Friday, January 10, 2014
With the two-year anniversary of reaching my weight loss goal less than two months away, I've been thinking a lot about the progress I've made and what's been different for me this time compared to my past experiences with weight loss and subsequent regain. While there are many things that I can attribute my ongoing success to, I think that having a more balanced and realistic approach has definitely been one of the most essential and is right up there with my involvement here on SparkPeople in terms of keeping me focused and motivated in the long term.
I remember a conversation I had with a friend here a while back about long-term maintenance. We exchanged some ideas and I told her that I felt developing a sustainable exercise regime was an important component. She said she agreed, but added, "That sounds great, but how do I know what a sustainable exercise regime looks like?" It's not as easy a question to answer as it might seem on the surface, especially since what's sustainable might change many times over the course of our lives depending on our work and family situations, illness, injury and other factors. And if you're anything like me, achieving the right balance is not an easy process. There have been many times over the course of my life when I've started out a weight-loss effort all gung ho and followed my plan to a T. My diet was near perfect and I was exercising almost every day. I saw great and often very quick results to underscore the effectiveness of those efforts, but what was the long-term result? Inevitably, burnout from exercising too much, binges that stemmed from depriving myself, backslides and regain (I also didn't put enough stock into managing the emotional aspects of this process, but that's a topic for another blog).
I've written about this many times in the past, but the farther along I get on maintenance, the more I appreciate the value of balance and setting realistic goals for ourselves. I think just about all of us set out on this journey so that we can live our lives to the fullest and not simply trade a set of issues that comes with being overweight or obese--lack of mobility, diminished energy and self confidence--for another that comes with trying to maintain a very low weight--obsessive exercising, eating without pleasure and avoidance of social situations because of the food-related challenges they present. Yes, losing weight and keeping it off takes discipline and effort and that means we do sometimes have to say "no" to the many temptations that come our way, but if doing that means we're in a constant state of misery, I think we need to ask ourselves if what we're doing is really worth it. I think that there's an important and attainable middle ground that's worth striving for between accepting the idea that we'll always be overweight--so trying to lose weight is not worth the effort--and sucking all the joy out of our lives to get to and stay at a place that might not be the most suitable or healthiest for us.
In my case, there are a few things that I've had to reconcile to get to this place. Firstly, I've accepted that a weight at the lower end of the BMI range is not sustainable. I COULD weigh less, but I've never been able to stay at a lower weight because I have to live a life that's far too restrictive for my comfort level. I'm perfectly fine with being in the middle to upper range because I know that I can maintain there happily and in good health and spirit. Secondly, daily exercise, apart from the kind of activities that are part of a normal day for me like lots of walking, is not sustainable. Exercise has always been an effort for me, and as much as I appreciate its mood boosting qualities and the physical results it produces, devoting one to two hours a day to physical activity sometimes affects other parts of my life in a negative way--it cuts into sleep, time with my husband and other people who are important to me and actually adds more stress to my day instead of reducing it. So now I try to dedicate just two or three days to gym sessions where I get in my strength training to build muscle (and allow me to eat more!) and focus on more intense cardio sessions like interval training. The rest of the time, I just try to move as much as possible and do active things that I really like such as dancing. If I have a lot more time on my hands, like I do during my summer vacations, I'll up the intensity and frequency of my workouts, but with the understanding that it's temporary. And, lastly, connected to my ideal weight range, I've had to decide what's an acceptable eating strategy for me to maintain in the long term. My line in the sand has become about 1,500 calories--and that's my absolute minimum even if I'm trying to drop a few pounds after a vacation where I've put on a few pounds, for example. Eating less than that is not satisfying for me and will typically lead to binges. So if that means my weight will be a little higher, I'm okay with that. I'm not willing to sacrifice feeling physically satisfied to achieve a lower weight. I cringe when I look back at what I used to think was an acceptable amount to eat every day in order to lose weight and I have to admit that I shudder when I see other people aiming to lose tons of weight in a short period of time by eating far too little and/or exercising far too much. I've been there and the end result was never pretty.
My hope is that, with additional time, my body will fully adjust to my new normal and I won't need to worry so much about calories and pounds. But for now, I'm content to use these ideas as the template for my ongoing maintenance. They mean that I don't have to live in a constant state of restriction or stress over what I can't have and what I have to do. More simply, they keep me focused on the realistic, long-term goals I need to keep working on to ensure my continued good health and happiness. There's an awful lot of trial and error that goes into finding that happy balance and it can be a scary place to explore because there are so many unknowns involved. But it's really the only way we can figure out what works best and what doesn't for us in the long run. And I think we constantly need to ask ourselves which pieces of the puzzle are worth dedicating our efforts to and which aren't so that we can live not only healthy lives, but also happy and balanced ones. Because that's what all of this is really about.