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THE QUESTION

Once I reach my weight-loss goal, how much food can I add to my diet so I don't regain?

THE ANSWER

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As a dietitian in private practice, I am often asked this question. My clients want to know how different their diets will be once they reach their weight goal. My answer is usually the same: not much. That's because the eating habits you adopted to lose weight must be the same ones you employ to keep those pounds off. (I'm assuming, of course, you're following a weight-loss diet that's balanced and sustainable for the long-term rather than an unbalanced, overly restrictive plan.)

How much food you need to maintain your target weight will depend, to a large extent, on how physically active you will be. If you ramp up your exercise level, you can eat a little more food. If trips to the gym become less frequent, you'll need to cut back.

Exercise aside, you may still need to make slight adjustments to your diet to maintain your weight. But I emphasize the word slight. As you approach your goal weight, your rate of weight loss will likely slow down. This is common and absolutely normal.

As your body becomes smaller, it burns fewer calories to perform its tasks than it did when you were heavier. If you add too many calories back to your food plan, pounds can creep back quickly.

That said, if you find weight continues to fall off after you've reached your goal, your diet was probably too low in calories. In this case, you'll have more leeway to increase your daily food intake.

There is no perfect formula for finding the right calorie level to maintain a weight loss: It's a process of trial and error. Experiment by adding foods to your diet in 100-calorie increments. Once every two weeks, add 100 calories to your diet. For instance, if you were following a 1,600-calorie weight-loss diet, start by increasing to 1,700 calories a day. After a few weeks, if your weight is holding steady, bump up to 1,800.

When you find your weight increases at a certain calorie level, you'll need to cut back by 50 to 100 calories – or add more exercise to your weekly routine. Some people will learn quickly how many calories they can get away with while others will need to experiment longer.

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When adding 100 calories worth of food to your diet, focus on nutritious foods like whole grains, fruit, legumes, yogurt and lean protein. If you add foods that come from a package (e.g. crackers, breakfast cereal, granola bars), read the nutrition label to determine the serving size for 100 calories.

Start by adding foods that you miss in your diet, be it an extra serving of fruit at breakfast, a soy latte with lunch, a larger portion of pasta at dinner or yogurt and berries for dessert. Use the following guide to help you identify what 100 calories worth of food looks like.

How much food is 100 calories?

Protein Foods

Lean chicken: 2 ounces

Salmon: 2 ounces

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Tuna: 3 ounces

Eggs: 1 large

Cheese: part skim 1 ounce

Chickpeas: cooked 1/3 cup

Lentils: cooked 1/2 cup

Milk & Milk Alternatives

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Milk, skim or 1 per cent: 1 cup

Yogurt, 1 per cent MF: 1 cup

Soy milk, unflavoured: 1 cup

Starchy Foods

Cereal, e.g. Bran Flakes,

Cheerios: 1 cup

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Oatmeal, cooked: 3/4 cup

Pasta, cooked: 1/2 cup

Air-popped popcorn: 3 cups

Rice/quinoa, cooked: 1/2 cup

Whole grain bread: 1 slice

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