Here’s me three years ago when I weighed about 240 pounds. I'm on the right:
I like to occasionally post new ‘before’ pictures of myself because they remind me of where I came from and how much progress I’ve made.
And here I am now at 148, well under my initial goal of 158, which I reevaluated during my transition into maintenance:
On Friday, I reached my six-month mark on maintenance. Naturally, I’m elated about reaching this milestone, but it’s also given me pause to seriously think about what I need to do to make maintenance a permanent state for me. I've taken a lot of time to reflect on what maintenance means to me and how I hope to become a long-term success story rather than being destined to repeat my long history of serial weight loss and regain.
As some of my SparkFriends may already know, I’ve recently become a leader on the ‘At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance’ team. I’ve learned so much from the other members there and 4A-HEALTHY-BMI has been particularly helpful in guiding me to research-based information about success on maintenance. I’d like to start off by revisiting some data that she summarized in a blog post a few years ago:
Until quite recently, my own weight loss and maintenance success have been largely the result of trial and error and finding what works for me. That’s great—I’m very lucky that I’ve had as much success as I have to date--but I don’t want maintenance to be a crapshoot. I’ve been really encouraged to learn that some research has been conducted about the habits of successful long-term maintainers and that there are strategies I can rely on to ensure my own success.
The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) team member J. Graham Thomas published an article in 2009 with Rena Wing in Medicine and Health Rhode Island, the official member newsletter of the Rhode Island Medical Society. In this paper Thomas outlined the strategies that are most statistically associated with weight management. You can view the complete paper here:
According to Thomas’ research compared with unsuccessful maintainers, these are the best predictors of keeping weight off:
• Longer duration of weight loss maintenance--more than two years
• More dietary consistency--low variety of food and lack of “splurge” meals at
weekends and holidays
• Less fast food consumption--once a week or less
• Less TV viewing--less than 10 hours a week compared to the US average of 28
• More frequent breakfast consumption
• Lower levels of depressive symptoms and dis-inhibited eating
Key behaviors associated with weight maintenance are:
• Activity levels of over 200 minutes per week (at least for women in the cited
• High levels of dietary restraint, such as:
-Deliberately taking small helpings
-Avoiding certain foods
• Having lower levels of depressive symptomology
• Controlling overeating
The authors also identify the following strategies as important for successful maintenance:
• Frequent meals and avoiding situations that encourage overeating
• Generally eating at home and preparing your own food--eating out less than
three times a week
• Self-monitoring--weighing once a week and tracking food
Understanding these predictors, behaviors and strategies is very encouraging to me because I already do most of these things. (Again, I’m lucky. My efforts were largely based on trial and error.) I eat out very infrequently, generally avoid fast food, choose my attendance at food-centered social gatherings carefully, always eat breakfast, don’t watch much TV (though I am on the Internet a lot), still track my food, weigh myself almost daily, have a strategy for warding off binges, exercise more than 200 minutes a week and don’t have any symptoms of depression. In fact, the only two things I don’t have or do are a lack of longevity on maintenance and a lack of dietary consistency as the NWCR defines it. I do eat quite a large variety of (healthy) food and I do plan splurges. If I start to falter on maintenance, these are areas I could look at changing but I’m content for now to keep them in my plan because they’ve worked so well for me so far.
One of the things I’ve found through my involvement on the ‘At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance’ team is that just because one of your behaviors or strategies is less common, that doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t work. Certain approaches may be more common among successful maintainers, but that doesn't mean that you can't be successful if you use different ones. We often have a tendency to become absolutist in our thinking about what programs work best or are the healthiest, especially when we find something that works for us, but I've seen that many people use very different strategies than I do and are still enjoying long-term success and excellent health. Weight maintenance, like weight loss, is not a one-size-fits all process and we all have to find the things that work best for us taking our lifestyles, preferences and limitations into account. On the other hand, if you're really at a loss for what you should be doing to prepare for maintenance, it's a comfort to know that research has been developed that clearly presents how successful maintainers lost and have maintained their weight.
In thinking about what I need to do to become a long-term maintainer I've had to take a good look at why I got heavy and overate in the first place. I come from a "big family". Every person in my immediately family and many in my extended family are either overweight, on a diet or struggling to stay at a healthy weight. Being trim and fit doesn't come naturally for us. Since I can't change my genetics and having a pity party about my predisposition towards being heavy isn't going to help me, I have to look at the factors and situations I can control in a productive way. My problem when I was heavy wasn't that I was a periodic binge eater. I binged every day as if the world were suddenly going to have a food shortage. As a result, I put on massive amounts of weight in relatively short periods of time. I had very little self control when it came to what I was eating and my waistline showed it. I've put a significant amount of work into identifying what triggers me to habitually overeat and how I can manage those triggers. Although in a certain sense I feel like I've been cured, I know the temptation to overindulge will always be out there for me and that it wouldn't take much for me to revert to my old ways no matter how much progress I've made. I've done it before. Lots of times. That's where I'll always need to be and stay particularly vigilant. My strategy for planning indulgences and time off from my normal diet and exercise routine has worked very well for me, but I'll have to make sure I don't ever let these indulgences spin out of control. I don't want to ever revert to my old ways and out of all of the things that are important to me as a maintainer, staying in control of my eating habits is #1. As much as I didn't like how I looked when my eating was out of control, I hated how I felt. I love the life and energy that I've got now versus the one I led when I was perpetually zapped of energy, overindulging and overweight. Sure, I still go overboard every once in a while but the key is that it's only once in a while these days, not every day. And when I do get knocked off track, I don't punish myself by restricting my food or upping my exercise to excessive levels. I just go back to my normal plan.
Another thing I've learned in the past six months is just how important it is for me to continue to find new sources of motivation. Lack of sustained motivation is a big problem for me and has led to several rounds of regain in the past. I have to figure out how I can continue to stay motivated now that I don't have lower numbers to look at on the scale and the compliments are fewer and farther between because people are getting used to seeing me as a person at a healthy weight. For me, following a strict definition of maintenance in the sense of keeping things exactly the same, would inevitably lead to boredom, frustration and (gulp) probably backsliding. New goals and challenges prevent me from getting bored and make me feel like I'll always be a work in progress, which means that although the work might change, it will never stop.
I suppose with so many of us having an ingrained 'diet' mentality, being on maintenance really refers to weight maintenance--at least initially. Part of the fun of being on maintenance for me is continuing to set new goals for myself and continuing to make progress in different areas even if weight loss isn't one of them. I don't think that means I'm not a real maintainer--it just keeps me motivated to strive for something better, whether it's eating more nutritious food, running a faster mile, building muscle or lowering my body fat.
I think maintenance can still be an exciting and dynamic process--it doesn't have to refer to something that is stagnant and unchanging. I just need to reframe my thinking away from a weight-centered goal (while still keeping my weight in check, of course) and more towards goals in other areas. I still use the scale as a monitoring tool but also use progress pictures to gauge how my workouts are changing my body and specific challenges to set fitness goals. It's very encouraging to see things firming up even when the numbers on the scale are staying the same and to look at charts comparing my fitness stats over time. Just this past month I did an 'Army Physical Fitness Test' challenge and shaved 1:42 off my two-mile run time, added 10 push ups and 20 sit ups. Seeing those results felt as good, if not better, than any loss I've seen in a one-month period.
I’m looking forward to another successful six months on maintenance and reaching my next milestone—one year. After that, I’ll start planning for how to get to the first of the really significant milestones--two years--when the statistical likelihood of regain drops to 50%. I hope to continue to learn new things along the way that will help me stay on the right track permanently. If you’re at or near goal, I encourage you to join me on the ‘At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance’ team.
We’ve got an active and dynamic team of maintainers, including many long-termers, who are extremely helpful and supportive. Our members show that long-term maintenance, while difficult, is possible and that makes me feel even more optimistic about my own chances for success. Even if you're not at or near you goal yet, I encourage you to check out our team. Many of our discussions and resources could be useful to people at all stages in their weight management process. Hope to see you all there--if not now, soon!