People sometimes ask here about what to do at the end of weight loss, and some say they don't know how much to eat to maintain. A few are worried about sudden regain. I decided to write a standalone post with the advice I'd give. I welcome comments from others who've successfully navigated this shift, and maintained a healthy weight.
There are two common, pretty straightforward methods I'll mention but not explain, and two others I'll explain in more detail. Toward the end of this (long) post are comments about "regain anxiety" and how to think about monitoring at goal weight.
Here are the four methods:
1. MFP calculation:
Change your MFP profile weight loss goal from "lose X pounds per week" to "maintain current weight", eat to the new net
calorie goal, handling exercise calories just as you did during weight loss. If you lost weight at the expected rate using an MFP-generated calorie goal, this should work well.
2. TDEE calculator:
Use an external TDEE calculator to get a maintenance calorie goal that includes
your typical exercise, and manually set your MFP calorie goal to that number. Eat to that level, but don't separately log exercise calories or eat them back.
3. Estimate from history:
Use your recent loss data to estimate maintenance calories, and eat to that level. This is useful if your MFP projected !oss rate differed materially from your actual loss rate. A more detailed explanation appears below.
4. Gradually increase:
Experimentally determine your maintenance calories by increasing eating gradually. This may be combined with any of the above methods, too. A more detailed explanation appears below.
Method 3: Estimate from History:
IMO, your own loss history is your best guide to maintenance calories. Here's how to use your logging history to estimate maintenance:
A. Look at your last 4 weeks (or around that) of loss.
B. Average those weeks to get average weekly calories eaten, and average weekly pounds lost.
C. Multiply average weekly pounds lost by 3500 (roughly 3500 calories in a pound) to get average weekly calorie deficit
D. Add average weekly calories eaten to average weekly calorie deficit to get average weekly calories needed to maintain.
E. Divide average weekly calories needed to maintain by 7 (days per week) to get estimated daily calories needed to maintain.
If you've been logging exercise separately and eating it back and want to continue that, use net calories eaten in the above arithmetic. Otherwise, use gross calories eaten.
Either set your MFP calorie goal manually to this new value, or use it to inform method 4 below.
Method 4: Gradually Increase:
Another option is to gradually increase your daily calorie goal until your weight stabilizes.
Even if you have a maintenance calorie estimate from method 1, 2, or 3, but you want to minimize visible (though irrelevant
) scale jump from glycogen replenishment and/or increased average digestive system contents, and maybe ease your way into eating more, you can increase calories eaten gradually.
To start, add 100-200 daily calories (depending on the size of your estimated total gap to be filled).
Eat that for a week, or until you satisfy yourself that you're not gaining fat (be reasonable - a weight-trending app and knowledge of your own fluctuation patterns will be helpful). Then add another 100 calories daily. Monitor again. Repeat until scale weight stabilizes.
You may find that you need to wait/monitor longer with each successive increase, in order to be sure of the effect. If so: Patience!
Feeling Anxious About Regain?
If you stick to the "add gradually" approach, and keep your activity level more or less consistent, there's no possible way you'll gain a big bunch of weight suddenly. About the worst that can happen is that you'll overshoot by 50-100 calories daily, which is less than a one-pound gain in a month's time. And it's likely that by increasing gradually, you'll have dropped a pound or two along the way from a tiny and shrinking deficit , so you'll be even up right around goal weight.
Monitoring Goal Weight to Maintain It
To maintain goal weight realistically, set a goal weight range
of a number of pounds that slightly exceeds your normal daily weight fluctuations. For example, if you rarely see more than a two pound daily fluctuation, set a range of goal weight plus/minus 3. If you go above the top of the range more than a day or three, cut back eating a little, or increase activity until you drop to a consistent lower weight in the range. If you drop below the low end, add a couple of walnuts to your oatmeal (or something) until your weight stabilizes higher.
Even if you don't have a way to estimate your maintenance calories all that accurately, you can do this "gradual add back" thing to find maintenance calories experimentally. You don't have to stress out about calculator estimates.
Hope this helps!