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Stop the (Weight Loss and Regain) Insanity!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Albert Einstein once defined "insanity" as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Using that definition, you could have undoubtedly classified me as certifiable up until very recently.

One of the most maddening things that I've experienced in my life has been my ongoing cycle of losses and regains. Friends and family had often commented on how admirable it was that I was able to be so disciplined in losing weight--the trouble was that I was never able to maintain those losses. I was really beginning to think that being heavy was my lot in life, my destiny, and that I just didn't have what it took to make my losses permanent.

As I was browsing some video clips from the TODAY Show's Joy Fit Club a few days ago, I was really struck by one episode in particular where Joy followed up with some people who she had previously highlighted. Contrary to the daunting statistics you often encounter about the percentage of people who regain their weight, these were true champions who were fighting with everything they had to be successful long-term maintainers. As they were talking about how they've managed to the beat the odds and keep their weight off, one of the women said that she felt like "everything just clicked" -- that all of the healthy habits she had been forming and that all of her past efforts (including her failures) had come together in a way that they never had before. And for the first time ever in my life, I can honestly say that I understood what she meant by that.

Since reaching goal back in March, I've been marveling at my ability to maintain--mostly because I'd never been able to do it before. Many of the recent blogs I've written have reflected the soul-searching I've been doing to make sense of exactly why it is that I've been successful in ways that had so painfully eluded me in the past. But when I stop to think about it, there's really no big mystery. After years and years of doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results, I finally realized that some things needed to change--and not just for the six or twelve or twenty-four months that it would take me to lose the weight--but permanently.

There are a few different things I can pinpoint about my recent journey that I think have allowed me to stay successful in maintenance and break my cycle of insanity:

1. I didn't immediately revert back to my old habits
I had always had this idea that going on a diet was temporary. You restricted your calories for a while, did some exercise, reached your goal and then all the work was done. Boy, was I WRONG! Yet I can't tell you how many times I'd repeated this pattern over the course of my life. For the first time ever, I entered maintenance even more determined to stay on track than I had been when I was losing weight. And that determination has served me well. Sure I still have my ups and downs, but I'm talking about a few pounds, not a hundred!

2. I continued weighing, measuring and tracking my food
In my previous weight loss efforts, I was a religious weigher and occasional tracker, but even if I wasn't logging what I ate, I was always keeping tabs. (Using the Weight Watchers Points system made that fairly easy). The ease of using SparkPeople's trackers transformed me into an almost full-time tracker and I've found this useful in so many ways. Not only has it kept me more accountable, but it's also allowed me to develop a better understanding of how my body responds to different food and just how liberal I can get with my indulgences without ruining my progress. I've kept up this habit in maintenance and still weigh, measure and track most of what I eat, most of the time. I didn't get so heavy by being able to trust my instincts when it comes to eating and I know that I haven't reached the point where I can do that naturally. Tracking keeps me honest about what I'm eating and having a history of tracked meals allows me to go back and look at times where I've been or haven't been successful and analyze why what I did worked. This has, in turn, helped me put a stop to negative patterns and reinforce positive ones, and is a process that is still evolving for me.

3. I had a plan for maintenance
Like I mentioned in my first point, my previous maintenance efforts basically involved immediately reverting to my old habits. Although I had always begun my weight loss efforts with a clear plan and goals, I had never started maintenance with one. This time, however, I came armed with a plan, a plan that focused on how I could take the lessons and habits I had formed as I was losing weight and apply them to maintenance. Although I was initially incredibly worried about my transition from weight loss mode to maintenance mode, surprisingly little has actually changed. I eat slightly more calories than I did was losing, have a slightly more liberal splurge meal every week, work out slightly less and still use the same strategies to ward off and overcome binges. So, for the most part, I made the lifestyle changes I adopted as I was losing weight permanent and it seems like they've finally stuck.

4. I started paying more attention to what I was eating, not just how much
Thinking back to my previous weight management efforts, I'm sometimes shocked by what my diet actually looked like. Although I was consuming the correct amount of calories, I ate SO much processed food and it ran the gamut from microwavable meals to energy bars to 100-calorie snack packs. I knew that whole foods were the best and healthiest choices but I can't believe how much filler there was in my diet. Don't get me wrong. I'm not totally against eating these type of foods--I think they can be perfectly reasonable options when you're just starting off and don't know where to begin or if you're pressed for time. But I was eating this stuff every day at practically every meal. Looking at my trackers now, I'm really proud of how much I've cleaned up my diet. I still make room for indulgences and unhealthy food, but I'd say I've probably removed 90% of the clutter from what I eat and replaced it with food that will best fuel my body and keep me satisfied the longest.

5. I learned how to really self correct
In the past, binges often meant that I'd give up on my weight loss efforts altogether. Once I started, I just couldn't bring myself to stop and that led to things spiraling out of control pretty quickly. Now when I deviate from my plan, I just try to focus on regrouping and getting back on track as quickly as I can. Sometimes that happens after one poor choice and sometimes it doesn't happen until after I've made a very long string of poor choices, but the important thing is that it does happen. I don't beat myself up any more for going off plan and try to always go back to my reasons for wanting to maintain my weight when I feel my resolve starting to falter.

6. I found where I could make compromises and where I couldn't
Let's face it. Sometimes life throws us a challenge or two (or ten!) and we feel like we just can't manage everything. Unfortunately for me, those stressful periods had often been the times where I totally chucked everything and climbed on board the train to regain. I've since learned that in really tough times sometimes something's gotta go. But that doesn't mean that EVERYTHING has to go. For me, that means that if my schedule gets really hectic, I'm in the throes of a personal crisis or if I just plain need a break, I can cut back on exercise. I've actually found that, in terms of maintaining my weight, exercise matters very little while eating matters A LOT. Although I'm not ready to give up exercise just yet because it has many other benefits apart from having a smaller waistline, if something's gotta go for a while, it's gotta come from my exercise routine.

7. I stayed connected
After I reached goal in the past, I often became disconnected from my support networks pretty quickly. I stopped going to Weight Watchers meetings, I stopped reading health and fitness-related articles and stopped taking advantage of the help I could get from other people in general. Thanks to SparkPeople, I've stayed just as, if not more, connected to my support network in maintenance as I did when I was losing weight, and I think that's had a hugely positive effect on helping me keep my head in the game and on staying focused on my goals.

In summary, I think I've finally stopped the insanity of weight loss and regain by opening myself up to new and different approaches than what I had used and failed repeatedly with in the past. If you've found yourself trapped in the same heartbreaking pattern of losses and regains, please know that it is possible to break this cycle. It takes courage, it takes grit, it takes humility and it takes a whole lot of patience but it CAN happen and everything will "just click" for you as well.
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