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3 Strategies to Prevent Relapse After Reaching Your Goal Weight

Winning the Mental Game
  -- By Dean Anderson, Fitness & Behavior Expert
When it comes right down to it, the “secret” to keeping the weight you’ve lost off is really very simple: Don’t stop doing the things that helped you take it off in the first place.

Obviously, you’ll need to make some small changes in your eating and exercise so that you’re achieving energy balance (to maintain weight) instead of creating a calorie deficit (to lose weight). But other than that, the key to successful weight maintenance is maintaining the healthy practices that got you to this point.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always as easy or simple as it sounds. Old habits really do die hard. If you struggled with obesity for a long time, or if you lost weight by following some diet plan that you can’t stick with safely or easily, you can’t assume it’s going to be easy to continue eating and exercising in a healthy way now that the weight’s off. Just stopping your healthy lifestyle and going back to “business as usual” will put you on the fast track back to your original weight, and maybe with a few extra pounds.

Even if you’ve taken the gradual “lifestyle change” approach advocated by SparkPeople, you’re likely to find yourself facing a new set of challenges as you shift gears into maintenance mode. Being aware of and prepared for these challenges can make it a lot easier to meet them successfully. So let’s take a look at some of the strategies and approaches of people who have lost weight and kept it off.

Strategy 1: Redefine Your Goals

The Problem: Having a goal weight provided a focus and direction for all the mental and physical energy that you put into this project. But reaching your goal weight can leave you feeling a little disoriented and unsure of what to do next—all the energy, momentum, and purpose you’ve been relying on can evaporate pretty quickly, making it easy to fall back into old habits. Simply trying to maintain your weight loss often isn’t the kind of goal it takes to avoid this problem.

The Solution: Set some challenging new goals for yourself, beyond maintaining your weight loss. Ideally, include at least one goal that requires you to stay at least as fit as you are now, or more so. For example, if your main motive for exercising was to burn calories and lose weight, try to find a sport or physical activity you enjoy for its own sake. Then you can put your efforts into getting better at that activity. My own interest in going to the gym every day for a stint on some cardio machine started to fade pretty quickly when I shifted gears from weight loss to maintenance. But when I took up hiking and biking instead, a whole new world of challenges and goals opened up. This year I’m aiming to complete my first 100-mile bike ride, and training for that gives me all the motivation I need to get out on my bike almost every day.

Key Attitude: The key thing here is not what you do—that can be anything from mall or pool walking to training for a competitive triathlon. It’s finding something you like to do, and then trying to get progressively better at it.

Strategy 2: Carry the Message

The Problem: You’re probably not going to want to spend the rest of your life tracking every meal you eat and counting calories—and you shouldn’t need to do that. But one of the things that tracking and recording your food and exercise does is give you a concrete, simple way to hold yourself accountable to your goals. As you make the shift into maintenance mode, it’s important to find other ways to hold yourself accountable to maintaining your weight.

The Solution: One of the very best ways to help yourself keep the weight off is to do what you can to help others who are trying to lose weight and improve their lifestyles. Tell your success story. Share tips on how you dealt with a particular problem. Or simply offer encouragement and support. Every time you do these things, you remind yourself of how things were for you before you reached your goal and how important it is for you to maintain what you’ve accomplished. Every time you preach the value of sticking to it when the going gets tough, you’re giving yourself another reason to practice what you preach when you have hard times yourself.

Key Attitude: Maintaining your weight loss can take just as much support as losing the weight, and the best way to get what you need is to give. Stay active (or get active) on the Message Boards, SparkTeams, and blogs here at SparkPeople.

Strategy 3: Broaden Your Perspective

The Problem: Concern for your own health and appearance is a great motivator for weight loss and healthy eating, especially when being overweight is causing you real emotional or physical problems. But sometimes, taking the weight off can also take the urgency out of this motivation, making it much harder to resist all the daily temptations to go back to old habits.

The Solution: Make your own diet a positive force in the world around you. Get to know where your food comes from, and the social, environmental, and nutritional consequences of how it is produced, marketed, and delivered. Find out, for example, if there's a local farmer's market in your area, and do as much of your shopping there as you can. Most of the products you'll find there will be grown without pesticides and with environmentally-friendly methods. Plus the money you spend will stay in your local community. Another example is to look for pastured (grass fed) and humanely-raised animal products. Why? For one, the amount of grain it takes to produce just one pound of grain-fed beef or chicken would feed a lot more people than a single pound of meat would. Plus pastured animals are often higher in omega 3’s, leaner, and lower in saturated fat (making them better for you too). These are just a couple examples of how you can continue making meaningful choices when you sit down to dinner. For more ideas, check out these websites:

www.EatWild.org
www.FoodDownTheRoad.ca
www.LocalHarvest.org
www.SlowFoodUSA.org

Key Attitude: When you make food choices that line up with your own social, environmental, and nutritional values, it can be a lot easier to stick to your eating goals.

Putting It All Together
 
The key to successful maintenance is to know that reaching your goal weight is not the end—it’s simply proof that you have the know-how, spirit, and skills to tackle difficult challenges and succeed. One good way to carry all this with you into whatever new challenges you want to tackle (including the challenge of maintaining your weight) is to do a little inventory of what you’ve learned and the skills you’ve developed while losing weight. My article, The Three S’s of Success may help you identify some of the skills and attitudes you’ve developed, so read through it, sit down and make an inventory of your own. Think about how you can apply your knowledge and skills to maintain your weight—and to the next big challenge you decide to undertake.