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Eighteen Months of Maintenance and Counting

Thursday, September 05, 2013

As I sat down to write a blog celebrating my eighteen-month maintenance anniversary, which is this Saturday, my initial feeling was shock. As much as I've learned and progressed since I reached goal in March 2012, I still sometimes can't believe I'm doing this. For the first time in my life ever, I not only lost the weight, but I've actually kept it off and, in spite of some relatively minor ups and downs, I've managed to stay pretty stable. That's no small feat for someone who's swung from a low of 140 and a high of at least 260 pounds in her adult life.

When I decided to give weight loss another shot in early 2010, I was pretty much at the end of my rope. I had lost and regained tons of weight so many times in the past that I didn't have much hope this time would be different. I knew I had it in me to lose weight--I was practically a pro at that--but maintenance had always eluded me and I had never managed to keep any weight I lost off for more than a few months.

I took a pretty slow and meandering road to losing the weight once I got started and it took me two years from the day I joined SparkPeople to lose 82 pounds and reach my initial goal. Over the next few months, I focused on a slow transition to maintenance and lost another ten. In those early months of maintenance, I set out to learn as much as I could about the successful habits of maintainers as I could to help increase my own odds of success. Some of what I learned was not surprising--common sense, really--but other things were. Among the most important things I learned that have helped carry me through the last 18 months of maintenance have been:

1) Maintenance, like weight loss, is not one-size-fits-all.
Maintainers use a wide variety of strategies to keep the weight off and what works beautifully for one person might be a recipe for disaster for another. I personally still weigh, measure and track most of my food, weigh myself daily and set target ranges for calories and nutrients, but know plenty of other people who don't do any of those things and are successfully maintaining too.

2) Maintenance takes a willingness to experiment.
Learning to find the right calorie/exercise balance to hold steady, deciding if daily weighing and tracking is still appropriate, setting new goals and searching for new sources of inspiration can be scary, but these are the very things that need to be tackled on a very individual basis as you move from weight loss to maintenance mode.

3) Maintenance can sometimes mean shifting back into weight-loss mode.
I've experienced this several times over the past 18 months and am in the midst of a weight-loss period right now as I recover from a month of vacation that involved far too much eating and drinking. That's life and I decided that I was okay with that compromise of putting on a bit of weight when I'm on vacation and over holiday periods as long as I have a finite end date for the overindulging and a plan to get back on track. This allows me to really enjoy every aspect of my vacations without guilt, stress or feeling deprived and keeps the damage to a minimum. I've learned that the sky really does not fall if you take a week off from your usual routine two or three times a year--as long as you go back to your normal habits as soon as vacation's over. This strategy might not work for everyone, but it's been a great one for me.

4) Maintenance means continuing to strive for improvement, but focusing on sustainability.
One of the areas I've struggled with in the past is my extreme mentality. Either I was adhering to my plan 100%, 100% of the time or I was 100% off. I love challenges and often push myself very hard in many areas of my life--not just diet and exercise. What I've found is that living in such an extreme way often has unintended negative consequences. Exercising too hard can lead to total burn out or injury, not allowing for small indulgences can lead to binges and always looking to improve instead of focusing on what can (and sometimes should) just stay the same can make you crazy. At times, I've struggled with the idea of losing more weight, but I've come to terms with the fact that where I am now is the right place for me at this point in my life. I'm healthy, happy, generally enjoying life and don't have to be overly restrictive to stay where I am. In spite of some early difficulties, I've learned to become content with lack of change. The scale doesn't always have to go down every time I step on it and I don't always have to worry about whether I'm continuing to build muscle and lower my body fat. This doesn't mean I don't make small tweaks to my eating and exercise plan and that I don't take on new challenges. It just means that most of the time, I'm focused on stability because that's what an extreme thinker needs most.

5) Maintenance requires as much, if not more, support than weight loss.
This has been the biggest eye opener for me. Never before had I had a real support system on maintenance and I think this is a big part of the reason my past efforts weren't successful. Finding the 'At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance' team ( teams.sparkpeople.com/ma
) here on SparkPeople has helped me in so many ways. Participating in the maintenance challenges keeps me focused, promoting maintenance as one of the team's leaders means our community is growing and becoming richer, learning from more experienced maintainers has given me lots of food for thought on how I could experiment with my own plan and helping those who are coming up behind me lets me repay that debt of gratitude. I never knew this kind of support could exist for maintainers and being a part of it has undoubtedly helped me get as far as I have and, I think, has helped many others to do the same.

It's now been three and a half years since I first decided to take action and went from this:

to this:

With 18 months of maintenance under my belt, I'm looking forward to reaching year two when, according to statistics, my odds of regain drop to 50%. I, along with a rapidly growing community of maintainers here on SparkPeople, am living proof that long-term maintenance is not only possible, but doable even if your past efforts haven't been successful. If you've struggled with keeping weight off in the past like I have, don't give up hope, don't stop working on it and don't be afraid to reach out for the help and support that's available here. It can be done, one day and one small step at a time.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I'm late to the party, but let me congratulate you! I still don't know what my plan will be if I get to go on a vacation while I'm in maintenance. I'll probably follow a plate composition eating plan rather than track. If I vacation with my in laws again, I guess my plan will be to blog... a lot.
    1522 days ago
    sounds like you've got it all figured out! Way to go! I am not near maintenance yet. Knowing how slowly I lose weight, I have a feeling it won't be till some time next year. But I don't plan to do anything different than I am already doing. Making the decision to commit to a lifestyle change needs to be for the rest of my life so, I'm hoping spark will be around forever. I will exercise, I will eat healthy and I will track both forever. It's the only things that works. Congrats on your 18 months of maintenance success!
    1527 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/12/2013 7:27:11 PM
  • EFFECT25
    Love your page :)!
    But one small issue: You NEED to get a full body pictures of yourself. You have many great photos but we would like to see you full fleshed :)
    1529 days ago
    I'm so impressed with your dedication! I found SparkPeople when I had just finished losing 40 pounds and was on maintenance mode. However, because I was not committed and hadn't really learned much yet, I gained back 20 pounds. I'm now struggling to lose those 20 pounds, but I look forward to the day when I can go back to maintenance, knowing that there are others out there who can cheer me on and offer me advice.
    1529 days ago
    :-D You know I'm so proud of you, right? I'm so glad I stumbled on your page, you've become such a great encouragement to me. 18 months! Congrats!!! I'll definitely add a little testosterone to your maintenance team once I get there. I soaked up all five of your maintenance points by the way. Great thoughts.
    1530 days ago
    Great job! You look so relaxed and happy! Now, back to work!
    1531 days ago
    Thanks for the encouragment!
    1532 days ago
  • GEORGE815
    Looking good!
    1532 days ago
    congratulations, tina - you are a role model! i love the way you put into words the issues that i need to think about and keep front and center in this maintenance journey. good luck on the next 6 months - emoticon
    1533 days ago
  • RUDITUDI2000
    emoticon This does give me hope that once this weight is gone, it can stay away! emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1533 days ago
    Fantastic achievement. It is inspiring to know that it is possible to maintain after years of yo-yoing. emoticon emoticon
    1533 days ago
  • AEROGIRL1594
    Such a huge inspiration to me along with so many other spark people members not only the maintenance, but that fact that you managed to lose the weight! It's honestly incredible! Good luck in your next year of maintenance!
    1533 days ago
    I like and agree with all your points, but #2 struck me as particularly relevant.
    2) Maintenance takes a willingness to experiment.

    I've found that I need to be more creative during maintenance in order to avoid burnout. Weight loss has a definite end (or goal), but maintenance is ongoing and requires new ideas to remain fresh.

    thanks for your post.
    1534 days ago
    emoticon TinaJane! It's so inspiring to read of your maintenance experience! I think many people have successfully lost weight - but the maintenance is the MOST important! Congratulations! You were beautiful then and now! How you feel is very important too. Please continue to share your journey. I am more than happy to cheer you on! You Go Girl!!!!! emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1534 days ago
    You are a maintenance hero to me! I love reading your insightful, thought-provoking, to-the-point blogs. Keep up the good work!
    1534 days ago
    Yes, yes, yes! We are all an experiment of one, and once we embrace the reality that there is no one-size-fits-all way to lose the weight and keep it off, we're free to test the waters and see what works for us individually. Well stated, and well done!
    1534 days ago
    What an amazing accomplishment. I love that you are honest about the work of maintaining, and that it isn't easy. I figure I will always have to work on my weight, either trying to lose it, or trying not to find it again on my hips! Thanks for your honesty! And congrats!!
    1534 days ago
    Great job!
    1534 days ago
  • KANOE10
    Great job on your 18 months of maintenance. I think you have found very successful strategies for keeping your weight where you want it. You sound confident and happy. I also find that it is ok to have periods where you need to lose weight.

    emoticon emoticon
    1534 days ago
    Congratulations on 18 months. Amazing!
    And what a great, informative, balanced blog.

    Thank you Tina, for being such a model of support, wisdom, and equilibrium!
    1534 days ago
    Congratulations, Tina! And thank you for sharing such a hopeful and optimistic message. Yes, it can be done! It's not easy but it's worth it!
    1534 days ago
  • TIGER_LILY_613
    Wonderful blog ! Congratulations on 18 months of maintenance and thank you for sharing this !
    1534 days ago
    wow. Congratulations. And thank you for sharing these rich, rich, gem insights! I feel like I have discovered a gold mine in you, on here. The very issues I am anxious about you address here. Thank you!
    1534 days ago
  • JACKIE542
    Congrats, it can be done. emoticon
    1534 days ago
  • _JODI404
    emoticon on your 18th month in Maintenance!! emoticon

    I love the 'At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance' team, and am grateful for all your support, time, and effort as a magnificent Team Leader!

    emoticon emoticon
    1534 days ago
    I really appreciate your blogs. I am still losing and not ready to maintain yet, but it makes me feel better to be somewhat mentally prepared for the shift to maintenance.
    1534 days ago
    Congratulations! 18 months is a milestone to shout from the rooftops about! I hear what you say in your blog and agree whole-heartedly.

    Onward we go...

    1534 days ago
    It's always nice to hear from you Tina. Thanks for the update and emoticon on being so successful.
    1534 days ago
    Great blog! Congrats on 18 months!
    1534 days ago
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    1534 days ago
  • GABY1948
    Tina what a great blog! Thank you for another inspiration to me. Just recently, like the last two months...I learned the key missing portion of my healthy lifestyle. It was healthy fats...I won't go into it here but the horrible hunger that I believed made me "different" than anyone else and I would not be able to ever quit "dieting" I now believe that I may reach maintenance too. So I cherish your blogs and can't wait until I also can join the maintaining group!
    Thank you for being such moving force for maintenance! emoticon
    1534 days ago
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    1534 days ago
    You are fabulous!!! Congrats girl!!!!

    1534 days ago
    Congrats on the 18 months of maintaining your healthy weight! You are an inspiration and I truly cannot wait until the day I reach my goal weight and can shift into maintenance mode! xx
    1534 days ago
    You continue to be such an awesome inspiration and douse of practicality. Thank you! And Congrats!!
    1534 days ago
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    1534 days ago
    Great blog! I agree with every point you've made. Congrats on your 18 months!! Weigh to go!!! Way to eat and be active!!!!
    1534 days ago
    emoticon on making it to a year and a half! I have had some really great "ahah" moments in maintenance... including the realization that it's not the number on the scale but the healthy habits themselves that lead to happiness / comfort in one's own skin... for me, anyway.

    You are so right on target with everything you say in this blog. It's NOT one size fits all. We (those of us who are keeping it off) all end up inventing our own programs. But isn't it GREAT that we have each other to share those little things that give an idea for the next "experiment".

    Well done, TJ! And here's to the next six months... and the next six years! emoticon
    1534 days ago
    Congratulations on 18 months and counting, that's fantastic! You are such an inspiration!
    1534 days ago
    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

    I am just reaching my 2 year mark here at Spark. It is the best thing to ever happen to me!! I also went on vacation and got off track. Being able to come back here for support and motivation is PRICELESS!

    1534 days ago
    Congratulations on 18 months of maintenance! That is simply outstanding. I am still working on reaching goal, but this time around I am thinking ahead to maintenance and realizing that is the battle that wins the war! So nice to learn of all the maintenance support here and also here from people like you! emoticon
    1534 days ago
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    Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.