue are frequent – at least more than they were three months ago. This is not a sustainable, nor enjoyable, place to be in for long.

To combat this position, it’s important that you begin to gradually increase calories. Not only will this help to reduce hunger and enhance energy levels, but it will also help place you in a position to diet successfully in the future should you so choose.

Failing to gradually and consistently increase your calories is the biggest post-diet mistake you can make! For a thorough breakdown as to why, and the detrimental short- and long-term repercussions this mistake may have on your health and success, please read my article titled, “The Worst Mistake You Can Make After A Diet.

2. SET A SPECIFIC EXERCISE-RELATED GOAL

Now that you’ve finished your diet, you’re no longer relying heavily on the scale as a means of measuring progress (though, you shouldn’t put that much weight – pun intended – into the scale anyway). This redirection of focus proves to be a mighty psychological struggle as society has taught us that the scale is the defining factor of our health and progress. And when the scale is no longer going down during a time you’re trying to improve your health and fitness, anxiety levels may skyrocket.

To help keep you focused, motivated, and aware of the role nutrition plays in achieving your goals, I recommend you set a specific exercise-related goal. This goal will be highly dependent upon your training and doesn’t have to be a new one-repetition maximum goal. Example goals include:

  • Completing 5 pull-ups
  • Completing 10 muscle-up
  • Shaving 30 seconds off of your average mile time
  • Deadlifting twice your body weight

Again, this should be a specific goal that you lock your sights on like you locked your sights on the scale previously. I’ve found that this approach helps to keep my motivation and focus in check when I transition out of a diet and have used this approach successfully with hundreds of my 1:1 clients.

Bonus Tip: Consider a body-weight related goal, e.g., completing a specific number of repetitions of a bodyweight exercise, or striving for a 1 – 3 times body weight strength ratio. Keeping this type of goal will further enhance your motivation to stay consistent with eating well because if you let the scale creep up too quickly, you’ll be making this goal that much harder.

3. HAVE CLEAR EXPECTATIONS

During your diet, expectations were (hopefully!) clear. Your target rate of weight loss was 0.5 – 1.0 percent of your body weight per week and your total weight loss goal was “X” number of pounds over a 10 – 14-week period. You must have clear expectations during this transition to a maintenance phase or anxiety will get the best of you and you may end up making the worst post-diet mistake possible and have a miserable experience.

The number on the scale will fluctuate. Daily. And more than usual. This is especially true immediately after you add in more food as your body will store this food (mostly as carbohydrates in your muscles, which is good!) and your basal metabolic rate (BMR), e.g., your metabolism, will need a brief period to adapt and “catch-up” to this higher calorie intake.

This should be expected!

If you remain consistent in your eating, any jump in the scale will steady out within a few days ( a week at most) and you’ll remain within a few pounds of your end of diet weight.

Furthermore, expect to gain weight during maintenance. Yes, gain weight.

“But I just worked so hard losing weight! And now you’re telling me I should expect to gain weight!?”

Yes. Yes, I am.

As you begin increasing food, you can expect a greater increase in bodily carbohydrate and water stores, as well as rapid replenishment of any muscle mass that was lost during a diet. These three changes, which are explained in further detail in my article titled “3 Reasons Your Weight Increases After A Diet And Why It’s Okay!” are the reasons you’re likely to see a small jump on the scale in the first few weeks following a diet, not because you’ve suddenly gained a few pounds of body fat (unless you’ve completely ditched any healthy habit you developed the past few months).

Throughout the first eight to twelve weeks of a maintenance phase, you should expect to stay within one to three percent of your end of diet weight. Please note that this is a general recommendation and is significantly impact on your starting and ending weight, as well as total amount of weight lost. This is also based on years of working with over 600 people 1:1 and the trends I have noticed.

Sample Maintenance Weight Gain Expectations:

END OF DIET WEIGHT

+1%

+2%

+3%

RANGE(LBS.)

120

121.2

122.4

123.4

120-124

140

141.4

142.8

144.2

140-144

160

161.6

163.2

164.8

160-165

180

181.8

183.6

185.4

180-185

200

202

204

206

200-206

220

222.2

224.4

226.6

220-227

240

242.4

244.8

247.2

240-247

260

262.6

265.2

267.8

260-268

A FINAL WORD

By implementing the strategies recommended above, it’s my hope that you’ll find the transition out of a diet a less stressful and more enjoyable one. The goal of adding food back to your day to remove the calorie deficit you were in is literally meant to reduce the physical and psychological stress dieting causes. Unfortunately, many of us are guilty of not preparing for this phase mentally and end up creating more stress. This is no Bueno.

Know what to expect upon finishing a diet, and make sure you set yourself up for success by adding in more food gradually and reassessing your goals!