It is really hard to make lifestyle changes! True behavior changes do not happen at light speed. The reality is that most people change at a snail’s pace, and the process of moving forward is regularly interrupted by little “side trips” or even backtracking adventures.
I also see people reach a weight goal, and then the mystery becomes, “How the heck do I maintain?!” Without learning this crucial skill, re-gaining is inevitable.
A recent study looked at the weight loss journey in an out-of-the-box way, and I believe it makes a lot of sense behaviorally. Why not practice a few healthy habits while maintaining (without the pressure of losing weight), get the hang of that, and then make small changes to create weight loss?
The study looked at 267 mostly obese women. Half were told to maintain their weight for 8 weeks while they worked on learning skills toward a healthier lifestyle. Then they followed a 20 week weight loss plan. The other group just followed the weight loss plan. Both groups lost a similar amount of weight, but the group that practiced maintaining kept twice as much weight off.
You may ask, “Why would I want to learn to maintain? I do that all too well. I have that mastered.” Well, if you truly do have that mastered – in other works, you are fairly consistent with your habits, without big highs and lows of food and/or exercise, and your weight does not vary much – then you probably don’t need to learn it. You already have a sense of cause and effect. You know that if you change that established pattern significantly, you will change your body. You know that your weight will go up and down a couple of pounds as part of normal life.
Great! You are in a good position to make well planned changes to your lifestyle that are realistic. You will have some degree of logic about the process – what you must do and what you will get if you follow through.
But what if you are like so many people who deprive and binge cyclically, or work out like a madman/madwoman and then quit altogether? In that case, there is little logic. You may be maintaining over time, but it feels chaotic. Habits are not stabilized, so weight will yo-yo up and down, even if average weight does not change much. That is a very powerless position to begin making changes. There is chaos in the process, so there will be no logical formula for maintaining weight.
Although it was a short study, it just makes sense. If change is hard – IT IS – and if it takes a while to make new habits stick – WHICH IT DOES – then this may be a new approach that works for some people. I would be willing to bet that it will be most effective for individuals who feel most confused about the process in general. It’s certainly worth a shot if you are frustrated and confused, because it takes a little of the pressure off when there is no urgency to see the scale number go down.