After having lost 50+ pounds three times and not kept it off, I've been very focused on maintaining this time around. It is especially true because I've taken off the weight this time through a doctor-supervised program of high-protein meal replacements. That means that weight loss has been relatively easy for me (losing 2-4 pounds a week regularly without feeling hungry). But that means that maintenance will be the hard part. I know that the transition to "real food" is fraught with dangers, and I'm feeling a bit white-knuckled about it. And I still have almost 15 pounds to go before I hit my goal!
So I thought the best thing I could do was channel that anxiety constructively. I decided to write up Maintenance Plan, kind of like the Birth Plan I wrote before I had my first baby. I realize that things may change (Cord wrapped around neck? So much for no medical interventions!) and that I may want to revise, but this is a starting point that will hold me accountable at the beginning, and I can change, edit, and add to it as I go along in maintenance and see what works and what doesn't. In writing this, I've drawn upon the books The Beck Diet Solution, The End of Overeating, Refuse to Regain, and Thin for Life, and especially the advice and life experience of maintainers on SP.
If there's one thing I've learned from the yo-yo years, it's that NOT having a plan DOESN'T work. So, here goes--hoping/deciding/determin
ed that this time is going to be the last, and this time I will, indeed, keep it off.
[I found the process of doing this--what are my weak spots? Where might have I fallen down in the past? What is my self-talk? How can I motivate myself when it's not "exciting" anymore? What kind of habits can I stick with for the rest of my life?--to be really useful. The process was more important than the product, in fact. I encourage people who like this to go through and craft their own "Maintenance Plan" even if you still have a ways to go before you get to goal.]
My Maintenance Plan
In the first month, follow my doctor’s plan for transition, which is to keep eating a shake for breakfast and a shake for lunch, but add in a healthy dinner. Carefully log calories, adding a few more each week, to determine maintenance calorie needs. Gradually get to the point of using shakes only for convenience (breakfast) or for correction.
Use menu planner to plan out all food for the next day, plan meals for the following week and buy groceries in advance. Write down any and all adjustments to pre-planned menus as they take place during the day. Track daily calories, fat, protein, carbs and fiber.
At first, plan to have a salad at every dinner with fresh veggies but no starchy ones. Use tasty salad dressing to make it more appealing, even if it does “cost” calories. Then have next course be steamed veggies or fresh veggies with a tasty sauce. Use calories to “dress up” veggies. For snacks, eat fruit or vegetables (keep fresh ones cut and washed in the fridge) and use hummus or other toppings for enticement.
Gradually add in other food groups, but limit bread to every other day and make sure it’s whole wheat. Avoid starchy vegetables. Continue to follow vegetarian eating plan, getting protein from nuts (in moderation), beans, and tofu. Use cheese sparingly. Use veggies and fruits to get lots of fiber. Experiment with foods that lead to saiety and with recipes that can be made more healthy.
For treats, eat a mixed bowl of fruit, fruit with yogurt, or fruit with non-fat Cool Whip, but make sure there are calories in the budget for the treat and try not to get dependent on a nightly sweet.
For the first three months (or until calorie budget is firmly determined), avoid eating in restaurants, buffets or grazing at parties.
When eating out, pick out a meal in advance using online menus and track all choices. When eating socially, start with healthy choices (veggie tray) first. Calculate calories for other foods and think ahead about amounts or limit self to one plate. Track afterwards.
When big eating opportunities are coming up in advance (e.g. Thanksgiving, birthday), bank calories in advance by eating lightly. Get to the bottom of the maintenance weight range before the event. For these few events, give permission to not track (but also not to lose control). Still eat healthfully, but also enjoy the food. Immediately get back on track the next day.
Don’t eat trigger foods. Just don’t even go there. That means no Smartfood, Cheetos, or Lays Sour Cream and Onion chips. No keeping chocolate in the glove compartment. No stopping at Bruegger’s for a bagel or Chipotle for a burrito. No Ben and Jerry’s hiding in the downstairs freezer. No making truffles as “gifts.” And be very, very careful with pasta.
Continue Half Marathon training plan until April (run 4 days a week—1 long, 2 medium, 1 short—and do 2 cross training days). Commit to exercising at least 5 days a week for the rest of my life (or as long as I physically am able to).
For cross training days, try out new exercises. Hiking, cross country skiing, roller skiing, biking to school, or yoga.
After Half Marathon, cut running back to 3 days a week and add in two days of strength training.
Increase the amount of exercise with friends by inviting friends on walks or to try new exercises. Remember that the goal is to be more active all the time. Just because exercise isn’t vigorous doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it (avoid all or nothing thinking here).
After Half Marathon, develop another exercise goal. Triathlon? Strength training? Learn tennis? Sign up for another event for next summer to work toward. Continue with running but try to switch things up to avoid boredom.
Practice cognitive strategies to address sabotaging thoughts:
--If I hear my inner voice say, “It’s so unfair that I can’t eat what all my skinny friends can eat. Why do I have to eat like this for the rest of my life?” respond by saying: “It’s not actually unfair. First of all, most of my thin friends are runners and do watch what they eat. I have to assume that they’ve budgeted this eating, since that is what thin people naturally do. I can’t assume that thin people get to eat whatever they want. Also, I am lucky in lots of ways—in my family, my financial situation, my work, my health. This is one small way that I have to struggle, but it pales in comparison to what many people have to deal with.” Or just say, “Oh, well.”
--If I hear my inner voice say, “I’ve been so good for so long. One little bit won’t matter” respond by saying, “One little bit is never one little bit for me. That kind of eating is what got me to 197 pounds. I would rather not eat that and stay at 127 pounds rather than eat it (and others like it) and be back at 197 where I was miserable. I’m actually lucky that I have a body that won’t let me get away with eating unhealthfully, because it will keep me on track. Every time I say ‘no,’ it gets easier to do so.”
--If I hear my inner voice say, “I really want that. It will taste so good!” respond by saying, “It actually won’t taste that good. How many times have I been overwhelmed by the variety of candy in the convenience store, unable to pick out just one? Then picked out several because they all looked so good! And then gotten half way through the first one and been disappointed because it really didn’t taste that good, and neither did the next or the next. Unhealthy food never tastes as good as I think it will, or if it does, the good taste never lasts as long as I hope it will. The taste is fleeting, but my health is forever, and worth it.”
--If I hear my inner voice say, “I don’t want to exercise. It’s too cold/early/hard. I’ll do it tomorrow” respond by saying, “Remember that maintenance is really about maintenance of good, healthy habits. Exercise is a crucial part of that. I always feel better after I exercise. I can always decide to only do half an hour, but I’ll make that decision once I’m out there. I can’t afford to let my newfound fitness dissipate—I’ve worked too hard to have that happen.”
--If I hear my inner voice say, “I’m so hungry! I’m going to go into a food crisis! Where is the nearest food? I can just get something quick to keep me from getting weak and shaky” respond by saying, “It’s not an emergency. I’ve been hungry many times and the world has not ended. I’ve been a lot hungrier than this and gotten through it. This is actually my body telling me that I need fuel, but I’m not on empty yet. I can make it to my next meal.”
--If I hear my inner voice say, “I’m gaining weight. I’ve screwed up. I might as well quit now, because there’s no point anymore” respond by saying, “Is that really true?" If I had a friend in my position who said that to me, would I believe her? Or would I point out all that she has accomplished and remind her that a little blip is not going to ruin anything at all? I’d tell her to get back on track right away and not to beat herself up over it—she made a choice, she didn’t cheat.
--If I hear my inner voice say, “I don’t want to eat like this for the rest of my life. It’s too restrictive. I’m just going to screw it. Bring on the chocolate chocolate chip ice cream!” respond by saying, “That is not a choice. It simply is not. It’s fat layered on top of sugar layered on top of fat. The urge is only hard when I’m indulging in even thinking it’s an option. I refuse to give myself that option. I say no, and I’m going to go do something else to distract myself.”
Review the advantages of losing weight. Reread the “Why?” section of my blog regularly. Regularly record surprising new things I can do, comments I’ve gotten, and how I feel now that I’m at my goal. Merge these two lists together and copy it to take with me. Pull it out and read it when I need my resistance muscle strengthened.
Prevent unplanned eating. Don’t eat just to eat. Be mindful. Make it a thought-out-in-advance choice. Practice saying, “No thanks” or “I’ve already eaten.” Remember that I’ve now been at lots of events where I’ve eaten absolutely zero (and was glad later). Bring water with me, chew gum, and stay far away from the buffet.
Monitor hunger. Stop eating when full. Leave food on my plate. Take less than I think I need. Learn to tell the difference between mouth hunger and tummy hunger.
Beware of my special downfall: all or nothing thinking. Have occasional treats, but make sure they’re worth it.
Manage emotions. If feeling stressed, exercise. Be aware that the desire for comfort can drive eating, and instead have a bath, read a book, or cuddle up with the family.
Focus on improvement. Learn to love my body for what it is. Remember that a 40-year-old body not the same as 22-year-old body, but be impressed at how my body has been able to change and improve. Love my body for what it can do, not how it looks. Don’t compare myself against others, only against what I used to be. Think of how far I’ve come.
Rejoice every time I enter a room and am not the fattest person in it. Feel sorry for people who have not discovered health and fitness and are trapped by food or too heavy to exercise. Be thankful that I made the change in the nick of time, before it was too late and I started getting serious health complications—high blood pressure, diabetes, a heart attack, or stroke.
Arrange the environment to keep tempting foods out of the house, to avoid events if they lead to overeating, to bring healthy food to a potluck, to get a treadmill so that I can run inside during the winter. If something isn’t working, figure out what it is and change how my life is structured so that it’s no longer an obstacle.
Start meditation training!
Constantly monitor! Weigh every day and record on spreadsheet. Set up trend line and use it to reign in. Include column for weekly Wednesday official weigh-ins, and have “progress check” with husband on Wednesdays to assess what’s working and what’s not, as well as how I feel about it.
Set a weight range (125-129?) to stay within. Have a scream weight (130?) that sets the Serious Correction Plan in motion.
Use daily weigh-ins to help determine calories for the day. Eat at low end of range if the scale is showing an increase from the previous day. Use this Immediate Correction to avoid big weight swings. Make small increases stay small. No more “I blew it, so I might as well…” Be action oriented and know that I can easily correct the creep from a day or two.
If Scream Weight is reached, set in motion Serious Correction Plan: go back to eating a protein shake for breakfast, a protein shake for lunch, and a salad for dinner. Exercise 45-60 minutes each day. Do this until middle of weight range is reached again. Then analyze what happened (using husband as sounding board) and don’t repeat.
Maintain support network. Go to the clinic once per month for weigh-ins. Go on SP and record weekly weigh-ins. Participate in daily thread on the At Goal and Maintaining Team. Be a coach to others just starting out. Be very open with new people I meet about living out a “healthy lifestyle.” Post a monthly maintenance picture of myself on SP, just as I did when I was losing.
p.s. Here's the link to the super-helpful At Goal and Maintaining Team--so glad I found them!