Woman in sports bra and leggings doing a bicep curl with text that says diets don't work but exercise does

How to Maintain Weight Loss

dieting diets energy gap theory exercise research weight loss Feb 29, 2020


Did you know that up to 67% of people who lose weight will regain MORE than they originally lost (Mann, 2007)?

This statistic is real. 

And it’s what leads to the messages you see everywhere right now.⁣ “Diets don’t work.”⁣

Although, I’d argue that they surely can with adequate support, knowledge, nutrition periodization, and mindset/motivation shifts. But that’s a topic for a different day.

But for the sake of this post, if diets don’t work for long-term weight loss. What does?⁣

A handful of studies have come to one similar conclusion: exercise matters a lot.


The Energy Gap Theory

According to Hill et al. (2009), as you lose weight, your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) decreases because you have less resting energy expenditure (REE) and less physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE).

This finding comes from the fact that smaller bodies require less energy. 

This energy gap needs to be filled to maintain energy balance at your new body weight to prevent weight regain after weight loss. 

Other researchers have also looked at exercise for weight loss maintenance. 

Ostendorf et al. (2009) had three groups of people compared by their physical activity level. 

Group 1 consisted of 25 people who maintained an average of 57 pounds of weight loss for 9 years. 

Group 2 was 27 normal-weight people who were at a similar weight to group one after their weight loss. 

Group 3 had 28 overweight people who were at a similar weight to group one before their weight loss. 

Ostendorf et al. (2009) found that physical activity was significantly higher in the weight loss maintainers (group 1) than in the other two groups.




The Biggest Loser Success


In another study, researchers followed up with 14 “Biggest Loser” contestants (Kerns et al., 2017).⁣

Those who maintained their weight loss had significantly higher levels of physical activity energy expenditure than those who regained the weight.

And here’s the most interesting finding: energy intake didn’t differ between the groups.⁣

Now, please don’t take these findings and run too far with them like those click-bait, sensational, exaggerated news headlines do.

What you eat and how much you eat are still important, and the phrase “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet” still stands.⁣

But exercise plays a tremendous role in sustainable change.⁣


Exercise to Lose Weight

Your main takeaway from the above researchers is that “the high PAEE and TDEE observed in this weight loss maintainers strongly supports the hypothesis that these people rely on increasing energy expended in activity (rather than chronic restriction of energy intake) to achieve energy balance at a reduced body weight” (Hill et al., 2009).

You can’t restrict your calories forever. Restriction isn’t healthy, sustainable, or effective. 

What you can do is exercise forever. Exercise is extremely healthy, sustainable, and effective. 

How do you get yourself to exercise more consistently? That depends on the person, of course.⁣

But if you haven’t already, check out my previous posts about self-determination theory, motivation, and mindset.

And you should maybe hire a coach. I happen to know a stellar team of coaches who are great at helping people achieve their health and fitness goals. 

You can learn more HERE about what you could accomplish through working with one of our coaches!

Check out my original Instagram post HERE.


Connect with us!

Email: [email protected]

IG: @coachkaseyjo @kjocoaching



Hill, J. O., Peters, J. C., & Wyatt, H. R. (2009). Using the energy gap to address obesity: a commentary. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(11), 1848.

Kerns, J. C., Guo, J., Fothergill, E., Howard, L., Knuth, N. D., Brychta, R., ... & Hall, K. D. (2017). Increased physical activity associated with less weight regain six years after “the biggest loser” competition. Obesity, 25(11), 1838-1843.

Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Westling E, Lew AM, Samuels B, Chatman J. Medicare's search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. Am Psychol. 2007 Apr;62(3):220-33. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.3.220. PMID: 17469900. 

Ostendorf, D. M., Lyden, K., Pan, Z., Wyatt, H. R., Hill, J. O., Melanson, E. L., & Catenacci, V. A. (2018). Objectively measured physical activity and sedentary behavior in successful weight loss maintainers. Obesity, 26(1), 53-60.

Hi, I'm Kasey!

I coach, mentor, write, and teach with one main focus: Build strong bodies and healthy lifestyles, starting with your mindset.


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