Friday, June 4, 2010

Thinking about Maintaining

I realized recently that I really have absolutely no idea of how to maintain weight. I know how to lose and how to gain. I'm always either in paying attention and losing mode or NOT paying attention and gaining mode. So how do I stay on a fairly even keel for longer than a couple of months? I really don't have a clue, because I've never managed it, not since I was about thirteen.

More than that, how do you simply eat right because it's good for you, rather than for some secondary benefit like a number on the scale or a certain size of clothing? I don't know how to do that, either. The times I've tried to eat right most seriously are when I'm pregnant or nursing and then I tried very hard not to worry about weight gain because I didn't want my inner anorexic teenager to sabotage my babies' health. And so I would usually gain 50 or 60 pounds for each pregnancy. I didn't shortchange.

Because of this history, and realizing that I do better with things when I've thought about them ahead of time, I've been reading about maintaining. Through Paperback Swap I acquired a book called Thin for Life: 10 Keys to Success. (I've been putting the book down backwards in my book pile because I don't want my kids to read the title. My boys all want to GAIN weight and Thin for Life would sound like a curse to them : )). It's not really a book about being THIN per se but rather about reaching a reasonably healthy weight and maintaining it for the long term. Some of the success stories got what you might actually call thin but others were satisfied with a more get real type of weight that was still healthier than their former one. It sort of depended on a calculation about how much one wanted to work and deprive oneself for the extra and somewhat medically insignificant weight loss. Some went down to the supposed ideal weight and then settled for a slightly higher one for the long haul.

The book is based on interviews with a diverse group of men and women of various ages and walks of life who have in common the achievement that they have kept 30 or more pounds off for 3 or more years. There were about 150 people interviewed and then discussed and quoted in the book. One had lost as much as 275 pounds and a couple had kept 100 or more pounds off for 20 years. The book discusses the differences and similarities in the strategies that have helped them be successful. Because it's not about One Right Way and in fact, encourages readers to develop and use customized strategies for maintenance, and because it is about real people, not, say, diet gurus with a product or method to sell, it is very interesting to read.

Here are the 10 Keys:

  1. Believe that you can do it. She said that there are lots of failure statistics out there but that beating the odds isn't some sort of miracle -- rather, it takes a certain set of skills and attitudes that many overweight people already have and use in other areas of their lives. She also said that it was worth it to try because those skills take practice and often people could improve over time, sometimes over a period of years. Even a few small healthy changes are better than no changes at all.
  2. Take the reins. Be persistent. Accept the situation and make plans to deal with it realistically. Many of the masters (the book's term for longtime success stories) had lost weight previously and gained it back, or tried to lose weight, but this time for whatever reason it clicked for them (sometimes they actually heard something like an audible click in their heads). There is some research that suggests that people do trial runs of difficult things in their lives. So repeated failure in your past does not necessarily predict future failure. This reminded me of my customary trial labors lasting several days in my seven full-term pregnancies that usually ended up making actual labor extremely quick and decisive (I often had trouble making it to the hospital in time once my body decided that the moment was right, and several of my babies were delivered by someone besides my doctor or midwife). To get back to the point, lots of people approach a goal several times before they actually get to it, so the next time might actually be the successful time.
  3. Do it your way. She said that some masters of weight loss used structured programs to lose the weight, but many didn't, and all of them assumed ownership of the plan -- they made decisive efforts to make it work for their own lives and personalities. (I think this is a success strategy for real life and might correlate with #2 because it might take some people several trial attempts to figure out what works for them and what doesn't)
  4. Accept the food facts. She talks about low-fat eating here. I think this is one of the areas that differs from person to person. I eat a lot of fat because it is more satisfying to me than a lot of volume. But the bottom line is to be realistic about what goes in. It's easy to be in denial with how much food is actually necessary. One characteristic of overweight people that shows up in statistics is that they are unaware of how much they are actually eating. A food journal can help with that, as well as strategies like cutting normal food portions by a third or a half, or eating smaller more frequent meals. And there are easy ways to cut fat that don't affect taste much if that is the way you want to go.
  5. Nip weight gain in the bud. All the maintenance masters she wrote about monitor their weight, either using a scale, or the fit of their clothes, or some other measurement, so that they know when they are getting into danger areas. Sometimes they have a combination of measurements that trigger warning bells.... say, if their weight stays elevated for more than a week. Then they have active procedures in place to get back to their maintenance level. There were differences in the range the masters were satisfied with. Some had a range of 3 pounds and others of ten or fifteen. In my case, as a teenager and young adult I agonized over every pound, then I got where I was OK with 15 or 20 pound swings, and now I'm trying to find the middle ground. Mostly I'm just trying to avoid those overeating cycles that increasingly seem to put an unnecessary obstacle in my life.
  6. Learn positive self-talk. A lot of people overeat for emotional reasons and get into a habit of negative self-talk because they are angry at themselves for being out of control with regard to eating. Or, the food becomes a comfort for them because of their habit of berating themselves harshly for every slip-up. It is a bit of a vicious cycle. So, the advice is to catch yourself out on scolding or berating and instead try positive maxims or encouraging messages. One thing that is important here is avoiding all- or- nothing or inflexible thinking.... that one slip-up means failure. The successful maintainers have learned to take setbacks in their stride, to use the lapses to work on better habits for the future, and move on. Another paradoxical thing is that many, though not all, of these masters accepted themselves as they were initially, as overweight people who were OK. This self-acceptance is hard to describe because it sounds like a compromise but it really isn't (from my experience). I've read the slogan "God accepts you and loves you just as you are but He doesn't plan to leave you that way" and maybe there is a way to reflect that attitude towards oneself personally. Somehow, feeling somewhat OK gave the success stories the impetus to make progress.
  7. Exercise. Very important statistically for maintenance, and this was borne out by the experience presented in this book, though there was a lot of variety in how much and how often the masters exercised. One became a marathoner and on the other end of the scale there was one invalid who couldn't really exercise at all but still successfully maintained the weight loss. But generally, finding an exercise or more than one that was enjoyable really helped in losing and maintaining. In relation to this I've been rereading bearing blog's series on induced exercise. It gives me a lot to think about in terms of changing my way of thinking of myself and of exercise.
  8. Face life head-on. This is where I get squirmy, though maybe I'm improving, because last year I would have gotten squirmy with the exercise part. If I liked facing life head-on I wouldn't do so much retreating into quiet and calm. But I think it's probably true that overeating for me and for other emotional eaters is a kind of refuge -- a signal to my spirit that I'm overwhelmed. The message in the book is that self-medication with food or whatever doesn't make the problems go away, it just allows us to postpone dealing with it. Certainly that seems true. It might be better to acknowledge that one is overwhelmed and figure out strategies to actually deal with the situation. That is what I am going to try to work on. Though it occurs to me that comfort is very legitimate even in food; the problem is looking for comfort in things that let you down in the long run, I suppose. I've just been reading about that in The Fire Within by Father Dubay.
  9. Get more out of life. More butterflies here. But she says that losing the weight allowed many people to open up and do more interesting and energizing things with their lives. Sounds stressful to me. But I suppose that it follows that once you manage to deal with your issues rather than stuff them down, you might start flowering in other areas. I shall take that on trust for now.
  10. Don't go it alone. Some sort of support is very important and something to actively look for, whether you like to read books and internet sites, like me, or join online or IRL support groups, or whether your family is actively and positively involved.


  1. "But I think it's probably true that overeating for me and for other emotional eaters is a kind of refuge -- a signal to my spirit that I'm overwhelmed."

    That describes me perfectly. Perhaps if I can remember that being overwhelmed is my trigger I can forgo the chocolate and indulge in fifteen minutes of peace and quiet instead. I really think it's time I took that part of my life back. Thank you for posting this today.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Sandy! I've been trying to figure out alternative strategies for my cravings, too. Just taking time to sort them out and acknowledge that I'm feeling that way seems to help a little.

  3. Hi! I'm over browsing after Cindy's link. :)

    After my second baby I discovered French Women Don't Get Fat, and have read it during my postpartum weight loss time ever since. It is all about maintenance and how to enjoy your food in such a way that you are more satisfied eating less. It sounded idealistic and unrealistic to me when I first read it, but I gave it a try and found it was true. She advocates more mindful eating and discourages mindless nibbling -- it's when you aren't paying attention to what you're eating that you often get in trouble.

    Plus, I enjoy the tone of her book. It's much more like a personal conversation than a pop science/psychology approach like most American diet/food books.

    Sigh. My baby is 3 months old now and I need to get myself into weight loss mode again.

  4. This is a timely post for me to read as I need to seriously lose weight once this baby arrives. I have never been this heavy and I feel so unhealthy lately! I know that for me the hardest part is keeping track of what I eat. I HATE journalling my food intake - for whatever reason it just depresses the heck out of me. Maybe because it stops me from hiding the number of calories I'm actually eating instead of allowing me to deceive myself into thinking that I'm not really eating too much.

    Anyway, lots to ponder here... Thanks!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!