I had the wonderful experience of being interviewed by Lily Hills last week for an episode of SparkRadio. You can find a link to the interview here if you’re interested in checking it out:
Although I had done public relations before moving to Italy six years ago, I had never actually been on camera or the radio before so this was a new experience for me. Feeling a bit nervous, I took a lot of notes about things I’d potentially like to talk about. Surprisingly, I was able to talk about quite a few of the points I had jotted down and I’m very thankful to Lily for letting me just talk. I’m generally rather quiet, but once I get started on something I feel strongly about, I often find it hard to stop talking.
Since time was limited and I wasn’t able to talk about everything in my notes (I had A LOT), I thought I’d share everything in a blog. If you’ve already listened to the radio interview, I apologize for some repetition. Since successful maintenance is the endgame of everyone on this journey to better health, that’s what I chose to focus on after giving a brief overview of my weight loss/regain history:
Until recently, my weight loss history had been quite checkered. I went on my first diet at the age of eight when, as a chubby kid, my concerned mom brought me to Weight Watchers. Although it was a great program, I wasn’t equipped to deal with the challenges of keeping the weight off and a 25-year cycle of yo-yo dieting ensued. I reached my all-time high of 260 pounds in 2001 when I finally reached a breaking point and got serious about taking the weight off--yet again. Over the next year and a half, I lost a total of 115 pounds and felt great. Sadly, that didn’t last long. I maintained my total loss for a few months, then hovered about 20-40 pounds over my goal for a few more years. After I moved to Italy in January 2007, I really started to balloon and was up to 240 pounds by early 2010.
When I got started on SparkPeople in March 2010, I knew that I needed to do things differently than I had in the past. I was a pro at losing weight, but I had never been able to keep it off for more than a few months at a time, which wasn’t healthy for my body or my spirit. As I looked back on my past efforts to lose weight, I realized that I actually had done a lot of things right and that I had improved in a lot of small ways with each effort. I also observed that there was still plenty of room for improvement. My past efforts were far too extreme in the sense that I would often restrict my calories so much and exercise so much that I would end up bingeing and/or giving up altogether and perpetuating my yo-yo dieting cycle. Most people can’t keep up a highly-restrictive and ultra-disciplined regimen for all that long and I had to learn that lesson the hard way.
By March 2012 I had lost more than 80 pounds and shifted into maintenance. Looking back, I’ve found that three different things have been key to my longer-term success: sustainability, adaptability and support.
Sustainability is something that I continue to work on, even with more than a year of maintenance under my belt. I needed to break out of my cycle of wanting quick results and overdoing it with caloric restriction and excessive exercise. But old habits die hard and this has been a tough one to overcome. As recently as a few months ago, I was still having epic overeating episodes about once a week and spending the rest of the week at about 1,300 calories to make up for it--and this was on maintenance! After I passed my one-year maintenance anniversary, I made it my goal to moderate my habits even more and I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to work up to a more even keel. I now generally eat at least 1,800 calories a day and still enjoy treats, but in much more reasonable portions.
The idea that healthy living was something that required adaptability was a relatively new concept for me. Whenever I wanted to lose weight, I would typically return to the strategies that had worked for me in the past, regardless of whether or not they were the healthiest ones for me. This time around, my weight loss and maintenance have been characterized by constant, but very gradual change and an increasing emphasis on doing things in the healthiest possible way. I’ve become much more willing to experiment with different ways of eating and different forms of exercise than I had in the past and have tossed the things that didn’t work well for me and kept the ones that do. In conjunction with the idea of sustainability, I’ve also learned how important it is to not become overly dependent on any one strategy to maintain my losses. Exercise is fantastic and has tons of benefits apart from weight control, but if you’re relying on exercise alone to keep your weight in check, what’s going to happen if you get injured and can’t exercise anymore or if work, family or other personal issues drastically cut back on the amount of time you can dedicate to working out?
Adaptability for me has also included ditching the panicky urges I used to get following an overeating session. A typical pattern for me would include one of my aforementioned “epic” overeating sessions followed by a period of overcompensation. Although things would typically even out in the end due to the extent of my restriction, it was an unhealthy binge/restriction pattern. To even things out, I made it my goal to gradually increase my daily calories, which I hoped would minimize my urges to periodically really overdo it. I also knew that I needed to squash the urge to knock off unwanted pounds immediately and fall back into that horrible binge/restriction pattern. If I gain a few pounds over the Christmas holidays or when I’m on vacation, I no longer feel compelled to take them off in a few week’s time. Instead, I make a few small changes, try to stay patient and consistent and eventually the weight comes off.
The final piece of the puzzle for me has been support and, specifically, the support I’ve found here on SparkPeople. Not only have the tools and resources here been a huge help, but the community has also been wonderful. As I approached my goal last March, I started to get very nervous about the idea of maintenance because I had never managed it successfully. Fortunately, I found the At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance team ( teams.sparkpeople.com/ma
) and have received the extra support I so desperately needed to keep the weight off. I just wish I had found a forum like this sooner! Staying active and connected on this team has given me lots of positive role models whose examples I could emulate, challenges to keep me focused on staying the same and a community of other maintainers with the common goal of making our losses permanent. This was something I had always been missing in the past when I did Weight Watchers when I was lucky if there was even one other maintainer in the group after reaching goal. Like a recovering addict, I made the decision to “work the program,” which means I chose to take full advantage of the support that could be found here rather than continuing on this journey almost entirely inside my own head. I firmly believe that having a solid foundation of support in maintenance and feeling more comfortable with opening up about my own struggles (and not just my triumphs) has been one of, if not the most, important factors in my ongoing success.
If you’re really struggling with this journey, my advice is to keep at it. For many of us, permanent success is not something we’re able to achieve our first time out of the gates. Breaking a lifetime of unhealthy patterns is not something that happens overnight or in one shot. I also suggest looking to others who are realistic role models of what you hope to achieve and opening your mind up to trying some of the strategies they’ve used until you find the ones that can help create your own formula for success. Over the years, there have been many, many people I’ve looked to as these role models and they’ve helped me understand that things that I was thought of as impossible, like long-term maintenance, are not only possible but doable.