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:
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.