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Maintaining your weight over the long term

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

At the end of the famous Aesop's fable the slow but steady tortoise wins the race even though his opponent the rabbit is a faster sprinter. Congratulations to you if, like that tortoise, you end up at the finish line you have set for yourself. While having met your weight loss goals is definitely cause for celebration, it is not a license for going back to your old "eat what I feel like" ways. Sustaining weight loss is not a sprint but rather a marathon of lifelong change. Long term weight loss and maintenance depends on dozens of daily choices made correctly more times than not over long periods of time.

Shift To A Nutritionally Balanced Maintainance Diet

In order to keep your weight off, you'll need to start on a maintainance diet sooner rather than later. If your reducing plan wasn't itself a nutritionally balanced diet make sure that you move towards eating such a diet as soon as you have met your weight loss goals. Continue to eat a balanced and nutritionally sound diet on an ongoing basis. Limit your sweets intake. Include more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy unsaturated fats and lean meats in your diet. Consider going organic if you have the resources to do so. Your body benefits every time you make a healthy food choice.

It may take you a while to determine the proper amount of food you can eat post-diet without gaining weight. While it's likely that you'll be able to eat more than you were while on your reducing diet (even allowing for occasional treats) and still maintain your gains, you will never again be able to eat whatever you feel like eating whenever you feel like it without risking weight gain.

Exercise

Your chances of sustaining your weight loss will rise dramatically if you begin and stick with a program of regular physical exercise of a sort you enjoy. Regular exercise will help you to burn excess calories, firm and tone your body, ward off illnesses, and help you manage stress. Exercise is truly an investment in your health.

Manage Lapses

It is not in human nature to be perfect. There will be times when, for whatever reason, you will give in to temptation or fatigue and eat things you should not, or fail to exercise when you should. Your chances of sustaining your weight loss will also rise significantly if you create contingency plans to help you minimize the impact these lapses will have on your maintainance compliance.

The first useful thing you can do is to inoculate yourself against the idea that a lapse in routine is a failure. A lapse is nothing more than a small break with routine. It means little in the scheme of things if you manage the lapse in such a way that it doesn't spread or grow. A lapse is not a failure unless you let it become one. When you lapse (the chances are high that you will do so occasionally), do not panic about it. Simply accepting that you lapsed and returning to your maintainance program is the wisest course of action.

In addictions counseling the acronym HALT stands for four conditions that addicts are taught to avoid so as to minimize relapse: Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. These same distressing conditions can make dietary lapses more likely too. Therefore, avoid letting yourself get too hungry at any given moment by making sure that you eat regular meals and snack on healthy snacks as you feel the need. Never starve yourself while attempting to lose weight. Starving one's self can lead to impulsive eating and can lead to eating disorders when taken to extremes. Do what you can to minimize the other three conditions too, and you will have assisted yourself in keeping to your healthy routines.

Consciously plan for occasional indulgences. If you are really craving something, allow yourself permission to occasionally have a normal portion of that food. If you try to deprive yourself of too many things for too long a time you will likely end up binging on the forbidden foods when you can no longer stand the deprivation. Such out of control eating can lead to emotional upset and abandonment of your maintainance program if you let it. It is far easier to avoid binge eating by simply giving yourself permission to eat what you crave not and then.

Actively plan for how you'll manage your diet over the holidays, rather than simply getting depressed about what you are missing. For example, eat a healthy snack before going to a holiday party so you will be likely to binge on party food. If you drink, alternate alcoholic beverages with glasses of water or club soda. This will make it less likely that you abandon your eating plan during a drunken judgment lapse.

Trying to diet when everyone else is celebrating between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is really difficult. To cope, consider altering your diet goals during the holiday season. If you are in an active weight loss period during a holiday season then make it your goal to maintain your weight or keep weight gain to a minimum, rather than insisting that you continue to lose weight. If you are maintaining your weight, plan on increasing the amount of time and effort you put into your exercise program. Select reasonable portions of foods that you enjoy at holiday meals, including desserts. Eat slowly and enjoy the delicious food. If you do end up binging, remember that tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to go back to your maintainance eating plan. There should be no need to completely avoid all holiday foods.

When lapses occur, do what you can to learn from them. Have a sense of humor about the situation, and then react appropriately. Most people who keep weight off for extended period of time weigh themselves regularly, notice small weight gains, and address them right away by determining what is causing the weight gain and changing that behavior. It is far easier to keep one's weight within a five pound range of normal than to shed it again after having let it build up. In addition to being easier to nip in the bud, small weight gains are also easier to cope psychologically than are large lapses. Small gains simply do not merit feelings of failure and unattractiveness such as are associated with large lapses so there is less resistance to bringing them under control.

Do not let lapses discourage your efforts. Your goals should allow for occasional slips.

In the end it is a lifestyle change that works; not being on or off a diet

You've probably heard the phrase "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance" before in reference to politics. It is equally applicable to weight maintainance. Truly long term weight loss is possible only when people make lifestyle changes that support weight loss; remaining committed to watching their diet and meeting their exercise goals on an ongoing basis. You are a valuable person and taking care of your body is a wise investment. There will be dozens of solutions for every obstacle you'll encounter if you'll look for them. Be patient with yourself, learn from experience what does not work and move on. The only real failure is to totally give up.