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Mastering Weight Maintenance

Lost the weight? Great! Now to maintain those healthy habits …

Recently, I admitted to myself that I was five pounds heavier than two months ago. Eating too well and too much over these past weeks, I rationalized the extra calories by noting my vigorous lifestyle—running around with grandchildren during their annual visit and playing lots of tennis.

See also: Think your way to fitness. 

But after putting on clothes that felt surprisingly tight, I couldn't kid myself any longer. Fat, not retained water, was the culprit. The scales are always truthful.

Was I happy about backsliding? Did I love where I was? Let's just say "love" wasn’t my first reaction. Instead, I berated myself for losing the ground I'd worked so hard to gain.

My first impulse was a punitive one—to go on a strict diet. Wrong! This solution comes out of the same box (the yo-yo cycle of deprivation and decadence) that created the problem. Instead, I returned to basics:

  • I restarted my food diary, a habit I'd dropped while entertaining. Not keeping track of what I eat is as foolhardy for me as writing checks without recording them in the checkbook.
  • I removed calorie-dense and nutrition-poor foods from the pantry and refrigerator. I also cooked more consciously—removing extra calories without compromising taste—and monitored portion size. I prepared low-calorie, nutritious entrees and desserts for the freezer so that I wouldn't make regressive decisions under the influence of hunger. Daily, I made personal meal plans, eliminating "empty" calories (candy and wine).
  • To give myself perspective, I set a weight-loss goal (two pounds a week) until I returned to my former weight.
  • I realized I was distracted by having too much to do, so I finished a sewing project, organized my house, and exited from an extraneous project that was weighing heavily on my mind.
  • I agreed to join some friends in leading our annual 5- and 10-kilometer walks and runs, even though I'm not a runner.

By taking these practical steps, I became grounded again. My body is a friend instead of a betrayer. Food is back in its rightful place—enjoyable but not at the center. Exercise, especially tennis, continues to be a source of healthful entertainment.

Weight maintenance, I'm discovering, is a different skill than weight loss and perhaps a harder one to master. In light of its difficulty, what's surprising is how little attention it receives.

In retrospect, my weight-loss period, while demanding, was like a honeymoon—lots of drama, excitement, and attention. Maintenance, on the other hand, is like marriage—great moments, for sure, but mostly regular life.

Can I be happy recovering lost ground? Can I transform the threat of failure into useful insight? Can I learn to love where I am, even if I'm struggling?

Whether you're fat or fit, progressing or regressing, do you love where you are? However difficult, this is the necessary starting point for all of us, myself included.

Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.