I'll reach my one-year maintenance anniversary the beginning of March and have been thinking a lot about the past year and what it's taken me to stay successful on maintenance. In the past, I'd lose weight very quickly and gain it all back just as quickly. This time, I took a more conscious approach to really implementing lifestyle changes and continuing to keep them up once I reached my weight goal. Although I was much more prepared for maintenance than in the past, the last year has definitely not been easy. It has, however, been incredibly instructive and I thought I'd put together a list of the top things I've learned about maintenance that took me a bit by surprise.
10. Maintenance is just as tough (if not tougher) as weight loss.
I had always thought that once I reached goal, I could relax and revert to my old habits. Diets are supposed to be temporary, right? Wrong! Probably the most important thing I've learned from all of my past failures is that the effort does not stop once you reach goal. If you worked out as you were losing weight, you'll still need to work out once you reach goal. And you absolutely cannot go back to eating the way you once did! Sure, you can add a few extra treats or make your regular meals a tad richer, but the basics of your weight loss plan will probably have to stay very much the same. That's why I think it's so sensible to not make any changes as you're losing weight that you're not willing to stick with forever. The more reasonable your weight loss plan is, the easier it will be to transition to maintenance. However, the hardest thing about maintenance for me has been keeping up all of those healthy habits without all of the external motivators you get as you're losing weight, which brings me to my next point...
9. Staying motivated is one of the hugest obstacles to overcome.
As you're losing weight, you've got lots of visible progress to motivate you. The numbers on the scale go down, your pants size goes down and the compliments abound. On maintenance your reward is seeing the same number on the scale, the same pants size and diminishing compliments as the people around you forget that you were once heavy. The little progress you do see is not (or hardly) noticed. This is where one of the much talked about "shifts" comes into play that you experience in maintenance. Staying the same becomes something to be celebrated and you begin to focus much more on other indicators of progress such as longevity on maintenance, lifting more weight or running a faster 5K. You also begin to realize what a precious gift your good health is and use that as your primary motivator to forge on.
8. Maintenance requires (near) daily attention.
Some people find that they can handily maintain their losses without tracking, weighing and measuring their food or being overly attentive to the scale. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. I still weigh, measure and track almost everything I eat and am still a daily weigher. I've learned to take the emotion out of my weigh ins and use them more as a gauge for overall trends. I also find them motivating to help me keep up my healthy eating and exercise habits because I know I don't want small gains to turn into bigger ones.
7. Maintenance requires strong resiliency skills.
Being able to bounce backs is always a good skill to have, but never is it more important than on maintenance. I'd love to say that I've maintained my weight within two pounds this whole year, but that's not reality for me. Life happens and sometimes bad times or too many good times have resulted in weight gain. What I have been able to do is take action when my gains started to become negative trends by putting my past mistakes behind me and continuing to work towards where I want to be. This hasn't been easy, but it's a skill I've managed to develop over time. As a result, in spite of my ups and downs, I've spent the past year at or below my initial goal.
6. Maintenance does get easier over time.
In spite of all of the challenges that maintenance presents, it actually does get easier over time. I'd heard lots of longer term maintainers say that, but I never really believed that it was true until now. I don't get stressed when I see a trend that I don't like these days, I get more determined. I know my habits are good ones and reactivating the ones that I've let slip over time has helped me refocus time and time again. And slowly, over time, my confidence in my ability to maintain has increased. I've learned that a few bad days or a particularly tough period doesn't mean that failure and regain is inevitable.
5. Support in maintenance is just as important as support during weight loss.
I've always found that support is an integral component of weight loss, whether I found it by attending Weight Watchers meetings or being active here on SparkPeople. But in the past, I'd always let go of those support systems when my weight started to creep. Big mistake! Staying engaged with my support systems has helped me stay motivated, learn from the experiences of others and pick myself up when I've started to slip.
4. You'll sometimes feel disconnected from your old support networks.
Over the course of the two years it took me to lose my weight, I participated on a number of teams and challenges to help reach my goal. As I got closer to goal, I began to realize that I needed a different element of support. I was no longer struggling with the troubles associated with weight loss and found there were few people I could relate to who shared my concerns about long-term maintenance success once reaching goal. I've often written about the lack of weight maintenance support that's out there and I really felt that gap once I hit goal last year. Thankfully, my search for maintenance-specific support did yield one important result--the At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance team ( www.sparkpeople.com/mysp
). This was precisely the missing piece I needed to complete my puzzle. The support, encouragement and understanding I've benefitted from on this team has been a huge help to me and has, undoubtedly, made my first year on maintenance much easier.
3. Your mind takes a while to catch up to your body.
When I first reached goal, I still felt like a heavy person and was carrying a lot of residual emotional baggage in addition to being terrified that any minor changes I made would result in immediate weight gain. Slowly, I began to accept my new identity as a healthy person and have shed a lot of my baggage. This also hasn't been easy and it didn't happen immediately, but I'm finally beginning to think of myself as healthy, fit and as someone who is capable of maintaining.
2. A maintenance lifestyle can be fun and fulfilling.
I don't think that any part of your weight management process should fill you with dread. It's important for me to be able to enjoy life's events and some of the food that goes along with it. Learning to manage those situations and maintain my weight has been one of the most rewarding parts of maintenance and has shown me that a healthy, moderate life can be fun and that I don't always have to turn down every treat that comes my way. Yes, I still make sacrifices to stay where I want to be, but I've learned that it's okay to relax and indulge from time to time. As a result, I'm much happier than I've ever been and don't feel like living a healthy lifestyle means constant deprivation and misery.
1. Long-term maintenance is achievable!
The idea of being able to sustain my losses had always been something that caused me a great deal of fear and trepidation. I had never done it successfully for any length of time until now. Learning from my past successes and failures has taught me what I need to do to stay successful and I'm happy to say that I'm beating the odds. I'm looking forward to my next year of maintenance and reaching year two when my statistical average of maintaining my losses will become 50% instead of the 80-95% it is before reaching that milestone.
Here's me before I got started at about 240 pounds:
Here's me a year ago when I reached my initial goal of 158:
And here's me now, almost ten pounds lighter than my original goal:
And here's to beating the odds and enjoying another successful year on maintenance!