A “maintenance” phase implies a lot more than simply trying to maintain your weight. In fact, in most instances, that’s only one minor purpose of the phase. There are three distinct “maintenance” phases I use with my 1:1 clients to help them achieve long-term success – understanding the importance of each is crucial for your own long-term success!
If you spend all your time trying to lose or gain weight, you’re setting yourself up for a rollercoaster of emotions and scale fluctuations that lead to nowhere. You’ll sacrifice short-term happiness and long-term success by not spending time maintaining your current weight.
The importance of taking distinct break from dieting or massing is understated, yet, these distinct phases may be the most crucial to your long-term success…
THE PRE-DIET MAINTENANCE PHASE
Purpose: To provide you an opportunity to focus on developing and consistently implementing healthy, sustainable eating habits. This is best done before you transition to a dieting phase because a calorie deficit (diet) is a major physical and psychological stress. Trying to develop and sustain new skills during this time will only make this period more challenging and healthy habits less likely to stick.
Major Benefit: By focusing on developing these skills prior to a dieting phase, you not only significantly increase the likelihood of success during your diet, but of mastering how to eat healthily and confidently for life. And remember, there’s no rush; we’re not striving for a quick-fix, crash-diet approach.
Typical Length: 4 – 6 weeks
THE POST-DIET MAINTENANCE PHASE
Purpose: To normalize and restore your metabolism and hormone levels from a long period of dieting, which decreases metabolic rate as well as thyroid and testosterone levels. Additionally, this phase serves as a psychological and physical reprieve from the stress of dieting.
To begin reversing these adaptations, it’s important to focus on slowly adding food back in while maintaining near your end-of-diet weight – not doing so is the number one mistake you can make after a diet. Keep in mind that it took a few months to incur these diet-induced changes. You need to spend just as much time (most likely more) to provide your body the opportunity to recover from such significant stress.
Major Benefit: Spending time out of a calorie deficit while focusing on gradually increasing food can put you in a position to be eating a near end-of-diet calorie amount while weighing within one to three percent of your end of diet bodyweight and looking and performing better than ever.
Typical Length: 1.0 – 1.5X the length of your dieting phase.
This is highly individualized and dependent upon dieting history as well as future goals. If your goal is to embark on another dieting phase, I advocate that you spend at least the same number of weeks in a maintenance phase as you did in a dieting phase. If you have an extensive dieting history, I recommend closer to 1.5X as many weeks maintaining as dieting.
Example: If your most recent diet lasted 12 weeks, you should spend a minimum of 12 weeks gradually increasing calories during a maintenance phase. If you have an extensive dieting history, you may benefit from extending the length of this phase to 18 weeks.
If you attempt to come out of maintenance too soon and transition into another dieting phase, you’ll ultimately end up having to reduce your calories even further than before just to initiate weight loss because your metabolism and hormones have yet to catch-up and normalize. And furthermore, you’ll have far fewer calories to work with when you begin your diet, meaning hunger and fatigue will appear far sooner than you expect and prefer.
THE POST-MASSING MAINTENANCE PHASE
- To provide your body an opportunity to adapt to carrying more muscle than before. Muscle mass is energetically costly, meaning that your body expends a significant number of calories to “hold on” to it. When you begin dieting, your body begins to conserve energy by taking away “spending” fewer calories on non-essential functions. And in this case, that means giving that newly laid muscle mass the calories it needs.
- To reset insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity characterizes your body’s ability to efficiently handle glucose. As you spend more time in a calorie surplus, your body’s insulin sensitivity diminishes, which means that a larger percentage of glucose is being shipped for conversion to fat (and directed to storage) versus being used to replenish muscle glycogen stores.
- By eating an appropriate number of calories sufficient to maintain your weight, you provide ample opportunity for this new increased level of calorie expenditure to normalize so that your body is better equipped to hold on to this newly built muscle mass during a future dieting phase.
- By taking a break from a calorie surplus, you give your body the opportunity to reset its sensitivity so that if you choose to embark on a subsequent massing phase you’re primed to gain weight in a favorable ratio of muscle to fat mass.
Typical Length: 4 – 6 weeks