Can your diet ever return to normal after weight loss?

a tomato splashed with water

Embracing the new normal in my life

With the coming of the new year and everyone making resolutions, I am reminded of how many New Year holidays passed while I me reviving the same, tired old resolution to lose weight. And then one year I did it. I lost 80+ pounds (read my story). What’s even better, I’ve kept it off for 8 going on 9 years. Statistics say that almost everyone who loses a significant amount of weight will gain it all back in 2-5 years. How discouraging!

As I reflect on why I’ve been successful where many have not, I credit my mindset going into this, my determination, and more importantly, my Christian faith. I didn’t feel like I was doing it alone.

That first year after I lost the weight, I remember having a conversation with a woman who posed this question to me: “So now that you’ve lost the weight, can you go back to normal eating?” I remember my answer to her, “No. My eating habits can never go back to the way they were. If I went back to my old ways, I would regain the weight.”

For me, the answer is not complicated. I am committed to a healthier lifestyle. I made lifestyle changes and adopted new habits and made them a permanent part of my life. I have a new normal and I’ve embraced it 100%.

Yes, there is the occasional indulgence, as is happening right now with the holidays in full swing. But I never give in fully to the old, poor habits of my past. I recognize they are addicting–as addicting as anything can be. When I eat a lot of salads and stop for a few days, I crave a good salad. If I fall into the habit of eating pecan pie more than only on occasion, I begin to crave decadent food. I don’t know if this is the same for other people, but it’s true for me.

I live with a husband that likes to have desserts and sweets in the house every day, so I don’t have the option of not keeping those things around. I fall back on my mindset and my approach to food, remembering why I love my new lifestyle–and life does indeed, feel normal.

The 2,000 calorie per day misconception for women and how it messes up your diet

THE 2,000 CALORIE PER DAY MISCONCEPTION FOR WOMEN: How It Messes Up Your Diet, And How To Calculate What Your True Calorie Intake Should Be

For the purpose of this argument, I’m referring to women and the USDA recommended calorie guidelines. We tend to forget that they are simply guidelines. Other factors that can affect your daily calorie needs are age, gender, and activity level. You can find dozens of websites that will help you zero in on your specific calorie needs but I’ve included a workable outline here for women using myself as an example.

I am a petite, mature woman, 5′ 2” tall with small bones. My calorie requirements are lower than those of a younger, taller woman with, let’s say a medium to large frame, yet we seem to focus on that nebulous number, 2,000 calories across the board for  all women (2,500 for men).

Question: I know I’ve been eating around 2,000 calories a day so why is it that I’ve gained so much weight?

Answer: If you continue to eat 2,000 calories per day with your sedentary lifestyle, you will soon weigh 200 pounds, I can guarantee it. You are taking in more calories than you are burning each day.

Here is a formula to calculate what your calorie intake should be:

  • If you are sedentary: you work a desk job and get little or no additional exercise—multiply your desired weight (the weight you want to be) times the number 10. This will give you the number of calories you need each day to maintain that goal weight once it is achieved. Since you currently weigh more than that, eating only the number of calories needed to maintain a lower weight will, steadfastly result in a loss of weight, until balance is achieved.
  • If you are lightly active: you get some exercise only 1-3 days per week and it’s not strenuous—multiply your desired weight by 13.
  • If you are moderately active: you get some exercise on weekends or about 10-15 (up to 30) minutes 3-5 days a week—multiply your desired weight times the number 15.
  • If you get vigorous exercise regularly: you have a physically demanding job or you exercise 60 minutes 5-7 days a week—multiply your desired weight times 17.
  • The highest level of fitness activity, that of an experienced athlete, uses a multiplication of your desired weight times 19.

The preceding information is a guideline only, and for general purposes, one of the first four levels will apply to almost anyone reading this book.

The formula works like this:

Desired weight, 150 pounds

Sedentary: 150 x 10 = 1,500 cal/day

Light activity: 150 x 13 = 1,950 cal/day

Moderately active: 150 x 15 = 2,250 cal/day

Vigorous exercise: 150 x 17 = 2,550 cal/day

Athlete: 150 x 19 = 2,850 cal/day

Desired weight, 125 pounds

Sedentary: 125 x 10 = 1,250 cal/day

Light Activity: 125 x 13 = 1,625 cal/day

Moderately active: 125 x 15 = 1,875 cal/day

Vigorous exercise: 125 x 17 = 2,125 cal/day

Athlete: 125 x 19 = 2,375 cal/day

As you can see, a woman of my size cannot eat at a 2,000 calorie per day level without inevitably gaining weight, unless I were to significantly and consistently increase my level of physical activity (something I have done in recent months).

About 1,200 calories is the minimum number per day for the average person to fulfill necessary nutritional needs. True, you can eat less than that for short periods of time and lose weight without harm, but it is also likely to lead to bingeing and other harmful habits. A better way is to find a natural balance you can live with. I have become accustomed to eating a 1,300 to 1,500-calorie-a-day diet, making sure I include foods that satisfy me nutritionally, physically and emotionally. I never feel like I am on a diet.

–Nadia Giordana