It is the opposite of willpower. What works is finding a balance that works for you. When you use sheer willpower you regress when you cannot devote 100 percent to maintaining your willpower. When you make changes that you can easily keep by finding options that you enjoy that meet your calorie needs it take quite a bit of the constant battle out f the equation.
My history: lost 90+ lbs over 18 months, and have maintained for just shy of 5 years so far --- hopefully that qualifies me to answer you!
I honestly never even considered "willpower", and my motivation was entirely about being healthier. I gave myself no weight "goals", no time-frame, and had no rules or restrictions in mind other than eating more healthfully and being more able to go and do the things that I wanted to do. Looking back, I guess that I could break it down to a few steps that were critical for me:
Step 1: Track every single thing that passed my lips for a couple of weeks to get a data baseline. Tracking included timing, and how I was feeling emotionally and physically.
Step 2: Use the data from tracking and think about the "why" behind food choices and timing to help understand why I was morbidly obese, and address the underlying issues. For me, I have a life-long history of extreme IBS. From earliest childhood, I lived with continuous nausea and unpredictable bathroom habits. For a long time, eating soda crackers with butter, or arrowroot biscuits with peanut butter, or big bowls of cereal with milk was my "go to" every few hours, since those seemed to calm the nausea enough for me to function. Later as a teenager, I added in issues with low blood pressure and developed the habit of eating salted sunflower seeds, which helped keep the blood pressure up, but left me thirsty and wanting "sweet" and so led to drinking a lot of Kool-ade (I couldn't afford soft drinks) or highly watered down fruit juice (juice is expensive!). I hadn't really recognized these attempts as "self-treatment" all through the years, but the tracking and notes really high-lighted it for me. I clearly couldn't deal with the problem without professional help, so I went to the doctor, and we worked through a number of treatment options (including dietary and lifestyle changes) that have resulted in me still "self-treating" but more successfully and with healthier choices (pro-biotics, organic full-fat yogurt, natural sourdough breads, balanced protein / fat / carb mini-meals every couple of hours, and lots of naturally high-fibre foods).
Step 3: Gradually make changes, focusing on ADDING new foods, adding foods that I love, and making notes on what I personally find satisfying (and what just doesn't work for me). I pretty much refuse to make changes that I don't enjoy, so deprivation just wasn't an option. I kept experimenting, and tracking, and keeping notes, and discovered that I most often prefer a sweet breakfast with at least 18g of protein, a savoury lunch and dinner (but with a sweet "ending", like a small orange or piece of chocolate or dollop of yogurt), and that snacks need to be available in either / or to suit my mood of the moment. I like a plate that appears over-flowing, with a good bit of food volume, and lots of strong flavour (I will never feel full / satisfied if there isn't at least a punch of some strong taste other than just "sweet" or just "salty"). I feel best when I'm at or above the high end of the fibre recommendations, get at least 100g of protein in, and I thoroughly enjoy a large variety of vegetables and fruits, done in a variety of preps. I chose to gradually lessen the amount of added sugars that I used, and now use only blackstrap molasses in baking (for the iron content) and a tsp of sugar in my first coffee of the day (the rest are plain, black). Otherwise, everything is sweetened with fruits (and I find plain dairy such as yogurt or cream cheese to be quite sweet on their own), since I discovered that I don't really LIKE the "just sweet" of sugar, and much prefer the complex flavours that whole fruits bring to the item!
Step 4: Adamantly avoid dropping calories to the "diet" level. I fortunately read an article here by Dean Anderson when I first started tracking, and he suggested very gradually dropping calorie levels to what would be required for maintenance at a healthy BMI --- and then just letting the body do its thing. The idea was to never go below what "maintenance" would be for about 20-30 lbs less than what you were at, and that going no lower than "healthy BMI maintenance" would mean eating a basically healthful amount, regardless of what weight the body finally settled at. This really resonated with me, and I actually found that the calorie levels dropped without effort as I gradually added in more and more healthier foods. It seems that the most nutritious foods are more satisfying in less calories, so I had no desire to really eat more. I never deliberately dropped below an average of 1800 calories per day (which is about mid-range for maintenance), and that actually goes up to about 2300 calories or more per day when I'm doing foothills / mountain hikes regularly. With my usual exercise, I am pretty comfortable averaging around 2000 calories per day. That is considerably higher than what Spark or most other trackers would recommend for a 50+ year old, 150lb, 5'7" woman --- but it works for me.
Step 4: Learn to treat my nutrition the same as my financial budget - where I insist on covering the necessities first (essential vitamins and minerals, base of 100g protein, base of 30-35g fibre) and then use the rest as I please. Just as I do with my household spending, I take a minute to determine whether any "purchase" is worth the price to me or not. I actually learned to cook during this time, and discovered that I am capable of making far better foods than I could purchase. I bake sourdough breads, and make my own muffins and cookies (that are sweetened with fruits, and are high in protein and fibre), and enjoy breakfast "cake" every morning (loosely based on the "self-crust pumpkin pie" idea, loaded with nuts and fruits and vegetables and high in protein thanks to dry milk powder that creates the "custard"). The only purchased indulgence that is always worthwhile to me is really good ice-cream, and I have some of that every day. There are few other things that I come across that tempt me, but when I do, I make the choice whether it is "worth it" in my budget and then can happily carry on.
That really is the whole process for me. I discovered that my history of IBS has left me with a very untrustworthy grasp of my hunger signals, so I still use the tracker most of the time. I have quit using it for months at a time and still maintained okay, but found that my life actually felt easier when I use it as a planner and enter in the basics for a few days or a week at a time. I most often will enter in my base plan (with the necessities covered in about 1500 calories), and leave the rest open for snacking or mods depending on my mood of the day. Realistically, I now feel the same way about the food tracker as I do about my reading glasses: I can function okay without them, but find life easier and more pleasurable when I use the "unnatural" tools to help out where my body isn't quite "normal" anymore!
The main thing that I can tell you is that "what it takes" will be different for each person.
We all have our own background issues that created the overweight / obesity, so recognizing what our personal issues are and getting help to address them should be the very first thing that any of us does. There are all sorts of disordered thinking about food and it is very difficult to self-treat, so help from our medical doctors, our behavioural therapists, our psychologists, and our dietitians can be absolutely imperative. We really need to get rid of the notion of "shame" around having thinking or emotional issues when it comes to food, and getting professional help should be considered as typical as getting a mechanic to help with a broken car. I personally believe that most of us don't need a "diet" so much as we need to be taught how to deal with the issues that we have inadvertently developed throughout our lives.
All of that said (whew!), I'd suggest that you check out the At Goal and Maintenance teams, and get some insight from them. There are folks who have maintained for decades, and you'll find a plethora of different approaches and perspectives.
Quick edit to add: Life and metabolism change, so continuing to track in maintenance can be really helpful in noticing and responding. I recently developed arthritis and will be on corticosteroids for quite some time, so having the tracker has been hugely helpful in keeping steroid weight-gain in check, and in making even more dietary changes to add more anti-inflammatory foods. It really is far more about the "healthy" than it is about the number on the scale...
Edited by: URBANREDNEK at: 2/1/2018 (17:49)
Sir Terry Pratchett:
"Science is not about building a body of known 'facts'. It is a method for asking awkward questions and subjecting them to a reality-check, thus avoiding the human tendency to believe whatever makes us feel good."