If you’ve been dieting for 8, 10 or 12 weeks and your diet is coming to an end what are you supposed to do next?
In today’s article, I’m going to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do at the end of your fat loss diet.
These tips could be the difference between keeping your progress or reverting back to where you started.
“I Thought My Diet Was Over…”
You’ve lost significant amounts of body fat. You feel leaner, healthier and more confident.
So what’s next?
Well, if you want to hold onto the progress you’ve made then I highly suggest a maintenance period of dieting.
A maintenance phase is simply a period of time, at least 4-5 weeks, where the goal is to give yourself a break from dieting and maintain your new body weight.
If you’ve lost a good amount of body fat you want to establish a new set-point with your bodyweight. This will become the weight your body gets used to.
It’s important to take diet breaks, or maintenance phases, especially after you’ve been losing weight for quite some time. This allows your body to adjust and get back to normal.
A maintenance phase is perfect for enjoying a few meals out with friends, being a bit looser with your calories, and enjoying more food.
However, this is not supposed to be treated like a pig-out period where you eat everything in sight. Otherwise, you’ll end up putting the weight back on and you’ll be right back where you started.
So How Long Should Maintenance Be?
The length of your maintenance phase can be as short as 4-5 weeks and as long as months on end depending on what your goals are.
If you’d like to keep your new bodyweight for a while and not diet, then you could follow a maintenance level of calories until you’re ready to change your weight up or down.
If your goals include losing more body fat, building muscle and increasing or decreasing body weight, then your maintenance phase can end whenever you’re ready to begin a diet again.
For example, I currently have 5 weeks left of dieting. After that, I’ll maintain my new bodyweight for 4-5 weeks and then I’ll decide what I’d like to do next.
Think of the maintenance phase as normal, every day eating. This would be how you’d eat if you weren’t looking to gain or lose weight.
What Makes Maintenance So Tough?
You’ve made such great progress that it would be a shame to slide back to where you started, right?
This is why I think the maintenance phase can be the most challenging part of any diet.
Yea, sure, you get to eat more during a maintenance phase, but that’s exactly why it makes it the toughest part of dieting.
Most people, myself included, will be tempted to indulge a little more than we should because we tell ourselves “it’s ok because I’m not dieting right now.”
And this is ok up until a certain point.
However, there needs to be some structure during a maintenance phase. Otherwise, you will gain the weight back and all your hard-earned progress will be gone.
And that’s the last thing you want.
Let’s go over some of the strategies I use with myself and my online coaching clients to make the maintenance phase a breeze, keep you on track, and allow you to take a break from rigorous dieting.
Step 1: Continue With Your Current Diet
As soon as your fat loss diet ends, meaning you’ve hit the 12 or so week mark, it’s time to go into maintenance mode. Rather than adding a ton of stuff in right away, continue following your current diet structure.
Whether you’ve been counting calories, using portion control, or following a template, keep doing what you’re doing diet wise.
Pay attention to what your weight’s doing. If your weight is stable after several weigh-ins, keep on with it. However, if it’s continuing to drop, go to step 2 below.
Step 2: Slowly (SLOWLY) Add Food Back In
Let’s say you’ve been dieting for 12 weeks but your weight is still dropping with your current diet.
You wanted weight loss so why am I recommending that you stop losing weight now? Well, at this point, you’re more likely to be losing muscle tissue in that ‘weight loss’ because you’ve been cutting calories for so long.
So to prevent any muscle loss, I suggest adding food back in slowly to stabilize your body weight.
What kind of food and how much?
I’m glad you asked.
Hopefully, you’ve kept your protein pretty consistent throughout your diet. If not, be sure to increase that FIRST.
Assuming it was carbs and fat that you lowered over the course of your diet, I would suggest adding a bit more of whichever is lowest at this point right now.
If you finished your diet phase eating very little added fats, then you’ll want to add a little back in. This will help with hormone regulation and other important body functions.
Start with 200-300 calories here, roughly 2 tbsp equivalent of peanut butter, and go from there.
On the other hand, if you happened to cut carbs super low to finish out your diet, begin by adding about 50g carbs back into your diet. This will be around 200 calories and may prevent you from continuing to lose weight.
Track what these changes do. If you’re still losing weight, move to step 3 below.
Step 3: Add more food
The above graph is from one of my current online coaching clients. All the data in the red area is the maintenance phase. He’s done very, very well at keeping his bodyweight right at, or very close to 192. After he finished his last fat loss phase, I’ve slowly added calories in and now he’s able to maintain the lower body weight even with slightly more calories.
Once you’ve added some fat and carbs back into your diet and you still need more calories to stabilize your weight, go ahead and match your carbs up to your activity level.
Since carbs are useful for energy, you can eat a bit more of them to be used for fuel during your workouts and for recovery purposes. I’ll also mention that maintenance phases are generally best for general strength training, ie lifting for strength gains rather than hypertrophy.
Building strength won’t require as much volume so you won’t need to go crazy with your carbs. Start around 1g/lb of bodyweight for lifting days and place most of those carbs before/during/after your training session.
This should help to stabilize your body weight. If not, step 4 should do the trick.
Step 4: Follow Structure But Enjoy Time Off
You can be a bit less structured during maintenance phases because the aim isn’t to continue losing weight. Losing weight requires a bit more precision because every calorie counts.
However, with maintenance, you can get away with some meals out at restaurants, a bit more drinking, and some tastier foods every now and then.
But, keep in mind, maintenance phases aren’t very beneficial if you indulge too much.
Aim to keep your weight within 5lbs of where you finished your diet and you’ll be good to go.
Basically, follow the structure of the diet you used to cut body fat, but now you can be a little more liberal with food choices and meals out.
Embrace Maintenance Phases
If you can take away one thing from this article just understand that it’s OK to take breaks with your diet.
It’s actually very necessary and highly recommended.
No one is likely to reach their ultimate fitness goals in one fell swoop anyway. Sometimes you’ll need 2-3 fat loss phases to get your body fat to where you want it.
Too many people diet for month’s on end only to get burnt out and really screw up their metabolism.
In order to get to your long-term goals, you will need maintenance periods throughout. Not only will they provide some mental relief from periods of reduced calories, but physiologically, they are needed by your body to be able to continue losing or gaining weight when you choose to do so again.
If you’re nearing the end of your fat loss diet or have recently dieted for a long time (12 weeks) then hopefully these tips will help you get the most out of your maintenance phase.