Friday, January 9, 2009

Why I'm Thinking about Maintenance

It may seem funny initially to contemplate maintaining a healthy lifestyle and healthy weight when I'm just starting to lose a bunch of weight, but I believe it is essential. At least it has felt essential this time around.

I've lost weight before. I've lost a lot of weight before. I've lost a lot of weight several times before. What I haven't yet done is maintain that healthier weight.

That is where I am at in this health journey now. I want maintenance. I want to live a healthy lfie despite trouble, turmoil or a busy life. I want to do life differently than I have been doing it.

I heard a while ago that it takes five years of maintenance for a weight loss goal to stick forever with a person. I want my five years. I want to lose this weight and I want five years of living healthy that then turns in to 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, and 50 years of healthy living. I want it to stick.

When I started regaining so much weight, so quickly a few years ago, I realized there was a lot more to losing weight and living healthy than just hitting some magic number on a scale. A lot more. What I determined at that point was that I wanted to learn that lot. If I was going to be successful at this goal of losing weight, I was going to have to consider maintenance now. Not when I reached some number on a scale, but now.

So, I've been searching for people who have lost 100 pounds or more and maintained that weight loss for five years. I've found a few. But in reality, most people who lose massive amounts of weight regain some or all of it within five years. Not all, mind you. I think part of the problem is we make such a big, big deal out of losing weight and achieiving a new body that we forget that to tell the stories of people who have continued living healthy lives for decades after. The initial weight loss gets all the headlines. It has all the sizzle and the sparkle of a new body, new clothes, new love, and new life.

For this reason, I find this recent post by DietGirl to be so incredibly valuable. Shauna Reid, the blogger at spent four or five years losing 175 lbs. She's now in to her third year of maintaining that weight loss. What she has to say about maintenance in this post makes more sense to me than ANYTHING I've heard anyone else say about maintenance before. Shauna says that she lived on euphoria alone the first year after her weight loss. The second year was hard. She'd written a book about her weight loss and was flooded with feedback about what an inspiration she was when she was cycling through bouts of eating junk food and little exercise. She says:

There were times when I could have cheerfully burned my book. I bugged the heck out of myself with my optimism and irritating self acceptance. I was just plain jealous of Book Shauna, to be honest. I could barely believe that was me who'd lost all that weight and stuck at it for so many years. How did I start wanting change more than chocolate? That determined girl seemed like a stranger and I worried I'd never find her again.

Shauna, you took the words right out of my mouth. I've worried for three years that I'd never find the girl who lost 105 lbs. a few years ago. The excitement. The expectation. The clarity of thought. I've been waiting for her to show up again and get me through the weight loss so I can move into maintenance.

Maintenance seems to be a story about choosing to do all the hard things involved in weight loss--eating right, exercising, confronting emotions, changing bad habits, making difficult decisions--without all the press. There is no big parade for maintaining a healthy weight for three years or four years or even twenty. The big build up, the great goal seems to be about losing the weight. Then you lose a whole bunch of weight, you celebrate your achievement and then life gets hard again. You have to choose either to keep going with your healthy lifestyle or abandon it. And I abandoned my healthy lifestyle.

I gave it up for many reasons, but I think the real clincher is something called the diet mentality. I invested myself heavily in that mentality. It includes things like: obsessing about the scale, perfectionism in eating and exercising, all-or-nothing outlook, beating myself up for eating anything off plan and focusing on that one perfect moment when the scale finally reads my magic number. That kind of thinking took me to a dangerous place emotionally that exploded in my face 14 months after I began changing my health.

Physically I felt better than I had felt in a long, long time. Emotionally though I was a basket case. When my explosion occurred, I begain eating everything in sight almost immediately. If I had not been so caught up in the diet mentality, I might have had the ability to stay with the emotions I was experiencing and allow myself the psychic space to freak out little bit. But because of the perfectionism--all or nothing--mentality that is inherent in this screwed-up thinking, I didn't pick myself up the next day and acknowledge that while I had eaten three pieces of cake, four sandwiches, and any cookie I could get my hands on the day before, it was okay. I was okay. I didn't know how to deal with that place of terror. Or my way of dealing with it was to EAT. And eat I did. Over and over and over again. Anything I could get my hands on. All the time.

I hit a brick wall and exploded emotionally and I did what I had done for a long, long time before. I ate. I soothed myself with food. I ate to forget that I was hurting. I ate to hide from my failure. I ate to mask the pain. I ate because I didn't realize that I didn't have to beat myself up for making a mistake.

If I could go back now, with everything that I've learned over the last few years, I would like to try handling that emotional explosion this way:

STOP. Stop. Quiet yourself. Sit somewhere. Acknowledge your pain. Feel it. Name it. Feel it again. Eat if you want. Don't eat. Run. Play. Dance. Sing. Mourn. Scream. Hurt. But stop and feel. Allow for gray. My health, my future, my plan seemed so black and white. I did not know how to acknowledge what I wanted while at the same time acknowledge that it might not turn out that way and to BE OKAY. I did not account for contingencies. Who wants to really? But when they come, I want a better way. I know now what gorging and gorging and eating nonstop will do to me. I know now where it will take me. I want to choose a different way. Not a perfect way. Not the only way. But experiment. Try a different way to handle the hurt that is seeping out you.

If I could redo that emotional explosion now, I would approach myself with gentleness. With kindness. With hope that things can change. With hard work no matter what. With space for the unknown to occur without me losing myself. I would hold my hand. Be a friend. And acknowledge that things might be really tough for a while.

That's why I want to think about maintenance now. I have to change my emotional lifestyle if I'm ever going to succeed at my physically healthy lifestyle. They go hand in hand.


Catherine said...

Hi Eden,

I just found your blog today. I think you hit the bullseye about how to deal with and reduce emotional eating -- we have to learn to be okay with sitting with our unpleasant emotions.

I'm a 100+ pound loser and my highest weight was 357 pounds. I have lost the weight gradually over the past five years. You can read more about the journey at if you're curious :)

I've bookmarked your blog -- thank you for sharing it with us!

Eden said...

Catherine--Thanks for reading. I'm glad to make on a friend on this journey. I look forward to reading your story.


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