I hit my Spark goal on December 2nd last year. As August looms, my eight month maintenance "anniversary" quickly approaches.
One thing I've found since entering the Land of Maintenance is that it means different things to different people. Therefore I'll start by telling you my personal definition. Maintenance began when I hit my Spark weight goal AND sought to stabilize this final weight. The "AND" is important for comparison purposes, because I know that many enter Spark maintenance after hitting their weight goal, but choose to continue to lose weight. It may be many months before they decide to leave the weight loss mode, but they count their maintenance as beginning when they hit their initial goal, as opposed to when they decide to stop trying to lose weight.
In my own definition, maintenance isn't about hitting the scale number, but about learning to stop the weight loss and transition to a healthy lifestyle that maintains new habits without my former compulsive focus. In other words: How can I balance health, Sparking, and "real life?" There is no right or wrong in defining what maintenance means to you or me, but it helps when comparing apples to apples.
Weight Loss: Like most people, I joined Sparkpeople because I was unhappy with my weight. I inherently knew that I needed better eating habits and regular fitness. I quickly caught on that it was de rigueur to regularly profess that I was not focusing on the scale, but healthy lifestyle. That said, despite my best intentions, the thrill of downward scale movement often drove my definition of success. I make no bones about it. I was obese and my ultimate health couldn't be gained unless that new lifestyle of good nutrition and increased fitness included loss of dangerous and damaging excess fat.
Maintenance: I think that there are distinct stages that you go through in maintenance, much like the stages of acceptance to other dramatic life changes. I've seen these reflected in the blogs and comments of friends. We progress at different rates, and some get caught in the maelstrom of the changes, but common themes emerge. I suspect that if one doesn't come to terms with these issues, it's a lot harder to maintain the results of Spark success.
STAGE 1: OMG I HIT MY GOAL WEIGHT AND I'M NOT PERFECT. I have mixed feelings because on one hand I am thrilled and can't believe I'm wearing these new, smaller sizes. But somehow, I thought I'd look even better. Maybe I should lose just a few more pounds? Maybe I should adjust my goal? (Note to self: You are comparing your 55 year old self to your former 21 year old self. Why are you surprised that things have shifted, wrinkled, or softened? Get real.)
Result: I have the same genetic structure I did when I was fifteen, weighed 125 pounds at 5'8" and was convinced that I'd be perfect if I could just lose ten pounds - in other words, I am who I am and if I don't like what I'm seeing, it's probably because I need to chose a more flattering clothing style and stop trying to be someone else...and not that I need to change a scale number. I am mostly comfortable in my skin. Sometimes I wish that skin was more firm and fabulous, but I'd rather patiently wait several years for my loose skin to possibly shrink a bit than fill it with back up with fat and have people remark on my smooth lack of wrinkles.
STAGE 2: WEIGHT IS A RANGE AND NOT A NUMBER. I've thought about my goal number for weeks/months/years. Since I "hit" that number on December 2nd, I rarely see it appear on the scale. I must accept that my weight will vary each day. Can naturally fit people quote their weight to the decimal point like I have been doing?
Result: I took the Spark Maintenance ticker approach to my weight and I use the +/- five pound approach. My weight may stray from five pounds over/under my "final" weight, and that's okay. If I eat out or eat past satiety, I weigh more than THE number the next day, and I should not be surprised or concerned. If my weight is lower than THE number, it is not a cause for celebration and should not evoke a feeling or decision to "keep" that new number. I have had months where I'm three pounds under for weeks at a time, and other months where I'm five pounds over, and they are equally acceptable.
STAGE 3: WHAT GOALS DO I HAVE NOW? The honeymoon is over. I hit my weight loss goal - so where do I go from here? I need some Spark goals, but the rules have changed. What has value to me now? Have I shifted my focus to things that are SUSTAINABLE?
Result: I decided to concentrate on lowering body fat instead of weight. But that's still a number. I found even more satisfaction in having medium or long term goals that require a continuation of my healthy pursuits to attain. Examples are long-range backpacking trips, races, etc. (More on my recent backpacking trip coming soon in a blog.)
STAGE 4: WHERE DOES SPARKPEOPLE FIT INTO MY LIFE NOW? This one has been challenging for me. I was admittedly compulsive throughout the eleven months of my weight loss. I Sparked for an hour or (much) more each day, rarely strayed from my daily calorie range, figured out strategies to allow me to vacation or eat out without compromising my goals, was known to venture out at 11 PM in my reflective vest to capture required fitness minutes, read every single status and blog of every single Spark friend...yeah, I said compulsive and I meant it. I got to maintenance and realized that some of my activities had become rote, and I needed to evaluate whether they would, could or should continue to hold value for me without modification.
Result: In maintenance, I always come back to the question: Is this sustainable? I've radically changed the way I Spark. I am no longer seeking Spark points for quizzes and polls. I am more likely to reference saved articles or search for relevant new articles by key words rather than read everything that passes by. I have become more selective. That holds true with reading blogs too. If a year of blog-reading has shown that a friend's daily blog is for Spark points rather than specific content, I'm more likely to skip. I don't force myself to read blogs that depress me, or equate blog-reading with loyalty. I try to remember that ultimately that person has written the blog as a personal outlet. I also put a halt to blogs that preach to me - I feel that I have the right to share my own journey but not tell others how theirs should go, nor feel compelled to model their journey. There are many roads to success and no "right" way to do it. I sometimes worry that a period of absence may be met with an assumption that I've lost my way, but I put my own needs first. I try to stay active enough that my loyal friends know that I am there for them and have kept a commitment to my maintenance plans, because the examples, actions and caring of my own friends in maintenance were so important to me during the challenges of my weight loss phase. I needed to witness that change is possible, and those friends made that happen. I have never connected my Spark page to my Facebook, but admit that many of my long-term Spark friends have migrated to being Facebook friends and we're more likely to share there than here because that social app is more user-friendly.
STAGE 5: I WILL HAVE MY UPS AND DOWNS. The difference between the naturally thin people and me was that they understood moderation and averages. Even my most enviable-figured friends have days that they eat the whole burger, finish the fries, and order dessert. But they don't do it every day. They don't look at their weight as a sentient being that has control over their actions like a puppeteer. They understand that it's all about balance.
Result: I am in control of my own spaceship. Going through a phase where my tummy feels bloated or my butt feels a bit tight in my pants does not mean I'm sliding down the slope and returning to obesity. Instead it's a reminder that I need to keep things in balance, and it doesn't really take a lot of work to reverse things. Obviously I know how, or I wouldn't be in maintenance.
STAGE 6: THAT SCALE NUMBER IS NO LONGER VERY IMPORTANT TO ME. If I maintain healthy eating habits and keep exercising, my body will be healthy and I'll know this by how I feel, how I look, and how my clothes fit - even if I never step on a scale for the rest of my life. My blood pressure no longer rises and falls with the number I see.
Result: Most days I couldn't actually tell you what I weigh. I assume it's in "the range" when I get dressed and my clothes feel great.
I just returned from a twelve day trip to a mountain scout camp in New Mexico, where I kept up with teenage boys while carrying a thirty pound backpack, up and down mountain trails. I had no aches and pains at the end of each day, I slept on the ground in my tent, and I had plenty of energy for programs and activities at each camp. I've been making this trip every few years since I was in my late thirties, yet have never found it as effortless. I didn't have to "prepare" for the trip because my normal cardio and strength regime maintains a fitness level that allowed a successful trek by just doing what I normally do. That's what maintenance is all about, as far as I'm concerned.