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Demystifying Maintenance

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Here’s me three years ago when I weighed about 240 pounds. I'm on the right:

I like to occasionally post new ‘before’ pictures of myself because they remind me of where I came from and how much progress I’ve made.

And here I am now at 148, well under my initial goal of 158, which I reevaluated during my transition into maintenance:

On Friday, I reached my six-month mark on maintenance. Naturally, I’m elated about reaching this milestone, but it’s also given me pause to seriously think about what I need to do to make maintenance a permanent state for me. I've taken a lot of time to reflect on what maintenance means to me and how I hope to become a long-term success story rather than being destined to repeat my long history of serial weight loss and regain.

As some of my SparkFriends may already know, I’ve recently become a leader on the ‘At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance’ team. I’ve learned so much from the other members there and 4A-HEALTHY-BMI has been particularly helpful in guiding me to research-based information about success on maintenance. I’d like to start off by revisiting some data that she summarized in a blog post a few years ago:


Until quite recently, my own weight loss and maintenance success have been largely the result of trial and error and finding what works for me. That’s great—I’m very lucky that I’ve had as much success as I have to date--but I don’t want maintenance to be a crapshoot. I’ve been really encouraged to learn that some research has been conducted about the habits of successful long-term maintainers and that there are strategies I can rely on to ensure my own success.

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) team member J. Graham Thomas published an article in 2009 with Rena Wing in Medicine and Health Rhode Island, the official member newsletter of the Rhode Island Medical Society. In this paper Thomas outlined the strategies that are most statistically associated with weight management. You can view the complete paper here:


According to Thomas’ research compared with unsuccessful maintainers, these are the best predictors of keeping weight off:

• Longer duration of weight loss maintenance--more than two years
• More dietary consistency--low variety of food and lack of “splurge” meals at
weekends and holidays
• Less fast food consumption--once a week or less
• Less TV viewing--less than 10 hours a week compared to the US average of 28
• More frequent breakfast consumption
• Lower levels of depressive symptoms and dis-inhibited eating

Key behaviors associated with weight maintenance are:

• Activity levels of over 200 minutes per week (at least for women in the cited
• High levels of dietary restraint, such as:
-Deliberately taking small helpings
-Avoiding certain foods
-Counting calories
• Having lower levels of depressive symptomology
• Controlling overeating

The authors also identify the following strategies as important for successful maintenance:

• Frequent meals and avoiding situations that encourage overeating
• Generally eating at home and preparing your own food--eating out less than
three times a week
• Self-monitoring--weighing once a week and tracking food

Understanding these predictors, behaviors and strategies is very encouraging to me because I already do most of these things. (Again, I’m lucky. My efforts were largely based on trial and error.) I eat out very infrequently, generally avoid fast food, choose my attendance at food-centered social gatherings carefully, always eat breakfast, don’t watch much TV (though I am on the Internet a lot), still track my food, weigh myself almost daily, have a strategy for warding off binges, exercise more than 200 minutes a week and don’t have any symptoms of depression. In fact, the only two things I don’t have or do are a lack of longevity on maintenance and a lack of dietary consistency as the NWCR defines it. I do eat quite a large variety of (healthy) food and I do plan splurges. If I start to falter on maintenance, these are areas I could look at changing but I’m content for now to keep them in my plan because they’ve worked so well for me so far.

One of the things I’ve found through my involvement on the ‘At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance’ team is that just because one of your behaviors or strategies is less common, that doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t work. Certain approaches may be more common among successful maintainers, but that doesn't mean that you can't be successful if you use different ones. We often have a tendency to become absolutist in our thinking about what programs work best or are the healthiest, especially when we find something that works for us, but I've seen that many people use very different strategies than I do and are still enjoying long-term success and excellent health. Weight maintenance, like weight loss, is not a one-size-fits all process and we all have to find the things that work best for us taking our lifestyles, preferences and limitations into account. On the other hand, if you're really at a loss for what you should be doing to prepare for maintenance, it's a comfort to know that research has been developed that clearly presents how successful maintainers lost and have maintained their weight.

In thinking about what I need to do to become a long-term maintainer I've had to take a good look at why I got heavy and overate in the first place. I come from a "big family". Every person in my immediately family and many in my extended family are either overweight, on a diet or struggling to stay at a healthy weight. Being trim and fit doesn't come naturally for us. Since I can't change my genetics and having a pity party about my predisposition towards being heavy isn't going to help me, I have to look at the factors and situations I can control in a productive way. My problem when I was heavy wasn't that I was a periodic binge eater. I binged every day as if the world were suddenly going to have a food shortage. As a result, I put on massive amounts of weight in relatively short periods of time. I had very little self control when it came to what I was eating and my waistline showed it. I've put a significant amount of work into identifying what triggers me to habitually overeat and how I can manage those triggers. Although in a certain sense I feel like I've been cured, I know the temptation to overindulge will always be out there for me and that it wouldn't take much for me to revert to my old ways no matter how much progress I've made. I've done it before. Lots of times. That's where I'll always need to be and stay particularly vigilant. My strategy for planning indulgences and time off from my normal diet and exercise routine has worked very well for me, but I'll have to make sure I don't ever let these indulgences spin out of control. I don't want to ever revert to my old ways and out of all of the things that are important to me as a maintainer, staying in control of my eating habits is #1. As much as I didn't like how I looked when my eating was out of control, I hated how I felt. I love the life and energy that I've got now versus the one I led when I was perpetually zapped of energy, overindulging and overweight. Sure, I still go overboard every once in a while but the key is that it's only once in a while these days, not every day. And when I do get knocked off track, I don't punish myself by restricting my food or upping my exercise to excessive levels. I just go back to my normal plan.

Another thing I've learned in the past six months is just how important it is for me to continue to find new sources of motivation. Lack of sustained motivation is a big problem for me and has led to several rounds of regain in the past. I have to figure out how I can continue to stay motivated now that I don't have lower numbers to look at on the scale and the compliments are fewer and farther between because people are getting used to seeing me as a person at a healthy weight. For me, following a strict definition of maintenance in the sense of keeping things exactly the same, would inevitably lead to boredom, frustration and (gulp) probably backsliding. New goals and challenges prevent me from getting bored and make me feel like I'll always be a work in progress, which means that although the work might change, it will never stop.

I suppose with so many of us having an ingrained 'diet' mentality, being on maintenance really refers to weight maintenance--at least initially. Part of the fun of being on maintenance for me is continuing to set new goals for myself and continuing to make progress in different areas even if weight loss isn't one of them. I don't think that means I'm not a real maintainer--it just keeps me motivated to strive for something better, whether it's eating more nutritious food, running a faster mile, building muscle or lowering my body fat.

I think maintenance can still be an exciting and dynamic process--it doesn't have to refer to something that is stagnant and unchanging. I just need to reframe my thinking away from a weight-centered goal (while still keeping my weight in check, of course) and more towards goals in other areas. I still use the scale as a monitoring tool but also use progress pictures to gauge how my workouts are changing my body and specific challenges to set fitness goals. It's very encouraging to see things firming up even when the numbers on the scale are staying the same and to look at charts comparing my fitness stats over time. Just this past month I did an 'Army Physical Fitness Test' challenge and shaved 1:42 off my two-mile run time, added 10 push ups and 20 sit ups. Seeing those results felt as good, if not better, than any loss I've seen in a one-month period.

I’m looking forward to another successful six months on maintenance and reaching my next milestone—one year. After that, I’ll start planning for how to get to the first of the really significant milestones--two years--when the statistical likelihood of regain drops to 50%. I hope to continue to learn new things along the way that will help me stay on the right track permanently. If you’re at or near goal, I encourage you to join me on the ‘At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance’ team.


We’ve got an active and dynamic team of maintainers, including many long-termers, who are extremely helpful and supportive. Our members show that long-term maintenance, while difficult, is possible and that makes me feel even more optimistic about my own chances for success. Even if you're not at or near you goal yet, I encourage you to check out our team. Many of our discussions and resources could be useful to people at all stages in their weight management process. Hope to see you all there--if not now, soon!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I often feel motivation to "stay the same" too little. Fitness goals have worked well for me.
    1313 days ago
    I will have to come back periodically to re-read your blog! Thank you for some very good hints!
    2107 days ago
  • AML05030
    2115 days ago
    2120 days ago
    Thank you for sharing. This is the part I've been missing every time I lose weight and go back to my old habits. Awesome!
    2120 days ago
    Your blog was very inspiring. I particularly liked your discussion of finding new goals once we reach our weight goal. You helped me identify that as a problem for me and now that I know about it, I can correct it. Thank you.
    2120 days ago
  • WILLDO01
    Good luck on your maintenance journey. Not enough emphasis is given to the hardest part of dieting - keeping it off.

    Lots compliments are given to people as they are losing weight, it is a rare person who congratulates you on keeping it off. Only 2 people in the last 2 years congratulated me on keeping it off. I guess it pretty hard to to politically correctly tell someone "Good job on not getting fat again." ha!
    2122 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/27/2012 10:05:07 PM
    Great Blog. I'm using most of the strategies mentioned, with some success. I met my goal weight almost 2 years ago. I maintained for more than a year. Then, over the past 10 months I've put on 10 pounds. I've increased my exercise dramatically, and that should help, but I'm having trouble with portion control again, and that was the primary reason I was overweight to begin with. We ate healthy food when I was growing up, but lots of it.
    2122 days ago
    Thanks for a very well written blog that covers so many of the key points for maintenance, I reached my 6 month anniversary just 5 days ago and I feel great. I also feel incredibly confident because of the effort I've put into making this a lifestyle change. So many things have changed in my portions, what I eat and how I eat.
    2122 days ago
    Thanks for the insights. My key takeaway is that tracking food / counting calories in fact belongs to healthy living. Although this is regarded in society as "extreme". Now I see myself "normal". :-)

    The key question for me is to find a system that requires little energy for tracking food, and little time. The desktop version of sparkpeople website's food tracker is not filling that need currently.

    How do you track your food?
    2122 days ago
  • POPSY190
    Terrific blog. You are so right - motivation is all and that is where maintainers often need to concentrate their efforts.Lack of this for me in the past has led to regain so I am working on this daily - with the help of SP and particularly At goal & maintaining+Transition to maintenance SFs.
    2122 days ago
    Love this blog. I joined this team last week and haven't had the opportunity to dive in as much as I want to. I know I am going to struggle, I already have in just one week, so knowing I have a place to go to turn to help is going to help me this time around. I think you have a wonderful sense of self and how important that must be to maintain the lifestyle you are striving for. I feel like I "know" all the answers that I need to know, but have no clue how to intergrate them into my lifestyle. I hope to learn as much from that team as you have.
    2122 days ago
    Well said! I'm approaching 6 months of maintenance and still learning so much.
    2122 days ago
  • NAVYMOM133
    You've got this, this time around!! emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2122 days ago
    Such an AWESOME blog - another "keeper" for sure. You are a gem! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight and leading the way through the maintenance maze for us!
    2122 days ago
    2122 days ago
    Wonderfully said--thank you for posting this!
    2122 days ago
    You are amazing. What self awareness! Your strategies and thinking ahead are really going to get you far!
    2122 days ago
  • MKELLY72
    Fantastic and well written blog! So many things that you say are things that run through my own head as a maintainer, and it's so good to see those things validated by another successful maintainer!
    Thank you!
    2122 days ago
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    2122 days ago
  • _LINDA
    Just like weight loss, maintenance has to fit what works for you, which might not work for someone else! Sounds like you really have it all figured out and will be well on your way to gettting past that 1 year milestone! Good on you for realizing you need to have motivation and goals to keep going. Nothing gets older than having the same old routines. Changing things up to keep them interesting is the key!
    Thanks you for such an informative blog and being an awesome leader!! You rock!!
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    2122 days ago
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    2122 days ago
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    2122 days ago
    Thank you for sharing. I started with a SELF magazine 2week challenge in April 2011.
    Now 55lbs lighter am at maintaining. I felt as every word you wrote was as if I were saying them. At 50, I felt that just dropping 40 lbs would be great, but I found that as I continued to maintain my good eating habits and my exercise routine that I was continually loosing weight. After two years of continuous exercising I finally lost the weight when I seriously changed my eating habits. And just as you, continue to maintain even though the scale numbers don't change, my body gets more toned as I continue to exercise. emoticon
    2122 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/27/2012 9:37:06 AM
    Terrific summary of such CRUCIAL information! Thx so much for sharing the knowledge and experience you've gathered!

    2122 days ago
  • NIKKIJ55
    Great blog. Thank you for sharing. Congratulations on 6 months. You'll be be at 6 years before ou know it!! emoticon
    2122 days ago
    This is another blog that makes me wish SparkPeople has a LOVE button - like just isn't strong enough!! Reading what you said about the two year mark literally gave me chill bumps - I made it to one year once long ago (over 20 years now that I think about it) but never to two years. One year in maintenance is coming up for me in November - then I'll be on new ground as that is where I began going back up again that last time. NOT THIS TIME!! This time (thanks ONEKIDSMOM for telling me about the maintenance team!) I WILL make it. Because this time I'm not alone - I have the love and support of my SparkFriends and the TOOLS (nutrition and fitness trackers) from SparkPeople. Thanks for the care and time you put into this blog, TinaJane!! Its one I'll be saving for future reference - because as we've learned in the past, one can NEVER cease to be vigilant!! emoticon
    2122 days ago
    Another fantastic post. You express what so many of us are feeling and struggling with in such a clear, articulate, realistic and yet positive way. I too love this group and all the excellent tips and thoughts that are shared for mutual support through the "easier" times and challenging times.
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    2122 days ago
    Thank you for the research information and your pointers. I will think about this as I go through my week as I work on maintaining my week. It is definitely about being present every moment!
    2122 days ago
    Well thought out and an incredible amount of information. Thanks! emoticon emoticon
    2122 days ago
    Love this truth, written in your blog: "Another thing I've learned in the past six months is just how important it is for me to continue to find new sources of motivation. Lack of sustained motivation is a big problem for me and has led to several rounds of regain in the past."

    I think this is true for many of us... Thank Goodness for Spark and for the At Goal And Maintenance + Transition to Maintenance team! It helped ME over the hump, and being a leader has to be keeping you on your toes.

    Thank you so much for all you do! emoticon And emoticon on your continuing journey!
    2122 days ago
  • LAURIE5658
    It's baby steps, Tina, and you are well on your way to that 3 year mark. I predict you are going to be one heckuva lifetime maintainer!! Congratulations and press on!

    2122 days ago
    So glad you are a leader on our team, TinaJane!! Another powerful blog. Thanks for your wisdom and insight. -Marsha
    2122 days ago
    What a fabulous blog!! You pull together the key stuff in one spot and it encourages me, too, to know that I am in fact doing most of the stuff that makes maintenance work!!

    Now: I'm going to maintain those maintenance strategies. Permanently. With eternal vigilance!! Because MAINtaining is my MAIN thing!!
    2122 days ago
    Maintenance as an "exciting and dynamic process." Now that's a thought to hold on to. Great blog!
    2122 days ago
  • KANOE10
    Great blog. You are a great maintainer. I like your making new goals for motivation!

    Congrats on your six months.

    2122 days ago
  • LESLIE871948
    Another excellent post, thank you
    2122 days ago
    This post is a keeper. Lots of good info. I especially appreciated your insights on finding new sources of motivation. Even while I'm in the weight loss phase and still very far from maintenance, I know that to rely on the scale alone for motivation is not healthy for me. I like that you're setting fitness goals and taking photos to capture the physical changes. That's a great idea. Thank you for sharing your insights. And congrats on your six-month anniversary at goal weight.
    2123 days ago
    You look amazing !
    2139 days ago
    Awesome info. I'll see you in a few months on that maintenance team.
    2139 days ago
    Great info! Thanks for sharing. My experience has been that maintenance for a year was harder than weight loss. (I was focusing on endurance sports) now I'm back to weight loss: just 5 pounds or so. Then I will come check out your team!!

    Your success is inspirational. You look amazing!
    2139 days ago
    excellent blog, tina - it's people like you who motivate me to "make it" this time. i'm coming up on 1 month of maintenance - just 5 to go for the 6-month milestone...:-)
    2140 days ago
    Your transformation is amazing! It's always surprising to me how much younger the "after" persons look! You do, too, of course.
    I'm also trying to shift interest from the scale to fitness victories. Even though I would like to lose a few more pounds to reach my goal I know that the most important thing right now is to establish lasting maintenance strategies. And I know I'm in the right team to do that.
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    2140 days ago
    Way to go!

    Looking forward to celebrating that 12-month anniversary!
    2140 days ago
    emoticon on your 6 months!! Some good info in this blog, thanks for sharing! emoticon
    2140 days ago
    Great post and congrats on your 6 months!!
    2140 days ago
    Excellent blog!
    2140 days ago
    emoticon blog. I'm definitely going to be coming back to reread this a few times.
    2140 days ago
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