So recently I have lost 70 pounds and have approx. 30 more to get to my goal weight. I have done this before, meaning, I have worked hard and lost a large amount of weight before but when I got to my goal I suddenly didn’t know what to do with myself. I started gaining it back almost immediately when I stopped my exercising and went back to old ways of eating. What is your best advice for learning to maintain? There was something that startled me last time and didn’t feel right when I lost so much weight. I didn’t recognize that person I saw, I didn’t like the attention, and I was tired of exercise and what I ate being all encompassing. I am trying to remember those things that didn’t work but just wondered if you have any tips for what has worked for your success at keeping it off and staying motivated. I don’t want this to be like getting to a finish line AGAIN and then not knowing what to do next.
I’m so glad you are asking this question because I think it’s important to address it early. So many of us want to lose weight. We just want to be “skinny” without thinking about what that really means and how it will affect our lives if/when we are actually able to do it. A few years ago I wrote a post called 5 Reasons Why Trying to Get Skinny Will Keep You Fat and it covers more about some of the ideas I’m about to share.
The only way to successfully maintain a weight loss is to initially lose the weight on your terms. What I mean by that is you need to engage in activities and eat in a way you are willing to do forever. You said it right there in your email:
I started gaining it back almost immediately when I stopped my exercising and went back to old ways of eating.
That tells me you were doing things you didn’t want to be doing just in the name of weight loss — that is the exact recipe for gaining all the weight back.
I’m not sure how you lost the 70 pounds successfully this time but I hope you are doing it by slowly changing habits and finding foods/exercises that you love. That’s the key to long-term, successful weight loss. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill and, as cheesy as this sounds, we need to make lifestyle changes for long-term weight maintenance.
There are 3 things you need to address for long-term maintenance and not surprisingly they match my 3 Steps for Weight Loss as well.
1. Address the Head Games You Play with Yourself
If you are stuck in the yo-yo dieting cycle of hell there’s no doubt you probably play head games with yourself. For example:
Food means SO much more to you than just an energy source — you eat for pleasure, for texture, for fun, for boredom or to deal. Perfection is something you may seek in your diet and/or your body. You have lots of “start days” and final blowout binges monthly, weekly, even daily. You once thought you were fat when you weren’t and now long to be back in the skinny body you once had but took for granted. Your friends all seem to have it easy and can eat whatever they want without gaining any weight. You aren’t as “lucky.” You look at images of thin women and compare your body to theirs. It takes you a long time to find an outfit that you’re OK leaving the house in because it doesn’t make you feel fat. You have good intentions when you go to a restaurant and then get overwhelmed by all the choices. You are waiting until you are skinny to start your life.
I can go on forever with these examples because that was me… to a T! Dealing with the head games is the hardest part of weight loss and maintenance. Even after 10 years of maintenance I still have remnants of these thought processes but I attack them head-on. There’s no doubt this blog has been a form of therapy for me.
However you do it (therapy, online support, a loved one), you should talk though some of these thoughts. You need to face them. Get over them. You said you were “startled” about your first weight loss and I can totally relate to that. I remember lots of conversations I had with the Husband after I “found myself” in a new body. It was a very emotional on quite a few levels for me.
Becoming more aware of your own dysfunctional thinking about your body and your weight will help immensely. You can start to recognize the patterns and address them.
2. Find Activities You LOVE to Do
I don’t care if they are even physical in nature at first, just find ACTIVE, ENGAGING activities that bring YOU JOY. If dragging your butt to the gym is the last thing you want to do, then don’t do it! I’m serious! There are tons of other fun ways to move your body. Nothing about weight loss or exercise should feel like a punishment.
When I initially lost the weight I swore I would never join a gym. I had ZERO interest and I knew that if I was going to lose it and keep it off I had to do it on my terms (you are going to hear me say that over and over again).
Of course I needed to move more (don’t we all really?) so I took walks, danced around my house, played those cheesy active video games. Frankly, I made an effort to get off my ass.
I also started to do and plan more. I’d initiate girls’ nights out with my friends. The Husband and I started doing puzzles and going bowling, I discovered lots of trails and local parks I didn’t even know existed!
All these things “count.” All movement “counts.” Take the initiative and find things you love to do instead of forcing yourself to engage in exercise you hate and aren’t willing to do forever. Keep trying new classes at the gym until one resonates with you. See if there are any meetups or leagues for your favorite sports. Start a walking group if that’s what you love.
If you are tired of exercising then move to the next thing. I got tired of step so I tried bootcamp, and when I tired of that I gave Body Pump a chance, and when that got old, I took a sample class at a CrossFit gym.
Life is too short to do things you don’t like but it’s also too short to do nothing at all. Make an effort to find activities you enjoy.
3. Make Healthy Food an Adventure
You mentioned going back to your “old way of eating” and I had to ponder that for a bit. There was a time I would diet and then not diet and the way I ate was really dependent on what state I was in.
- Dieting = bland, boring, healthy, carb-less, low-fat, regimented.
- Not-Dieting = extra cheese, bacon, pizza, fast food, bottomless fries, all you can eat pasta, double cheeseburgers and nachos — a lot of loaded nachos.
There was no middle ground. Ever.
I broke that cycle by basically deciding there was going to be no more “state” to my diet. No on or off plan. From that day forth whatever I ate “counted” and if I was going to lose any weight it would, again, have to be on my terms.
It was a huge shift in my mentality and it made a BIG difference. I started to balance out my days (Weight Watchers helped with this back then). If I wanted a cheeseburger for dinner I’d have the cheeseburger but I’d skip the fries and/or eat a lighter lunch.
This whole mentality really helped embrace a new way of eating, and I started to look at healthy food as an adventure instead of a punishment for being fat. I tried new vegetables, embraced cooking more at home, and had fun with it.
I realize my tips are painting a really broad stroke, but for me it really did come down to some tough self-love, finding things I love to do and embracing my love of food in a healthy way.
I hope that helps a little. Maintenance is tough. I wouldn’t say it’s harder than weight loss, it’s just different. When you are losing weight there’s a feeling of accomplishment. You get a lot of external positive feedback from the scale, your clothes or in the form of compliments. There’s an energy and motivation there. In maintenance you have to shift everything internally and DEAL, which is why it’s better to start that process while you’re actually still losing. It’s a lot to sift through emotionally.
One last thought and this is a big one: There is no finish line.
Update/Add on: Based on LisaM’s comment below I want to add one more thing: You need to keep redefining success through maintenance because life is not static! My goal weight when I started and my fitness goals now completely clash. Things like this will happen, don’t hold yourself back by focusing on old goals or approaches that may no longer serve you!