If you’ve been following my blog, you know I recently completed a weight-loss plan and reached my goal. While the process of losing weight is difficult, it is a short-term goal with an end point. I knew I wouldn’t feel as hungry or deprived once the calorie restriction ceased. Psychologically speaking, it was a powerful motivational tool I had at my disposal to get through the toughest days and weeks.
But, maintaining a healthy weight is a long-term goal. In fact, it’s a life-long goal with no end point. I’m now a month and a half into my weight-maintenance plan to keep my weight exactly where it is. Yes, this plan is clearly in it’s infancy and only time will tell if I’m successful. But the plan, by design, will work. I am the variable that matters. If I stick to the plan, I will be successful. If I don’t, anything can happen. I shared with you the plan I utilized to lose the weight, today’s post gives you insight into my weight-maintenance plan.
First, there needs to be some thought given to how the weight-loss is achieved in the first place. If the weight-loss plan involves cutting out entire foods, food groups or massive caloric restriction, you may reach your goal. But, maintenance after that kind of diet will be nearly impossible to achieve. The adage “diets don’t work” is only half true. Any diet will work simply because all weight-loss diet plans restrict calories in some way. If one follows the plan, one will lose weight. The reason most diets don’t work is usually one of two things happens: either the person goes off the diet before reaching her goal or she goes off the diet once reaching her goal and, eventually, she puts the weight back on. The more restrictive the diet, the more likely it won’t be sustained and the quicker the weight returns. This is why I vehemently oppose highly restrictive diets for weight-loss. I don’t believe they’re healthy and I don’t believe they work in the long run. Low-carb, very low-fat, vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, no sugar, no white foods, paleo – may fit the bill for people who are making lifestyle or ethical choices with their diets and some of these diets are essential for people with certain diseases, food allergies and intolerances. But they aren’t good weight-loss diets for the average person who would otherwise happily consume these foods if given the option.
The simpler you keep your weight-loss plan, the easier it will be to maintain your weight beyond the plan. There were no foods that were off-limits for me. To be fair, I was already eating a mostly healthy diet – lean proteins, high quality fats, plenty of fruits and vegetables, minimally processed whole grains. But I also allow myself treats like dark chocolate, ice cream, beer, wine, French fries and home-baked items. And, though I try to minimize highly-processed foods, a peek through my cabinets will reveal items such as crackers and energy bars. Still, these foods comprise less than 20% of my diet. Knowing my diet was already 80-90% healthy foods, my plan was all about calories in versus calories out. I kept careful track of what I ate and what I did for exercise through MyFitnessPal so that I could ensure I was running a daily calorie deficit at a rate that would yield an average weight-loss of one pound per week. This meant most days I wouldn’t have any of my above-mentioned treats. But, when I wanted to, I indulged and made up for those calories somewhere else in my day. In short, I was eating exactly the same foods I was before I dieted, I simply ate less of them.
Fast-forward to weight maintenance. The day after I reached my goal, I went into my MyFitnessPal account and changed my goal from weight loss to weight maintenance. The program used all the parameters in my account to calculate the amount of calories I can consume each day to maintain my current weight. For two weeks, I continued to log my daily food intake and exercise so I could learn how much I can eat to maintain my well-earned goal. Now, I use that information to self-monitor food intake and I weigh myself about every-other-day. So far, I’ve been able to maintain the weight. The plan for when I weigh in at more than my current weight: I return to using MyFitnessPal to cut back on calories until I’m back to the goal.
I know I had several advantages: I was already eating healthfully, exercising 6 days a week and I only had 10 pounds to lose. If I were to counsel a sedentary person with an unhealthy diet and a big weight-loss goal ahead of her, I would recommend one hurdle at a time, starting with the shortest hurdle. Begin by changing your diet, swapping out unhealthy choices for healthy ones. When you’re at the point where your food choices are 75% (or more) healthy, then you can begin exploring exercise options, the second hurdle. Once you’re already making healthy food and exercise choices in your life, then it makes sense to start focusing on calorie deficits, such as the plan I used. Most people put the hurdles in the opposite order, focusing on a restrictive diet first. By the time you get to trying to incorporate exercise, you’re too hungry and discouraged to do it! The result is unsustainable weight loss (if any) with zero health benefits.
If you put the hurdles in the right order by focusing on getting healthy first through quality food choices and exercise, you will begin to lose weight. Then, as you focus on a more targeted weight-loss plan, you can do it without feeling the need to adopt drastic, unproductive, unhealthy, restrictive food diets. This makes the last, life-long hurdle of maintaining your weight a breeze to clear.