Why Regaining Weight Is So Common and How to Deal

06/10/2015 04:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2016

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards for Life by DailyBurn

After Ashley Diamond lost 60 pounds from her 200-pound, 5'10" frame during her senior year of college, she thought she was done with dieting forever. In fact, she spent the next four years hovering around 140 pounds -- even dipping to 128 pounds at one point. Then, newly engaged, she moved to Manhattan for a fancy office job and started to snack.

"If I had meetings, I'd have bagels from the breakfast tray, then sandwiches, then cookies in the afternoon," says Diamond. "It was mindless munching." Within the next nine months, she packed on 20 pounds. "When I got my wedding photos back, I started crying. All I could see was rolls from my arms in my strapless dress," she says. "When you gain weight after you've lost it, it almost hurts more. You know what the confidence feels like. You know what it feels like to get dressed and feel good."

For anyone who's seen the numbers on the scale creep up after dropping a significant amount of weight, the statistics aren't exactly encouraging. Studies show that most people regain the weight they lose, whether they shed it fast or slow.

And that can take a psychological toll. "Losing and regaining weight is the natural cycle of weight loss through dieting, but somehow we're convinced it's out fault," explains Alexis Conason, a psychologist in private practice in Manhattan who specializes in overeating and body image. "When people regain weight, they struggle with feelings of shame, failure, low self-esteem and guilt. They think they had low motivation or didn't have enough self-control."

But here's some good news: A 2014 study of nearly 3,000 people who had lost (and kept off) a minimum of 30 pounds for at least a year found that 87 percent of participants maintained at least 10 percent of that weight loss over a decade.

4 Tips for Weight Loss the Second Time Around

Getting back to your best body might require fine-tuning your eating habits and becoming more passionate about fitness. But it's totally possible. And it will set you for success in the long run.

1. Get started, ASAP.
As soon you notice you're slipping, take action right away. "It's easier to lose two to three pounds than 10 pounds," explains Linda Houtkooper, nutritional sciences professor at the University of Arizona. "You'll stay motivated and will be more successful in getting it back off." A report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that analyzed common traits among weight loss maintainers backs up this advice: "Preventing small regains from turning into larger relapses appears critical to recovery among successful weight losers," it concludes.

2. Realize that your body is different.
If you've got less to lose this time around, you might need to shake up your strategy. "You need fewer calories, since you're lighter than you were when you started the first time," says Houtkooper. When Diamond initially lost her weight, she relied on low-calorie (but less-than-healthy) staples like 100-calorie pre-packaged cookies, canned soup and diet soda. Or, she took advantage of the fact that she wasn't working in an office to make giant salads. But the pounds didn't fall off as easily the second time. "It was a slower process, and I had to find different tactics," says Diamond, now 31, who's since moved to Geneva, Switzerland and writes about living in moderation in her blog A Healthy Happier Bear. "I had to learn portion control and how to bring healthy snacks to work." She also started training for a marathon.

3. Exercise to tame your hunger hormones.
You know that exercise is critical to keeping weight off -- but did you know it does more than just burn calories? Some evidence suggests that frequent sweat sessions might help you regulate your appetite and help you feel more satisfied after meals. This may be particularly crucial for weight maintenance. The American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends 150 to 250 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week to lose weight and more than 250 minutes a week to maintain it.

4. Aim for a sustainable goal.
Experts agree that one of the reasons people regain weight is to compensate for the deprivation they experienced during their diets. Diamond was so focused on reaching 140 pounds during her first loss that she was super strict about what she ate -- even skipping olive oil on her salad. The second time: She adopted a more moderate diet, which got her to a happy 150 pounds. "I know I could be a size smaller, but I've been able to enjoy wine and chocolate and cheese. I'm focused on being healthy and strong," she says. "You don't get that same high from losing weight the first time. But you're coming back to the best version of yourself. It may not be defined by weight, but it's the best version of how you feel."