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Learning Maintenance: Mental Phases

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

I believe maintenance can be learned. I’ve been at this for over two and half years, and I seem to be getting better at it. Here’s a way of looking at my progress in terms of what is going on in my head at any given time. See the bottom of this post for a related blog post about framing my progress in terms of levels of maintenance.

Over the past 2+ years I’ve noticed some phases that I seem to go through. I don’t think I ever saw these phases so clearly before because I never got this far in maintenance in the first place. This time around is different because I haven’t given up - I’ve persisted enough to gain some longer perspective. And I have some very good buddies who keep an eye on me and offer up tuff love on the occasions I need it.

Phases of Maintenance

1) Honeymoon Phase
“Woo hoo! I’m smaller! I can wear normal-sized clothes! Who IS that person in the mirror, anyway?!”
“Wait a minute, what should I be eating, now? How much should I be eating now?”

2) Is this it?
“Is this all there is?”
“How come my life isn’t magically better in all aspects?”
“Sure I look better and can move better, but this sure feels like a lot of work. Can I stop tracking, now?”

3) Regain. Ouch.
“Maybe It’s just water gain. Maybe this is just normal fluctuation. Maybe the goal weight I’d picked isn’t sustainable.”
“OMG, it’s starting all over again. I’m going back to square one, I can feel it. I’m going to gain it all back again! Damn, damn, damn.”
“Do I have enough courage to admit there’s a problem and I need to track more carefully and increase my exercise?”

4) Re-loss. Sigh.
“Well, this situation isn’t pretty, but it’s reality. At least I know how to get the weight back off. Ugh.”
“I can’t believe I let this get away from me. Never again.”

5) Yay, I’m finally back in my “Happy Range.”
“This isn’t as exciting as it was the first time I was here, but it’s nice in a homey sort of way. I like wearing my favorite jeans.”
“Yeah, tracking is a pain, but I like my life at this size, so I’m gonna do it.”

6) Body Recomposition and new goals.
“I wonder if I could benefit from skin removal?”
“What about body fat and muscle? How can I manipulate them?”
“I wonder if I would prefer to be more (or fewer) pounds?”
“What would it be like to run a marathon? Squat more than my body weight? Kayak cleanly down a class IV-V river?”


You can see a graphic example of these phases here:


Phase 1 (Honeymoon) happened once to me in this most recent bout of weight loss. It lasted about 6 months, from January 2010 until June 2010. By June 2010 I’d slid thoroughly into Phase 2 (Is this it?).

I stayed in Phases 2 (Is this it?) - 3 (Regain) until around March 2011, with the result that I regained about 30 lbs. At that point I went into Phase 4 (Re-loss). I seem to have amazing abilities to sit around and watch myself gain weight in Phase 3 (Regain) and KNOW what to do about it, but delay flipping the switch and going into Phase 4 (Re-loss). :-/

I reached Phase 5 (Happy Range) briefly in June of 2011, only to cycle back into Phases 2-3 with the result that I regained 20 lbs by September. At which point I went back into Phase 4 again, and returned to Phase 5 in December 2011.

As you can see from the chart, I have continued to cycle through Phases 2-5, but every time the “bump” up in weight is smaller, and the length of the cycle is smaller too.

Phase 6 (Body recomposition) has been kind of going on throughout the process, but I seem to focus on recomposition more when the overall weight is stable in Phase 5.

The reason I think I’m getting better at this is because over the past 2+ years I seem to be spending more time in Phases 5 and 6 and less time cycling through Phases 2-4.

I am spending more of my time with my head in the game and my eyes on the prize, doing the work I need to do in order to keep myself where I like to be. It isn’t necessarily less effort, but it’s certainly becoming less of a struggle to make myself do it.

Here is a related blog post about learning maintenance framing the subject in terms of definition and stringency:

...and here is a similar recent blog post by THETURTLEBEAR who has been fortunate not to get stuck in any cycles:
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Your blogs and the Big Page of Links are so helpful - thank you! I have been tracking for the past 9 years and I see the exact same pattern. I only noticed it the last time I lost weight and have joined your team EARLY so I can start to think about maintenance before I get there and I can tell this will be a big help!

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    2317 days ago
    You are so awesome.
    2597 days ago
    Great blog! This sounds just like what I've been going through.
    2598 days ago
    You are great with visuals!

    Sometimes I wake up in a panic that I have regained all the weight I lost, and I rush in to check the scale for reassurance. Not sure what phase that fear falls into. And then there are the days I look at myself in the mirror, and my eyes bypass the toned muscles and look at the fat. Wonder where that mental image goes in the maintenance phases. Anyway, great blog and thanks for writing it!
    2610 days ago
    This info is so CRUCIAL and needs to be circulated FAR and WIDE!

    Thx for all that you do for the Maintenance Cause!

    2618 days ago
    Wow, this is impressive!
    2624 days ago
    Onward to new goals.... it keeps it fun. It's a new lifestyle... not a diet.
    2626 days ago
    2626 days ago
    I have been and am so there.......so many of my thoughts for sure!
    Thanks for sharing
    2628 days ago
    These blogs are very very helpful in explaining the phases: and yeah, I've experienced them too.

    It's great to realize that the regain blips are getting shorter and the maintenance phases are getting longer.

    The whole thing is: not giving up, not permitting total relapse, catching regain early and getting back on track.

    I'm not thinking it's ever going to be "easy" and "natural": but I'm going to do it.
    2629 days ago
    I love, love, love your tracking tools!

    Thank you for sharing these phases and how much it makes a difference to pay attention to the details. I know I am very much still learning and have a long way to go before I get close to maintenance at goal weight.
    2629 days ago
    Ditto what Leslielenore said. I am going to go back and read all of your blogs in order. There is a lot of information here, and I am getting WAY TOO OLD to keep doing the same things over and over again. When I hit my goal weight, I want it to be for GOOD this time!

    Thanks for all your effort in sharing your amazing and successful journey. You are appreciated!
    2629 days ago
    Fascinating read. I wonder how differently our approach to those phases - or even knowledge of the potential to hit them - can affect our own journey.

    I know my first read through, I found myself thinking "it won't happen to me that way." I had to laugh at my own reaction. Maybe I'm right and I can sort of skim the "honeymoon phase" and skip the "is this it?" because I'm more focused on fitness goals than weight goals. But maybe I'm wrong and deceiving myself just as I might in the "Regain. Ouch." phase.

    On the plus side, it definitely looks like you're getting better about spotting the beginning of the climb and turning things around rather than playing "see no evil, hear no evil" as a pound here and pound there creep on.
    2629 days ago
    I am creeping towards maintenance, so I think it is important for me to hear this stuff BEFORE I get there. I don't want to reach my goal weight and say "now what?" It makes sense to me that there can be a cyclical nature to trying to stay at maintenance.
    2630 days ago
    Seems to me that you have it figured out. You have both the math and the psychology and kinow yourself very well. I am very impressed with your record-keeping and your self-analysis.
    2630 days ago
    Owww! Here's hoping we all break the cycle of going round and round.
    2630 days ago
    2630 days ago
    2630 days ago
    I see phases 3-4 in terms of "do I weigh more than I consider acceptable?" If so, then it's regain. And requires re-loss to get back into my "happy range" (phase 5). But your experience may be different. The Lord knows, I'm wired in a unique and peculiar way... LOL

    Dude, I'm still learning, too...

    Maybe one day I'll be as good at this maintenance thing as the superstars on the At Goal and Maintaining team, but right now I'm still a mere Padawan...

    2630 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/1/2012 8:54:55 PM
    This is a great post! I think I'm in some awkward place.... 2-3 ish... I haven't ever got to re-loss REALLY, but I also haven't gained THAT much.... I'm still healthy weight, just higher than I want to be really... I need to power through phase 4.....
    2630 days ago
    Big LOL about the honeymoon phase!!

    I'm still learning. ;)
    2630 days ago
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