This is my unofficial SparkVersary; it was January 11, 2010, that I began consistently using SparkPeople, although I started my account about six months before that. That day, I weighed in at 252 pounds, my highest recorded weight. Today, I weigh 140 pounds, a healthy BMI for the first time in well over 30 years.
I've learned a few things in the past three years.
Plan for maintenance from the beginning.
I did not start dieting on January 11; I started changing my lifestyle. I had dieted many, many times before; in many ways, I was a world champion dieter. I had successfully lost weight, large and small amounts, in the past by sticking to strict diets, but as soon as I was no longer dieting, the pounds I lost found me again and brought some friends with them. I knew that I had to change the way I ate and the way I lived if I did not want to repeat that cycle. No foods were forbidden, but I started drinking water (this is day 1097 of drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day for me) and tracking my food so that I became aware of just how many calories I was consuming. That was a real eye opener; I knew I was eating too much (obviously!), but I had no idea just HOW much was really in that food. That led me to make better choices about what and how much to eat, which made it easier to lose weight.
Never stop learning--and never think you know it all.
As I said, I had been on many, many diets and read lots of books. I knew lots about losing weight, or so I thought. I started reading articles and blogs on SparkPeople, though, and learned not just how to lose weight, but how to make better choices, new workout ideas, inspirational stories, and more. I still read articles and blogs whenever possible, because they give me new ideas and keep me motivated.
The scale does not define our worth, but it is a useful tool.
I deliberately and consciously made a decision to ignore the warnings about weighing frequently and chose to weigh daily. That was a good decision for me, because it showed me just how wildly weight can fluctuate from day to day and broke the power of the scale to dictate my day. I can weigh 140 one day and 143 the next without changing anything in what I'm doing or eating, it's just the way it is and nothing to be concerned about. If it's steadily going up, though, that is a big red flag that I need to pay closer attention to what I'm doing.
You've got to move it to lose it.
Finding ways to move more was essential for me to lose weight, and I know it will be essential for me to keep the weight off long term. One of the best investments I made in the beginning was a Bodybugg to tell me how many calories I was really burning and encourage me to move more. I knew my tendency to start with the best of intentions to work out regularly and then stop within a couple of weeks or less; I hoped having the feedback of the Bodybugg would give me a little extra push to continue. It worked; I used my Bodybugg for two years, then last year I switched to BodyMedia Fit Link because it works with my phone and gives even better feedback. I may someday stop using it, but I don't plan to any time soon. It gives me the push to move a little extra every day, and it tells me just how sedentary my normal day is if I don't deliberately add some activity.
You can't (and shouldn't) do it all alone.
One of the best features of SparkPeople is the community here. Getting connected with others through various Spark Teams and blogs was crucial for my success. The support and encouragement of SparkFriends has kept me going many times when I was ready to throw in the towel. Sometimes reading about how someone else has handled a plateau or a problem is exactly what I need to help me push on. That continues to be the case for me in maintenance; the At Goal & Maintaining + Transitioning to Maintenance team has been a wonderful resource (and a great group of people to get to know) for getting a handle on how to keep the weight off for the long haul.
There will be bumps in the road, but keep going and you will get there.
I knew when I started three years ago that losing weight was not going to be easy or a smooth ride all the way. I am a perfectly imperfect human being; I make mistakes, I make less than stellar choices sometimes, and that means some weeks would not see the kind of losses that I wanted. Shoot, most everyone hits a plateau or two or three along the way; as much as we'd like to think losing weight was a simple math formula (calories out - calories in = X pounds lost), our bodies do not behave that way. Recognizing that and being mentally prepared for it helped me handle those days and weeks when they came. Maintenance is much the same, it seems; I've learned to not beat myself up if I have a higher calorie day than planned but rather to just keep going and adjust the rest of the week. It's not what we do one meal or one day that makes the difference, it's what we do on a regular basis.
It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle.
That may sound cliche, but it is so true. The best way to lose weight is also the best way to keep the weight off: change the way you live. When I lost weight on diets, I found ways to 'cheat' and still lose weight; I'd have a successful weigh-in, then go out and celebrate with a sundae or a milkshake. I thought I was beating the system, but all I was doing was cheating myself. I was perpetuating the kind of eating that had led to me gaining weight, so when the diet was over, I went right back to my old habits. Changing the way I eat and becoming more active helped me lose weight, and it's what will help me keep the weight off.
I never could have imagined when I started three years ago how far I would have come by now. Losing over 110 pounds and becoming a runner--no, an endurance athlete!--are far beyond anything I dreamed of back then. Maintenance is new territory for me, but the things I've learned over the past three years give me hope that I can navigate it successfully and beat the odds to keep the weight off for good. We have the tools here to help us succeed if we will use them!