THE BLOG

How to Maintain Your Weight After Dieting

11/03/2014 17:19 GMT | Updated 11/05/2014 10:59 BST

You've followed your favourite New Year diet and reached your goal. You breathe a sigh of relief. Hooray, back to your old eating habits. Not so fast - don't expect to eat 'like you used to'. The new slimmer you doesn't need as much food as the heavier version.

Want to stay slim long term? Simple - eat real food, limit added sugar and fat, and get used to feeling hungrier than usual. Weight loss triggers the release of ghrelin, an appetite stimulating hormone, and it takes six months of weight maintenance for levels to return to normal.

Maintaining your new lower weight is not about following a strict set of rules. It is a complex dance where good days mingle with bad, and a fundamentalist approach can only lead to failure. It is so challenging that over 95% of dieters are unable to achieve it.

Welcome to a world where convenience foods and sugary drinks lurk at every corner. Deal with it; it is not going to change any time soon. Choosing dishes that won't expand your waistline is a minefield for the uninitiated. If you can't work out what is in your ready meal, leave it on the shelf. If the pack says it serves two people, don't scoff it all yourself without expecting to regain weight. Desserts and puddings are by their very nature highly calorific. The fewer of these you eat the better.

Staying slim is a challenge, partly because there is a mismatch between ever growing portion sizes and your need for sustenance. Consume a takeaway, a restaurant meal or even a home cooked meal that provides you with enough fuel for two meals, and it is one step forward and two steps back.

Does it matter if your evening meal is a baked potato with grated cheese; chicken, rice and peas, or steak and chips? What you eat at mealtimes is only the tip of the iceberg. It is how many soft drinks and fatty snacks you pack away that make the difference between keeping the weight off and seeing it creep up again.

Trust in your ability to know when you have eaten enough for one day. You cannot go back to your old way of eating; that is if your desire to stay trim is greater than the urge to stuff yourself with little treats. Experiment with new foods - it increases your chance of long term success. If you've never eaten natural yoghurt, pulses or fatty fish, now is the time to start.

Rediscover the social life that you gave up when dieting. Shun your favourite foods for a while, fair enough, but a lifetime without buttery croissants, tasty sausage rolls, stress busting chocolate or flavoursome crisps is never going to happen. It's not in your nature to forgo life's little pleasures, so eat your favourite snack occasionally rather than every day, or just have a nibble.

Practise eating out without throwing caution to the wind. It can be done, especially if you study menus online and decide what you are going to order before going out. Dine out too frequently and weight maintenance becomes no more than wishful thinking. Faced with tempting choices and excessive portions, it is easy to overeat.

If you must devour the bread basket, skip the potatoes; it's one or the other, definitely not both. As for those little bowls of olive oil and after dinner chocolates, give them a miss. Avoid cocktails, limit beer to one pint and wine to one or two glasses. Special occasion? Let your hair down with desserts containing water such as fruit sorbet, mousse, jelly or poached fruit - skip the cream or ice cream.

In the weight maintenance section of my lifestyle diet book Can I Have Chips? fill up, lose weight, feel great, I recommend eating three meals a day of real food, giving up sugary drinks, limiting alcohol and avoiding processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolates and pastries.

Low carb or intermittent fasting, whichever diet you chose to shift your excess weight, now is the time to develop some sensible and sustainable eating habits. Put as much effort into maintaining your weight as you did into losing it and you can say goodbye to rebound weight gain and yo-yo dieting.