Friday, October 05, 2012
I'm a girl who likes to have a plan. Tell me what to do to reach my goals and I'll do it. I'm a good worker bee and I've often applied that work ethic to my weight loss efforts. So why is it that until now, I've never been successful on maintenance? That's something I've given a lot of thought to these past seven months and I think part of the reason is that I never really made maintenance my own--until now.
There are so many different weight loss plans and philosophies about what works best and what's the healthiest out there. And while some of them actually do work and can help people maintain long term, I can't think of one that will work for everyone. I've tried lots of different plans, including some that definitely were not of the sensible variety over the years, but it wasn't until I came upon a program that was both healthy and sustainable according to my preferences and lifestyle that I was able to find lasting success. I've discovered, through many years of trial and error, that there are some things I can happily live with and others that make me so miserable that I just want to chuck the whole thing. These are some of the things I've learned about myself along the way and how they've shaped the plan that's carried me into maintenance:
1) I've come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of my character and follow a plan that appeals to both ends of that spectrum.
I can be very determined and have often lost large amounts of weight in relatively short periods of time. Problem was, that I also always gained it back just as quickly because I was following programs that didn't give me the flexibility to live my life. I love traveling and socializing. If I always have to pass up every drink and every morsel of tasty food that comes my way, there's no way that I'm going to stick with a plan where I have to do that because something's got too many carbs, too much fat, contains ingredients that don't belong to an acceptable list, etc. What I've found that I CAN do is live with a compromise. If I follow my clean and healthy plan 80-90% of the time, I can allow myself to indulge the other 10-20% of the time. I know I have the willpower to stick with what I need to do the majority of the time and giving myself permission to let loose every now and then keeps me motivated to continue without feeling like I'm totally depriving myself. As I was losing, that meant I had a controlled splurge meal once a week. I figured my daily calorie average needed to be around 1,500 for me to lose weight at a pace I was happy with. Rather than eating roughly the same number of calories every day, which can work really well for some, I shaved 150-200 off six days a week to allow for a more liberal seventh. I found that having smaller treats spread throughout the week was often not enough for me. What I needed was one big meal where I could really indulge to keep me from going off program altogether. I did my best to track my splurge meal and was generally able to keep within the calories I had "banked". I follow a similar principle in maintenance; I just have more calories to play with. Basically, I introduced Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde and told them they needed to find a way to live with each other--and so far they have.
2) Certain philosophies and plans will simply never work for me.
Like I said, I've tried many of the trendy plans out there and even incorporate elements of some of them into what I do. But I've come to learn that there are certain things I just can't do. For example, I once tried "carb cycling", which basically meant my meal plan was divided into low, medium and high-carb days. That month, the weight dropped off of me like crazy. Problem was that I was so miserable and had so little energy on the low-carb days that I couldn't keep up with my workouts, had trouble focusing at work and, although I don't have concrete proof that there's a connection, had a relapse of a medical issue that I hadn't dealt with in years, which I believe was do to a nutrient imbalance. Some people told me that I actually didn't take my plan far enough and that I should have tossed the grains altogether to eliminate the nasty side effects I had, but why would I want to put myself through more of the alleged "withdrawal symptoms" I was experiencing when I've come to learn that no food or food group is my enemy? I lost almost all of my weight excluding nothing and my medical stats prove that what I've done has created an environment for optimal health. I need to remind myself of that the next time I'm tempted to try something that goes against the grain of what's been proven to work for me.
3) Appealing to my preferences means that sometimes my life will be a little more complicated.
The last time I did Weight Watchers, members had the option of following two different programs. The first was the previous system of counting points (which basically amounted to calorie counting) with the idea that no food was off-limits. Healthy options were encouraged because they were often low in points values but any food could be incorporated into your plan as long as you could fit it into your daily points (plus ones you could earn for exercise and a weekly bank). The trade off was that you had to weigh, measure and track your food. The other option was called the "Core" plan. On this plan, you could eat unlimited amounts of certain foods, limited amounts of others and none of others that were deemed unsuitable unless you used your weekly bank. The trade off here was that although you generally didn't have to weigh, measure and track, certain foods were generally off limits. I tried both plans and, although I was happy with my weight loss and felt great on the "Core" plan, it wasn't something I felt I could live with long term. On the points system, I knew I could have any kind of food I wanted and that I could really work my plan around my preferences. Although you had some flexibility on the "Core" plan because of your weekly bank, the idea of dipping into that bank so I could have a sandwich that included bread rather than saving it for a real treat seemed absurd to me. In the end, because I had tried both programs, I learned great lessons about what the most nutritious foods for my body were by following the "Core" program and learned how I could balance those choices with less virtuous ones by tracking and accounting for them. While some people find tracking burdensome, it actually makes me feel liberated because I know that I can include a greater variety of food in my diet--I just have to be careful not to overdo it with the unhealthier ones. That means tracking will need to continue to be an important for me even as I become a longer-term maintainer. But if that means I'll enjoy real long-term success for the first time EVER, that's a complication I'm willing to accept.
For me, the real beauty of maintenance is that you can tailor your plan according to what works best for you taking these, and other issues that you find important, into account. As with weight loss, a person can follow any number of different plans and be successful. And, as I've seen on the 'At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance' team, the same is true in maintenance. Our members use a variety of strategies and the common bond is that all of the long termers have found what works best for them. The frustrating thing (or "the beast") for someone who has not found that key yet is that it's often one that can't be found without trial and error. Maybe you'll get lucky and will stumble upon the right plan for you the first time around. Or, if you're like me, it will take you several attempts to get there. But if you keep at it and try to learn more about yourself not only from your successes, but also from your failures, you can and will eventually lose and keep the weight off permanently.