Never Underestimate the Value of Maintenance

We all forget to be grateful for what we have.  It’s human nature.  Every so often we get reminders, usually when we lose something and then we appreciate it.  Sometimes it is money or material items.  I recently lost my iPod, and I really appreciate it now that it’s gone!  Even if we have not personally had major health issues, we at least have heard stories of other people who only truly appreciate their health once it is gone.  Time spent complaining about minor aches and pains can be seen as petty in light of such insight.

The same feelings are connected with weight loss.  So much energy is spent working toward an ideal weight, or just a weight that can be tolerated, that many dieters forget to be grateful they are not gaining when the pounds are not falling off quickly enough.

Everyone wants to lose quickly and consistently, but human beings are complex creatures, both biologically and behaviorally.  In reality, quick is seldom consistent, and slow and steady does usually win in the end.  Even slow and steady is only steady when viewed as a trend, not as a daily pattern.  Who isn’t familiar with how the scale can wiggle (up AND down) when weighing becomes obsessive?

What does it mean to maintain?  Yes, it means that your weight is staying the same, but let’s look a little deeper.  It means that average weight is staying the same – it is hovering around the same point – for weeks at a time, not just days or even a week.  When a body is truly maintaining weight (to be precise – fat mass), it also means that over time the calories consumed are balancing with the calories burned.  As I mentioned, bodies are complex organisms and there is still much we do not know about the details of metabolism, but this is the big picture reality.

Another reality:  If you are maintaining, you do not really deserve to be losing!  I don’t mean you are not a wonderful human being and you are not deserving of all the happiness you can make for yourself.  What I mean is that you have not created the negative energy balance necessary to create fat loss.  You have not earned it.

There are several ways to move forward from the point of metabolic balance.  You can consume fewer calories or burn more, and then fat stores will start to diminish.  You can keep your lifestyle the same, and your fat stores will also stay the same.  Finally, and never the goal, you can just give up trying to improve your habits, and probably see your fat stores increase along with your weight.  (NOW you appreciate maintenance, don’t you?!)

I realize this is an overly simplistic explanation.  Bodies can change metabolically, and I have seen people struggle with hormonal shifting and medical conditions that affect calorie balance, but the simple view is the most useful in general and almost always makes sense.  It is usually a person’s thinking processes that are more to blame for situations that seem illogical.

Can you see how maintenance might not be such a terrible situation under certain circumstances?  Maybe you could even appreciate maintenance at times, even if you want to lose.  If you still don’t buy the argument, consider the following situations:

  • When you have made all the lifestyle changes you can make at this time and weight is staying steady.  (the misconception:  I should kick it up a notch, even though I know I cannot live like that.  People often end up regaining and wishing they had been content maintaining at their not-quite-ideal goal.)  It is possible that you may be willing to change more at another time, but for now, you really haven’t earned a weight loss.  You are in calorie balance – for now.
  • When your life gets more challenging and your weight loss lifestyle is a set-up for disappointment and failure in light of that – a vulnerable time when you are at risk for throwing in the towel and regaining.
  • When you have an eating pattern that is chaotic, such as the common starve-binge cycle familiar to so many career dieters.  (Many people will need to steady out their eating habits first – a huge accomplishment – before they can make intelligent decisions about changing their habits overall.  It is hard to even see logic when lifestyle is chaotic.)
  • When you have been gaining, and now you are maintaining.  (You have improved your lifestyle AND your weight status!)
  • When you are at your “natural weight” but not your ideal (dream) weight.  (You may want to be thinner, but you are healthy at your current weight, and a lower weight is not sustainable.)

The concept of “goal weight” is worth discussing.  If I were writing a dictionary of weight loss terms, this would be defined as “a weight that a person can maintain (within a 5 pound range) with a manageable lifestyle of balanced eating and activity”.  In real life, a person can have a “dream weight” below this point, but it is just that – a dream.  Their current lifestyle will not allow maintenance for any significant length of time.  Unfortunately too many people make their dream weight their goal – a set-up for constant feelings of failure.

I know it is discouraging when  your goal is to weigh less and see visible changes.  I get it, really I do.  I think it is important to set goals that challenge.  I also think that goals must be realistic.  While this can be a fine line, I think you will FEEL the balance when you hit it right.  Sorry – there is no scientific formula or phone app for that!

2 responses to “Never Underestimate the Value of Maintenance

  1. I soo hear you Kim! Right now I am very close to my ideal weight, actually I may even be at it but I don’t feel safe at this weight, if you know what I mean. I need a five pound cushion. Anyway, I have never maintained my current weight for very long, so I am proud that it’s been a few months and I am still at it. I just need to keep up the good habits but I feel my body is constantly pushing me to my “set point” and making me crave carbs. It’s so hard, perhaps the greatest battle is with maintenance!

    • Yes, maintaining is hard at first, because you are trying to create new habits. I think the set point is more related to the habits you practice than your biology. The longer they are practiced the easier and more automatic they become.

      That is the only way to successfully maintain, since “will power” is shaky and relies on your ability to fight against habits. Build new ones with continuous practice (hard, I know) and you will not be fighting anymore. They will become your automatic responses – no fighting with yourself (most of the time). You are still trying to make the changes into habits (ie. less difficult, more automatic).

      The carb cravings will probably never completely go away, but that’s ok if those are exceptions. That’s as good as it gets! Stick with it – you probably just need more time practicing the new lifestyle.

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