This article was originally written by the Sequence clinic team (now known as WeightWatchers Clinic).

Strategies for weight maintenance when taking a GLP-1

Published July 14, 2023 | Updated May 5, 2024

While reaching a maintenance phase in your health journey can be exciting, it can also feel overwhelming—especially if you have struggled to maintain your progress before.

We’re here to remind you that you are not alone. Weight maintenance is challenging for many, especially because you don’t have the added motivation of seeing the scale drop from week to week! While having a strategy for weight loss is key, establishing a plan to maintain your weight loss that fits into your lifestyle is equally as important.

Maintenance will look different for everyone. For those who are on weight-management medications, some will stay on their current dose of medication to maintain, some may go down to a lower dose, and some may decide to come off their medication completely. It’s helpful to start these conversations with your clinician and care team early on and develop a plan that supports your long-term goals.

Preparing for maintenance starts at the beginning of your weight-loss journey

Weight-loss medications work in part by acting on both the gut and the brain to control appetite and cravings, making it easier to make healthy choices without the distraction of “food noise.”

This is why creating strong habits—like learning how to build a balanced plate and incorporating exercise—early on in the process rather than as you are approaching maintenance sets you up for a much greater chance of maintaining weight loss. Our team wil work with you along the way, helping you to identify strategies that can help and assist you as you navigate life’s road bumps and determine what may or may not work for you long-term. In the name of weight loss, thinking with the end in mind can be a powerful strategy to shift your mindset (and thus your behavior) and ensure long-term success.

Behavioral strategies for weight maintenance

Regardless of if you are staying on a maintenance dose or decide to come off of the medication, weight maintenance requires you to lean on the healthy habits you built during weight loss. Here are some tips that can help:

Set personalized goals

A systematic review of nearly 300 individuals who pursued weight loss showed that those with clear, personalized goals that were continuously reevaluated and adjusted helped with weight maintenance. Once an initial goal has been achieved, it’s important to set new goals to have something to work toward—after a quick celebration of course! Setting small behavioral goals, like planning meals for the week or strength training twice a week, for example, can help to achieve larger, long-term goals.

Set goals that feel achievable, realistic, and meaningful for you. Throughout the process, dietitians or coaches can help with strategies to achieve those personal goals.

Determine your why

During weight loss, the reward of seeing the scale go down can be a strong motivator. When you enter weight maintenance, the absence of significant changes can be demotivating. Set new goals that focus on health or behaviors. This will give you new non-scale victories to celebrate! And it’ll help you stay focused on your goals if the scale goes up one week. Speaking with your healthcare provider to review improvements in lab markers can also provide reassurance that your continued efforts are worth it.

Continuously monitor your progress

Individuals that have been able to maintain weight loss report that having monitoring tools in place helped them stay aware of their actions.

Self-monitoring includes monitoring progress, weight, measurements, or photos. It also includes monitoring your behaviors, such as food intake and activity. Meal planning, measuring portions, checking menus prior to dining out, or planning ahead for social events can all help you track your food.

External monitoring refers to guidance and encouragement from health care practitioners, accountability from fellow members, or support and feedback from friends and family. External monitoring helps to facilitate continuous self-monitoring. Engaging with individuals on a similar journey or having a gym buddy is incredibly effective for weight loss and maintenance.

Establish a regain strategy

Continuous monitoring will ensure you can take action if you do start to regain weight. This includes an awareness that some weight fluctuations are a normal and expected part of the maintenance phase. Selecting an “intervention weight” - typically three to five pounds above your desired weight - can signal it’s time to re-engage with your weight-loss plans or reach out to your healthcare provider or dietitian. The more specific your plans are for what you’ll do if you see that “Intervention weight” on the scale, the easier it’ll be to navigate if or when the time comes.

Prepare for challenges

As weight maintenance is a lifelong process, challenges along the way are inevitable. These can be difficult to navigate, especially when they aren’t anticipated or planned for. These challenges can be internal or external. Internal challenges are things like stress, lack of time, self-doubt, emotional eating, and life events like injury, whereas external challenges are things like unsupportive peers, relationship changes, or social events.

Weight loss maintainers report that enduring challenges is one of the hardest parts of the process. Anticipating potential challenges and having a plan in place for if they arise was a helpful strategy for these individuals.

Having coping mechanisms in response to stress and emotional situations is also critical, especially if stress or emotional eating have been barriers to weight loss or maintaining weight in the past.

Focus on mindset

If you have a setback, instead of telling yourself you’ve failed, focus on the progress you’ve made, re-focus on your goals and motivations, and keep going. The goal is not perfection, it’s about staying consistent and not giving up.

A common theme among weight loss maintainers' when posed the question, “What is the one piece of advice that you would give to help someone succeed at long-term weight loss?” was perseverance. One respondent stated, “There will be peaks and valleys, plateaus, gains, holidays, bad times … do not stop. Never accept a small failure as a total defeat”.

Shift or “reinvent” your identity

Individuals who maintain their weight loss often speak of a shift in identity or a reinvented version of themselves. Instead of viewing the changes they were making as a short-term intervention for weight loss with a defined end point, they fully adopted a new lifestyle and were committed to engaging in those behaviors. This may also involve surrounding yourself with supportive like-minded people with similar goals.

Nutrition strategies for weight maintenance

Have a sustainable nutrition plan

If you are planning to transition to a lower dose or decide to stop a medication, you are likely to experience an increase in appetite. This can often be seen as a bad thing, but having hunger cues is a normal part of our physiology. Don't over-compensate by being too restrictive. Eating too few calories can ultimately result in overeating and loss of muscle mass. Fueling your body adequately can help to minimize these effects. And remember: If you need to restart a weight-management medication or up your dose during maintenance, that’s all part of the process.

Let’s discuss some aspects of a sustainable nutrition plan.

Avoid skipping meals

Skipping meals can lead to over-consumption later. Spacing your meals regularly throughout the day (start with eating every 3 to 4 hours) can help prevent you from getting overly hungry.

Prioritize protein

Adequate protein intake is a key factor in any sustainable nutrition plan as it is satiating and helps to regulate blood sugar. Protein helps to maintain muscle mass which has been associated with improved outcomes in the maintenance phase. Protein needs are actually greater for weight loss maintenance and can range from 1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, with up to 2.1 grams per kilogram of bodyweight being appropriate for some. This number varies based on many different factors, like if someone is strength training for example.

Include fiber in all meals

Fiber can help to keep you fuller for longer periods of time and help control your blood sugar. Fiber has also been shown to improve blood pressure and cholesterol, and support beneficial gut bacteria. We recommend at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day for women and 30 to 40 grams per day for men. High-fiber foods include fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and whole grains.

Maintain adequate hydration

Hydration needs will look different for everyone depending on activity level and other factors, but on average, women should aim for at least 9 cups or around 72 ounces and men should aim for at least 15.5 cups or around 124 ounces. These values represent most cases, but there are special cases where you may need more hydration. These include if you’re in very hot or very cold temperatures, at high altitudes, with strenuous work or exercise, or if you’re ill with a fever, diarrhea, or vomiting. Unsure of how to know if you’re hydrated? Urine that is a pale yellow color (think light lemonade) indicates proper hydration status, while clear urine may be a sign of overhydration and dark urine may indicate dehydration.

Related: How Much Water Should You Drink Every Day?

Incorporate the foods you love

For the sake of sustainability, it’s important to give yourself permission to eat for fun. Food is more than just the nutrients it provides, it's social and celebratory and there is a place in life to eat food for pleasure and nothing more.

Add fitness to your routine

Research suggests that physical activity may be the single greatest predictor of who keeps weight off and who doesn’t.

How to optimize muscle mass through physical activity

Any form of physical activity is beneficial for overall health, but strength/resistance training is the most effective form of exercise to preserve lean muscle. This could include weight lifting, pilates, yoga, resistance band exercises, or bodyweight exercises like push-ups, squats, and lunges.

How to incorporate exercise

If you haven’t incorporated exercise into your plan, it may seem overwhelming to know where to start. Set goals based on where you are currently on your journey and try to ditch the all-or-nothing approach. It could be as simple as incorporating a 10-minute walk on your lunch break and slowly building from there.

Summary: Tips for maintenance

  • Start preparing for maintenance prior to reaching your goals. Building healthy habits, like developing a healthier eating pattern or incorporating fitness, while on weight-loss medication can help ease the transition into a maintenance phase.
  • Create behavioral goals that are personalized to what matters most to you. Continuously reassess and adjust goals as they are met.
  • Create a weight range that you feel comfortable with, knowing that weight fluctuations are a normal part of weight maintenance. Identify a weight that signals the need to re-engage with a support team or reach out to your healthcare provider or dietitian for additional guidance and support.
  • Continue to track your food, activity, weight and non-scale victories.
  • Stay connected to your WeightWatchers community or have a support system of family and friends in place prior to reaching maintenance.
  • Anticipate potential challenges or barriers to maintaining weight and develop plans if those challenges present.
  • Have support from a dietitian or health coach to help guide you and work through challenges or barriers to reaching those goals.
  • Develop a sustainable nutrition plan that you will be able to follow long-term and that mindfully and intentionally creates room for your favorite foods.
  • Incorporate exercise into your routine.

Reaching your health-related goal is a major accomplishment, but it can come with some feelings of apprehension as well. Preparing yourself and knowing you have a plan for this new phase of life can help you reduce stress and how overwhelmed you feel.