Thursday, June 30, 2011
"The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."
Why the heck would I be blogging about weight maintenance? I am not anywhere near my goal weight, so I shouldn't have to worry about that right now, right? Weight maintenance is an afterthought, something that will take care of itself once I reach my goal weight. At that point, I should be so motivated by being thin that I will know what to do to prevent gaining the weight back. What's the saying, "Being thin is its own reward!"? Well, being thin is most certainly not its own reward, otherwise I wouldn't be here to lose weight again. There would be a much higher success rate of weight maintenance amongst all who lose weight if being thin were truly enough motivation in and of itself.
There is no glamor in maintaining weight. Now weight loss, that is sexy. A dash of willpower, a sprinkle of determination, and POOF, you're losing weight. The compliments abound, fueling your sheer determination to keep losing, to keep the comments coming. Can we really rely on that steel-cut determination every second of every day...forever? When the compliments dwindle down and you and everyone else are used to your new body...then what?
This time, I decided not to start losing weight until I had a plan for maintenance. You don't start a marathon without knowing where to find the start and finish lines, and you do a lot of preparation before race day. I've decided to take the same approach to weight loss. I spent months mentally preparing for weight loss and weight maintenance, preparing for the changes that were to come. I did not set a day to start losing weight--I let my soul tell me when it was ready. It took a lot of reflection on past weight loss to figure out how to make this time different.
It is fair to say that I had not been successful at weight maintenance before. I regained the 95 pounds I had lost on WeightWatchers several years ago; the weight crept back on over the past couple of years. Even though WeightWatchers really does give some good focus to weight maintenance, even during the weight loss process, I was not mentally prepared for the shock of being thin. When one of my uncles saw me for the first time since I had lost 95 pounds, he hugged me and said, "Much, MUCH better," as he patted me on the back. I should have said, "What the hell does that mean? I wasn't good during the previous 27 years?" How could he think that when I felt just as bad about myself as I did the day I walked into my first WeightWatchers meeting? My body had changed, but my mind was the same. I was certainly not much, MUCH better. That moment set off something inside of me, and I struggled to figure out why the "compliment" bothered me so much. Wasn't that why I lost weight? To be better than I was before?
I returned to school in 2008 to return to my psychology roots, and also wanted to study exercise science. I did a self-designed bachelor's degree combining psychology and kinesiology; essentially, I was studying exercise psychology. I wanted to study exercise motivation in weight loss and weight maintenance. Needless to say, there have not been many studies performed to assess exercise motivation in weight maintenance. Exercise psychology tends to focus either on elite athletes or overweight people, without much else in between. I was fortunate to work with some professors who thought I had good ideas, and they encouraged me to expand my horizons.
Most of the academic world that deals with health focuses on weight loss, seeming to forget that life often continues on after the weight is lost. Therein lies the problem of the forgotten group, the maintainers. Weight loss sells, and weight maintenance is just supposed to be something that will happen because you paid so dearly to get to that weight. The reality is, weight maintenance is hard. Damn hard. And weight maintenance has been neglected by the fields that should be addressing it, such as medicine, psychology, and public health. Weight maintenance seems to be brushed off as a passive process, when in fact, most people will proclaim that long-term maintenance is more difficult than losing. I think that having a plan for maintenance, and doing as much as possible to prepare to exist in a different body, are vital to long-term success.
Actively preparing to maintain weight loss is a part of my daily routine and is intertwined with the weight loss. In my eyes, they are the same journey, a continuation down the same road. Here are some of the things I work on to prepare for long-term maintenance:
*Take emotion out of the numbers.
Sure, some days I glance at the scale and growl, and sometimes I'm practically skipping to step on it, but I have worked very hard to detach my sense of self from the number on the scale. I have focused on taking emotion out of weight loss partially so that the scale doesn't trip me up, and because I can't rely on the constant thrill of losing to keep me going. We tend to get upset when the scale isn't doing what it is "supposed" to be doing. The scale isn't "supposed" to do anything. I step on it, it spits out a number, it has done its job. I have control over how that number makes me feel. It has helped me immensely to think of weekly weigh-ins as a mini-measurement, with my overall monthly net loss as the true measurement. I will continue weighing weekly once I am maintaining, but will only make adjustments to diet and exercise if the weight is creeping up over the course of an entire month (a "true gain").
It baffles and saddens me to see people feeling like they have failed because they are not staying within a pound or 2 of a particular weight they have in mind. I have found the scale to be so wacky that there can be up to a 7 pound difference from day to day. Not being bent on a specific number will help reduce stress, which in turn reduces the feeling of "failing," and reduces the chances of giving up.
*Find success in unlikely places.
AK_MILLER had congratulated me the other day on my 3-month plateau. Smart gal; she picked up that I wasn't beating myself up over cycling through the same 5 pounds for 3 months, but that I took it as a lesson in weight maintenance. A plateau usually brings on words of comfort, not celebration. I became frustrated enough with the up-and-down cycle that I finally "broke up" with the Same 5 Pounds and am ready to get back to weight loss, but I do not feel like I have "wasted" the past 3 months.
When I feel like everything is going wrong, I stop those thoughts and think hard about at least one thing that is going right. I mean, I woke up this morning, I'm still alive, so there has to be something positive buried in there. Even if there isn't a truly positive outcome to a situation, we always learn something. Embrace the experience, incorporate it into your being, and delve deep to find some meaning.
*Lift weights. Lift giant, heavy, un-girly weights.
Muscle mass is your friend. During the past 3 months of cycling up and down with the same 5 pounds, I still lost inches. Actually, I lost almost the same amount of inches as I had when I was losing 6-8 pounds a month. I can thank lifting heavy weights for this, and doing as much lower-body work as my right knee could tolerate.
This is where losing slowly comes in handy. Losing slowly allows for adjustments in muscle mass as body fat is lost. I will probably do at least 1 blog about all of the nerdrageous physiological reasons that strength training is vital to weight maintenance, and why strength training during weight loss primes the body to maintain weight loss.
I know a lot of people aim to break free of having to track their food. But planning my food has been the key to my weight loss, and I know it will help with keepin' it real during maintenance. It takes five minutes out of my night to plan my food for the next day. I have taught myself that I can eat normally, so tracking should not be a big deal; not tracking would simply be me showing my denial of my eating patterns.
*Find at least one fitness-related hobby.
Having a fitness-related hobby helps fitness become a natural part of your daily life. Even if you think you won't enjoy a fitness-related hobby, give it a shot. From aerobics to Zumba, there are thousands of options and there's something right for everyone.
*Find at least one non-fitness-related hobby.
Health and fitness goals can be time-consuming, but I think a major part of having a rich life is having activities that bring out the best within ourselves. People tend to want to lose weight to make life better, so why not act on those, "Gee, someday I'd like to..." thoughts that drift through our minds?
What have you always wanted to try? Take the leap and go for it.
*Get new friends.
Being overweight is often accompanied by low self-esteem. I have tended to accept whomever shoved themselves in front of me, because hey, I should be so lucky that they're giving me the time of day, right?
Nah, not anymore.
I have been extremely fortunate in that most of my friends are awesome and supportive and they don't care what I weigh, but it took some work to get rid of people who were not good for me. I no longer allow toxic people into my life. I finally got to a point where I had enough self-respect to stop letting people treat me badly. If the friends you have don't love and respect you at whatever weight you happen to be, whether fat or thin, then they don't deserve you. They are shallow people. And it doesn't always have to be about weight--if they don't treat you right, they should be gone. Buh. Bye.
*Laugh. Seriously, laugh right now.
I love this quote from an unknown author: "The first thing you lose on a diet is your sense of humor." We allow ourselves to feel ecstatic when we lose, sad when we aren't losing, and anger when we have a gain. We tend to put on our game face, stopping only to smile when the scale shows a loss. During maintenance, are we doomed to feel mere relief when we step on the scale and have not gained, and angst if there is the slightest gain? Where's the humor?
I have a very crass and sarcastic sense of humor, and I couldn't exist without it. Finding the humor in an unfavorable situation is like seeing the sunshine through the crack in the wall in a dark room. You don't have to stay there; find something funny--damn funny--and break out into the sunny field.
I had to lose some fat in my head before I could get ready to lose--and keep off--the fat on my body. Weight maintenance takes very hard work, even before we're at our goal weight. The biggest thing I think we need to learn is that people are no "better" or "worse" because of their weight. We are who we are, at any weight, although the deep inward reflection that often accompanies weight loss may certainly make us radiate happiness.
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."