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The ugly truth about maintenance

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

During all those past years that I had been experimenting with weight loss and different kinds of diets, me and my fellow-dieters - some friends that had been in the same time-consuming, energy-draining, frustrating and disappointing dieting nightmare - would always keep in mind the same word: maintenance! Why? Simply because in the mind of a veteran dieter, that would mean the end of the torture! Going into maintenance means we have reached our goal weight and we are finally allowed to indulge on some of our favorite treats that we were forbidden to even look at during all those months of dieting! What a huge misconception!

The truth about maintenance is far from this. And there is one single, ugly truth about it that if you have adopted the way of thinking mentioned above, you probably don't want to hear about. But you'd better realize it now before you go into the above kind of maintenance and ruin all your hard efforts to lose weight.

Maintenance is not the second part of your diet. It's not a specific period in your weight loss attempt.

Maintenance is actually the rest of your life. Period.

If you persuade yourself that now that you have reached your goals, you are actually allowed to go back to your old habits, you're literally fooling yourself. It's like having quit smoking. After a year of being smoke-free you decide that it's ok to have a cigarette at this high school reunion. After all what kind of harm can one do? But one leads to another and before you know it, you find yourself purchasing a brand new packet of cigarettes. And you might be thinking right now that the example is not very successful because smoking is an addiction. And I'll agree with you. But think about when you started your weight loss journey. Do you remember how hard it was to quit on that every day soda or how difficult it seemed to resist those tasty hamburgers at the fast food restaurant at the corner? Didn't it seem like an addiction back then? Do you remember how hard you had to push yourself to go to the gym or get out the door for that run or push in the dvd and do a workout for 30 minutes? Do you know how easy it is to allow yourself to "take a break"? And this break could actually become so long that it could easily bring you back to square one!

And at this point you might be wondering: "So, what? Do I have to diet for the rest of my life? Do I have to run a marathon every week in order to maintain my weight?"

Of course not.

While on your weight loss journey, you should always keep your mind on maintenance. No, I'm not kidding here. You should do exactly as I did when I was on diet after diet but you should look at maintenance from a very different point of view. It shouldn't seem like the life-saving oasis at the end of your strict and depriving dieting desert! It should be your guide to choosing your new way of life. Maintenance in your mind should be the equivalent to lifetime habits. Every day of your journey you should take small steps into changing your bad habits with new healthy ones. And before establishing it as part of your healthy lifestyle, you should consider: "Is this a habit that I will be able to maintain when I reach my goal weight? Is this something that I can do for the rest of my life?" And make the right adjustments where necessary.

It will take time. Lots of time actually. But you'll be fighting with the right weapons. Strict diets and exercise schedules designed for Superman can bring results fast. But you have to choose if fast is more important to you than long-lasting. If you want to lose weight and keep it lost forever, you just can't choose the fast way. Because it's just changing the surface not the roots of the problem. So, at some point you'll have to do it all over again. Albert Einstein once said that doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. It makes sense, doesn't it?

So, if you're just starting out with your weight loss journey or if, for some reason, something is just not working out and you're not getting results, rethink about your battle. Choose your weapons wisely. Lead yourself to victory. Succeed. Because you can.

Member Comments About This Blog Post:
PCASEY7 12/28/2012 5:08PM

    Loved the blog. I'm still trying to get the hang of maintenance and you've made some terrific points. Lots of food for thought, thank you!

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MICKEYH 11/4/2012 1:05AM

    Thank you for wonderful and Good advice. emoticon emoticon

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DNRAE1 11/3/2012 6:48AM

    Wonderful blog, Elle. I have found myself actually trying to develop habits that I can live with forever. Nutrition, exercise, and positive attitude even when things aren't going exactly the way I want are my mainstays. I still have a long way to go, but interacting with positive inspiring people like you make the journey much easier!

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MEXGAL1 11/2/2012 10:09AM

    To me maintaining never gets easy. I will say that sparks really helps as I am on line everyday and read blogs like yours that really help. For me maintaining is eating healthy every single day and on occaision eating or splurging when I am a bit under goal.
Thanks so much for taking the time to write such an inspiring blog.
Have a terrific day and week end.

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SUSIEMT 11/1/2012 8:49PM

    Yea You! Very good blog on maintenance! So very True! Keep up the good job!

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WATERMELLEN 11/1/2012 8:11PM

    What an amazing blog!! So well written, so unflinchingly focused on the reality of maintenance.

Healthy eating and exercise are changes we can sustain every day of our lives. The benefits are huge, worth every bit of the self-discipline it takes.

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AMARILYNH 11/1/2012 5:47PM

    This is SO TRUE!! A friend once told me I should make no change in my eating that I couldn't live with for the rest of my life - and I finally GOT it!! We all have to learn that every calorie eaten is NOT equal - eating real food that nourishes our bodies is very different than eating empty calories. Thanks for a great blog!! emoticon

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POPSY190 11/1/2012 5:08PM

    Sustainability is all! Great blog.

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ADRIENALINE 11/1/2012 1:50PM

    I'm so lucky that my stomache actually shrunk. I met a girlfriend for dinner and an awesome presentation of the Capitol Steps. We went to Panera Bread where I had a Fuji Apple Chicken Salad. I was delicious but I really couldn't finish it and ended up taking home half. 33 weeks and still going strong.

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XENATHOMAS 11/1/2012 1:38PM

    Good advice

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DOUBLEMME 11/1/2012 1:38PM


Very good!


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JEWELY_ROADS 11/1/2012 1:30PM


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MELAYAHM 11/1/2012 11:17AM

    I'm not at the maintenance stage yet, still heading fairly steadily towards my goal set at the beginning of joining SP. I have to admit, I am of a mind that once I get to that goal, well, first I'll review whether I need to go any lower, but then, if I decide that that weight is fine, then I was kind of hoping that I could get off eating barely more than the recommended calories for a child! I realise that I can't go back to how I was, eating biscuits and chocolate pretty much whenever I felt like, but I was kind of hoping that I would be able to add back some of it. But then, I also know that I am useless at control, so I will have to consider how I deal with that. I was kind of expecting that my stomach would 'shrink' once I'd been eating so much less for so long (3 months now), but I still feel hungry most of the time, so 'eating until you're full' is not a good tactic for me. I have to distract myself, usually on the computer.

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BESTSUSIEYET 11/1/2012 10:01AM

    Thanks for a great blog that we all need to read! emoticon

4 years ago I knew I HAD to get my weight under control. Had done it before & successfully kept it off for a couple years -- but then wandered back (one little choice at a time) into my old habits and regained all I'd lost (sound familiar??). This time I didn't set a weight goal -- I decided to build little habits that I felt I could keep doing FOR LIFE. 10 minute walks daily. Single servings at dinner. Rolls & butter don't HAVE to be part of EVERY dinner. Add a piece of fruit for mid-morning snack. Drink more water. Little by little, the pounds came off. When I'd lost 25 pounds I thought "I'll quit here" -- but that meant stopping or changing one or more habits I'd worked for months to develop! and THAT just didn't seem right! So I didn't increase my calorie range on SP. I kept walking daily. I continued to go to the gym 2x/week for strength. And I lost another 25 pounds!! I ended up losing 25% of my starting body weight!

A co-worker began a weight loss journey the same time I did -- and we lost the same amount of weight. But there the similarity ends. You see, he dieted successfully for a few months, then went back to eating the way he always had. And now his closet is full of clothes that don't fit. He gained most, if not all, those pounds back. And last week his Dr. said he HAD to lose weight and get his cholesterol down -- and so he begins the cycle again, admitting that, "You did it right" (but frankly isn't sure he wants to change his way of life forever). He jokes about needing to sit down with me and have me tell him what to eat ... but I don't think anyone else can tell you. I had to see for myself that a ceasar salad is not a healthy choice. I had to see on my tracker how many calories Thousand Island Dressing adds. I had to go online and compare menu choices at restaurants we frequent. Things that sounded healthy so often were not. I'm not sure that someone else telling me these things would have worked. I had to learn for myself and learn to make healthy substitutions.

I eat differently, but there's nothing "forbidden". I allow myself small treats (planned into my day) -- just like I did when I was trying to lose weight. And I may miss one day of exercise now & then. But I am determined to continue for the rest of my life with the Healthy Habits that I began 4 years ago. The "maintaining me" does pretty much what the "losing weight me" did. And it works! I feel good, am happy with my size & shape, enjoy being more active, and plan to continue! Healthy Habits are indeed for my benefit -- and I'm sticking with them!

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MKELLY72 11/1/2012 9:59AM

    Nicely written blog!
When people approach me about how I got where I am and how I stay here, I always say it's because I finally figured out that I had to choose techniques that I was willing to commit to FOREVER- no crazy restrictions, no insane, boot camp-styled exercise. I knew I would not sustain it, and without that, I knew (as a fellow weight loss veteran) that I would just gain it all back again. I allowed myself reasonable treats through-out my weight loss, and I learned how to eat them in moderation, because I knew if I made them forbidden I was just asking for trouble.
Everyone has subtle variances in what he/she can and will sustain as healthy habits for life, and it's so important to know ourselves and to customize our own lifestyle changes.
It is a hard truth for someone who wants to lose weight- especially for someone who has a lot to lose- the slow way is the best way to find the groove into maintenance!

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PINKANGEL73 11/1/2012 9:35AM

    Couldn't agree with you more!

After many years of dieting, losing weight and then putting it all back on with extra countless times I finally realised weight loss diets don't work long term. Then I found Sparkpeople and started to track my food every day. I could see clearly where I needed to reduce portion sizes (for me carbs) and also what meals I ate when I had a really good day on calories without feeling too hungry. I gradually developed a meal plan of foods that I enjoy, that both my OH and I can eat together, that is just now a way of life. A new permanent habit. I should perhaps say that I have always eaten a fairly balanced diet, just too much of it!

Somewhere along the way something magical changed in my thinking. Because I no longer felt like I was on a diet I couldn't go off track or take a break from it. From what? I don't have good or bad or banned foods so I no longer felt deprived, or guilty if I ate some treat or went out for a meal. I just tracked everything and adjusted accordingly over the next week or in advance if I knew in advance I would need some extra calories to use. The added bonus of just knowing I can eat anything I really want is that I seem to want the sugary foods that I used to crave all the time far less.

As I have been losing weight I have hit a couple of plateaus because being lighter I was no longer burning off quite as many calories. So I adjusted my calorie range just a little (about 100 cals per day less each time) and that was enough to start weight loss again. I still have a long way to go but the way I see it I will continue to do this until I reach my happy weight and I won't reduce the calories anymore.

Comment edited on: 11/1/2012 9:44:08 AM

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    Wonderful, very true blog. We have to be in it for the duration. I don't where along the way I threw out the diet mentality, but it happened a while ago for me. Think I read a SP article about it. You've done a great job laying out the case for ditching that diet mentality that is no more than a set up for failure in the maintenance phase - which is, like you said, simply the rest of our lives. emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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ELAYNE39 11/1/2012 8:17AM

    Bottom line is: You can't take off weight one way and expect to keep it off another way. Hard lesson to implement once you reach your goal weight.

Great blog!!

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KANOE10 11/1/2012 8:08AM

    That was a very good blog. It is so true that this a life long way of living. It is not a diet. If you return to your old habits, you will get the old results.
I love that quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Lots of excellent points on maintenance!


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ISHIIGIRL 11/1/2012 8:05AM

    I really agree with everything you said. When I started out to lose the weigh "this time" I didn't ever want to gain it back so I always had in the back of my mind the fact that I would need to make these changes for the rest of my life. WW helped me learn the lessons I needed and Sparkpeople has helped me to maintain for almost 4 yrs. Very good blog!

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SLENDERELLA61 11/1/2012 8:00AM

    Very wise. Very true. I've been at goal weight 4 years now, but still am improving my lifestyle! Thanks for your insight. -Marsha

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LOGOULD 11/1/2012 7:12AM

    Thanks for writing this blog. Though I reached my goal weight range a year and a half ago, I consider myself a newbie at the "maintenance" game. I love the thought of being able to do this for the rest of my life, but that means learning to go at it slow and steady and to be kind to myself. Lot's to learn there, but thanks to you and the rest of the maintenance team, I WILL DO IT!

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TORTISE110 11/1/2012 7:10AM

    I agree. We learn a new life style and if we embrace it, it will work for us. emoticon

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MILLIE5522 11/1/2012 6:50AM

    Great blog!
I do believe that deprivation is the worse thing that you can do. At the beginning of my new lifestlyle I promised myself that I would only eat what I truly enjoyed; that I would allow myself to eat whatever I liked on special occasions as long as I tracked the calories; to only do the exercise activities that I truly enjoyed which in my case meant dancing, walking and cycling. I looked at food as a treat to be savoured and enjoyed. I no longer rushed through my food but took my time to really appreciate the taste and texture. I reached my goal weight 6 weeks ago and I am continuing as before because I am enjoying this new lifestyle.

As for increasing the number of calories in order to not lose any more weight that I've decided needs to be done carefully. I know that as I now weigh less than I did I must be using up less calories. In my first year of my new life style I tracked my calorie intake and weight loss and worked out that my daily calorie rate was 1870 calories, in my second year this had gone down to 1770 calories. This is just an average figure and probably not very scientific but I see it as a guideline. If I keep to an average of this number I should be able to maintain.

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MOBYCARP 11/1/2012 6:48AM


I set out to think about lifestyle change, and it was still hard to adjust to the reality of it. Perhaps I lost the weight too fast, but learning to *not lose* while at the same time not going back to the habits that pushed me to obesity was hard.

A year after hitting initial goal, things are easier; but I'm still finding areas where I need to adjust my mindset and/or my habits. "The rest of your life" is taking a while to sink in emotionally.

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TRAVELGRRL 11/1/2012 6:33AM

    I've got another 10-17 pounds to lose, and I'm determined that this WILL be the last time! Thank you for the "ugly truth", but one I definitely need to hear, over and over! Thanks for a great blog.

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ONEKIDSMOM 11/1/2012 6:03AM

    I'm so glad TinaJane has been pointing us at blogs, because of course NO ONE can spend all the time reading or we'd never get our lives lived! This one is terrific... so let's boost it... so true, and such a tricky lesson to learn, but so vital to our long-term maintenance success!

You've got the secret... let's shout it from the rooftops. emoticon

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ELLEKTRA 11/1/2012 5:43AM

    Well spoken, and so true as I have been maintaining for 2 years.

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SWEDE_SU 11/1/2012 4:03AM

    exactly what i needed to read today. great blog!

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GT2SMILE 6/22/2012 4:04PM

    I LOVE your blog! This is the mind set I am trying to develop, and you've reaffirmed it for me again. Thank you!! emoticon

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ZANNBEE 6/22/2012 12:52PM

    This is a great blog!

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BAKER1009 6/14/2012 3:32PM

    Cool blog, Elle!
I have had to sort of put myself into a maintenance mode right now with my "condition". The hard part for me is adding in those 300 calories. My husband is like, well eat a pop tart at breakfast. What??!! Are you kidding me, no way! LOL!
My thoughts are, if you find a healthy life style to live along the way, maintenance mode will be much easier. I guess that's why "diets" just don't work. Because I have found a way to eat lots of healthy foods over the last year, it's easier not to slip into the old ways. I can have a scoop of ice cream and be content, and that's because I've taught myself that over the last year. I didn't deprive. I think deprivation is the worst thing one can do. I gave up white bread, and rarely ate wheat, but now that sandwiches are sounding good, they will only be made on whole wheat.

Am I making any sense or just rambling, LOL!?! I can't seem to tell with myself these days.
Anyway, you made a lot of GREAT points!! It's not easy. It never will be. But there are things you can do to make things simpler on yourself, that's for certain!!

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