10. Maintenance is HARD!
I've accomplished a lot of things in my life. I earned a scholarship to a private college my family never would have been able to afford otherwise, got my degree, built up a successful career and worked my way up to partner of a PR firm by the time I was 28. I then gave that all up to move to another country, learn a new language, go back to school and start a new career and a new life with my husband. NONE of that was as hard as losing weight and keeping it off is. I've never made such a consistent effort with anything else in my life and I've never failed as much at anything as I have with my efforts to manage my weight. Commercial diet programs don't seem to put much emphasis on maintenance support and although I think that's a huge gap, I can understand why. If most people realized just how hard it is to maintain your weight in the long term before starting a diet, many of them would be hugely discouraged from even getting started. I'm not saying this to be negative or to dissuade anyone who hasn't reached their goal yet. Just know that your work is not done when you reach your goal. In fact, you're just getting started.
9. Most Maintainers Will Fail
Again, I'm absolutely not trying to discourage other people, but statistics show that approximately 95% of people who lose weight will regain it. I've been in that 95% half a dozen times in my life. The encouraging thing is that it does seem to be something you can master if you keep at it. As with addiction, most people don't kick their habit on the first try. That's why it pays to be persistent. Maybe you won't be successful in keeping off the weight the first time or the second time or even the third time. But each time, you'll learn something new about the process and about yourself. And eventually everything will come together and work for you. And you'll finally keep the weight off for good.
8. Maintenance is Not the End
Just because you reach your goal doesn't mean that you can go back to your old habits. Successful weight loss is not a race with a finish line that you can collapse at after crossing. People who view it that way will quickly end up right back where they started. I've viewed it that way many times in the past and always ended up with the same result: near-instantaneous regain. Yes, most people can loosen up a bit once they reach goal, but the key words are "a bit". I typically only eat about 200 extra calories a day on maintenance than I did when I was losing plus an extra few treats on the weekend. I need to be just as vigilant on maintenance as I was when I was losing weight or the weight will come back fast.
7. Maintenance Lacks the Luster of Weight Loss
Do you know how you feel when you step on the scale and see a two-pound loss? How great is it when you fit into a smaller size? How about when someone compliments you on your progress? Feels pretty good, doesn't it? How exciting do you think it feels to see the same number on the scale every day? How about when the compliments taper off because people are used to seeing you at a healthy weight? Maintenance doesn't give you the same thrills you get when you're losing weight and have visible progress and regular compliments to keep you going, which brings me to number six...
6. Motivation Needs to Come from within When You're on Maintenance
Think of all of the wonderful external motivators you've got when you're losing weight (see number seven!). So what do you do when you don't have decreasing numbers on the scale, smaller clothes and daily doses of compliments to encourage you? Getting to your goal means that you have to reexamine your reasons for wanting to stay at goal and use them to motivate yourself to stick with it. Sure, you can still get motivation and inspiration from interacting with other people (like the members of the 'At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance' team here on SparkPeople). But if you don't understand why maintaining your weight is important to you, you'll have a very difficult time staying motivated to keep going.
5. Being at Your Goal Weight Will Not Solve All of Your Problems
Yes, it will make you thinner, it might solve some of your health issues, it might make you more attractive and it might make you more confident, which can spill over into other areas of your life. But reaching your goal will not make other people like you more, it won't make you an inherently better person, it won't solve your marital problems, it won't make you a better parent and it won't save you from a job that you're unhappy with. You'll just be thinner and all of those other things will still be there for you to deal with. If there are other areas of your life that you're not happy with, weight loss alone won't make them all better. You'll still need to tackle those issues separately.
4. Maintenance Still Involves Sacrifice
As you were losing weight, you had to make a lot of sacrifices to reach your goals. You couldn't always indulge while everyone else around you was if you wanted to be successful. You had to pick and choose your indulgences and you did it because you knew the payoff would be worth it. The same things are true on maintenance. You can't always eat what you want. Sometimes you still feel hungry even though you've eaten all of your calories for the day. Sometimes every ounce of you just wants to curl up on the couch and watch a movie instead of hitting the gym. But you pass up the extra cookies at the Christmas party, you don't cave in to the evening munchies and you drag yourself practically kicking and screaming to the gym to get your cardio and strength training in because you know you'll think the sacrifice was worth it when your next maintenance anniversary rolls around. And you know that you'll almost always feel a lot better about yourself for having done these things.
3. Sometimes Being a Maintainer Means Being a Loser Again
Regain to a certain extent is almost inevitable on maintenance. At some point, life will throw us a curveball that we just can't hit and we'll put on some of the weight we've lost in spite of all of our talk about constant vigilance and immediate correction. When that happens, and hopefully when it does we've developed the honesty with ourselves to take action before it TOTALLY spirals out of control, reactivating the program we used to lose weight the first time around will help us to get back down to goal again.
2. Maintenance Requires a Great Deal of Independence
Just as people use a variety of different approaches to losing weight, no two maintainers maintain in exactly the same way. There are lots of things that we can learn from the experiences of others who are successfully maintaining, but we have to know and fully understand the things that will work best for us and ensure our ongoing success. Although it's tempting to look at another person's success and want to imitate it, we all have different preferences, limitations, triggers and life situations. The program we follow to maintain our weight needs to take all of those things into account. Otherwise we'll be following another person's maintenance plan and won't be maintaining according to our needs. Being open to learning about different approaches and developing an understanding of what can work for us and what won't requires independence, self-awareness and a strong spirit. These are important characteristics in a long-term maintainer.
1. Maintenance is the Toughest Thing You'll Ever Love
Like all things that are difficult, being a successful maintainer is especially rewarding precisely because it is so hard. Many of us have failed at maintenance multiple times in the past. Yet here we are, still working at it. Growing numbers of us are getting it down, which shows that it can be done. I'm willing to keep fighting to stay here because I feel like I'm finally accomplishing something that I've failed so miserably at so many times in the past. And that makes me love maintenance all the more even though it's quite possibly the toughest thing I've ever done.
Even if you're not at goal yet, please consider joining me on the 'At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance' team:
Don't wait until you become a maintainer to start figuring these things out for yourself! This team offers a unique support system for people who are at or near goal--and trust me, support is something you'll continue to need as you maintain.