Maintenance & Why It Is Important:
By now, most of you are well-versed in what it means to cut weight. Some of you are even lucky enough to have experienced the wondrous world of massing! However, regardless of whichever diet phase you are currently in, at some point you will be faced with what many believe to be the scariest and most challenging phase of all: maintenance.
To ensure that we are giving our bodies and our minds a break after any type of dieting “stress” brought on by deviating from caloric homeostasis (i.e. being in a caloric deficit or a caloric surplus), it is imperative to enter a period of caloric balance where we are trying to neither lose or gain any more weight. Mentally, this can be the toughest type of way to eat. We are generally so programmed to look for changes on the scale that it is a mentally tough pill to swallow when the goal is to maintain your current weight. However, it is essential to maintain weight after about 12 weeks of either cutting or massing to make sure that our hormones and minds have the opportunity to take a figurative deep breath and relax.
During maintenance, the idea is that you are living more of a normal life and no longer letting your world revolve around your food intake. This can manifest in various forms including having a cheat meal or 3 alcoholic drinks once a week, not weighing and measuring every single meal, and fitting in foods that are not typically “allowed” on the template or during a diet. Because of this phase of mental and physical relaxation, it is even more important to take your cutting or massing phase seriously and strictly adhere to your diet since there will be a time to relax at the end through maintenance. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, those donuts will be waiting for you on the other side of a diet.
The amount of time that someone spends on maintenance completely varies from person to person and is entirely dependent on someone’s goals and how well an individual’s body responds to a diet. However, a good rule of thumb is that maintenance should be AT LEAST half of the time someone is dieting. For some people who respond very well to dieting and do not easily get mentally or physically fatigued from dieting, they will be able to handle a shorter maintenance phase. Conversely, for those whose bodies respond poorly to dieting will require a longer period of mental and physical relaxation, i.e. maintenance. The last thing to consider in regards to how long maintenance should be is what a person’s goals are. For someone whose only goal was to lose 12 pounds and she was able to do that during her first and only cut, she will be able to maintain for the rest of her life if she wishes, or until her body-weight goals change. On the other hand, someone who has the goal of losing a significant amount of weight and is not able to do that on her first cut is more likely to have a shorter maintenance in order to start another cut.
During a cut or a mass, calories were slowly either taken away or added in order to allow for sustainable weight loss or gain, respectively. During maintenance, the same will be true but in reverse. If someone is coming off of a cut, calories will slowly be added back in every few weeks to get back to caloric homeostasis. If someone is cutting off of a mass, calories will either stay the same or be very slightly cut to get back to caloric homeostasis. The addition or subtraction of calories is based on how well someone is maintaining their body weight. Remember that because your body weight will have changed after a diet, you will have a new caloric homeostasis. In other words, it will not take as many calories to maintain your new weight if you are 15# lighter than before you started cutting. Therefore, the goal is not to get back to your previous caloric homeostasis but rather your new one.
If someone chose to forego maintenance and continue either in a caloric deficit or a caloric surplus, they are running the risk of burning the candle at both figurative ends. Their hormones will start to become improperly balanced which can cause metabolic damage that will deter any diet success in the future. Additionally, and arguably most importantly, they will mostly likely become mentally burnt out, which can lead to binge eating and mental anguish; in essence, creating or reinforcing an unhealthy relationship with food. Endless bouts of continuous cutting is merely a set-up for failure as no one can be “perfect” on a permanent caloric deficit, which is why we see many people who are “good” during the week and completely splurge on the weekends. They have not gone through a fixed period of mental or physical relaxation (maintenance) so they try to do this on the weekends all the while thinking that they are not doing themselves any harm. Meanwhile, from a macro perspective we can see that they are stuck on the hamster wheel or losing the same 3 pounds during the week that they are gaining back on the weekends. When a clear maintenance phase is built into a nutrition program, binge eating is less likely and healthy eating habits start to manifest themselves. The emotional side of eating suddenly becomes less significant when we consider that nutrition cycles should be treated just as we would treat training cycles in the gym.
Finally, it is important to note that body weight will most likely not stay exactly the same as it was when a diet was finished. Anyone can expect to gain somewhere between 2-5 pounds (depending on total body weigh) on maintenance due to excess food and water weight. It is important to remember that when you are at the end of a diet, your body is relatively depleted and therefore very susceptible to water weight gain. The good part is that as soon as you go back into a diet, this excess weight will be the first to quickly go.
Although maintenance can be difficult to navigate and intimidating for some, it is an essential part of the cyclical process of nutrition. It is a reset that will allow for dieting success in the future and, most importantly, it allows you to enjoy life as a normal human being!