Monday, January 9, 2012

There's No Such Thing as Weight Maintenance


There’s a big misconception when it comes it weight loss. Actually, there are so many but I’m fixated on one today. Many clients, during their sessions say things like “when I’m on maintenance I’ll eat pizza” or “I’m going to keep exercising until I get to my goal weight.” The clients who make these statements are committed to their food plans and sessions; they just see their work as finite. To me, a commitment to wellness shouldn’t be seen any differently from a marriage. Can you imagine, unless you happen to be George Clooney, entering a long-term relationship saying I will love you until 2014? I hope not.

There was an article in the New York Times Magazine written by Tara Parker Pope, right around New Years. It was on the “most emailed” list for days so it was well circulated. The feedback I received was that people found the article, entitled “The Fat Trap” thoroughly depressing. Ms. Pope talks about hormonal and metabolic changes that occur with weight loss making weight loss more difficult the further you go. Also in the article is a profile of woman who goes to great lengths to maintain her results. We’re told that she weighs and measure her food, works out over an hour almost every day and keeps a food journal. I understand why some could be disheartened, it sounds like a lot of work. And yet, maintaining your weight is a lot of work (though weighing and measuring isn’t something I endorse).

The term lifestyle gets tossed around but many still view food modifications as means to an end (or a smaller end). However, there’s no graduation day or finish line with weight or health. There’s only a potential U-turn if you’re not careful. As for postponing treats or certain foods until you’re “done” that’s dieting 101. Learning to treat yourself and go back is one of the most important weight loss skills.  Few plan to live their lives without pizza (or other treat) so we may as well learn to have it, perhaps with a side salad, and not feel we’re off to the unhealthy races. Sure, the amount of exercise or food that works may be slightly different when your goal is to maintain your weight than to lose more weight but you still need to budget. II advise my clients that it’s better not to use the word “maintenance” at all, which seems to connote this food Shangri-La, and focus on doing that hard work every day.  After a while, it’s not as hard.
Do you think the word "maintenance" is a trap? I have my suspicions but where do you suspect this thinking originated? Did you read "The Fat Trap"? 



33 comments:

  1. The Today Show did a segment on the information you mentioned that was in that article. My first thought was that it was going to give people an excuse to not even try. I wonder how much that changing one's diet really affects metabolism in the average person. I do believe there are some individuals whose metabolism is genetically slow, but overall a healthy lifestyle leads naturally to maintaining a healthy weight.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Karen, yep the article got a lot of press (long juice article). Agreed, why try if super hard? Hate that. Metabolic rates are lower when weight decreases but again, if you're eating correctly and exercising weight should be headed in right direction. If we feel things are doomed we may not do either of those things.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I enjoyed the article and did not find it depressing. I know from past experience that putting the weight back on is not too difficult and I will, for the rest of my life, have to be vigilante on my food choices. It will be something I think about often. It will be as much a part of my life in 12 months as it is today.

    Having said that, I don't find it a problem. I am looking forward to exploring new foods, recipes and methods of cooking it and keeping under a certain calorie goal.

    Yes, I am looking forward to the day I can introduce some foods back into my life. Bread and cheese especially, but today, I am much more aware of the calories and how they can add up. The reason I do not eat those items today is because I have no calorie allowance to slide in 2-300 calories. I have no desire to eat a 300 calorie piece of pizza. I would much rather have a huge salad with a nice dressing.

    To me, maintenance just means a time when I intend to keep my weight in a certain range. It will require a lot more learning. How many calories can I eat a week vs. how much exercise? I suspect that will take a few months to work out.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bzybee, you are reaping the benefits of the hard work so "get it". And I think the more we acknowledge the hard work ahead the less it surprises us.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes, I read the article, and I thought it was a bit too discouraging. I do think it's important to point out that "weight maintenance" is very hard work and that one can't "let loose" once the weight is lost. But, in my opinion, the article was missing encouragement or any positive examples (of people who have successfully maintained their weight and made it part of their lifestyle).

    I don't think it's a good idea to think of weight "maintenance." It somehow implies that you can do something different than when you lost weight. And, in my experience, that isn't really the case. I worked very hard at losing quite a bit of weight a few years ago, and to "maintain" my weight, I have to do pretty much the same: work out 6 days a week, choose healthy foods (most of the time), and most of all, be mindful when I eat and closely monitor my portion size.

    ReplyDelete
  6. So maybe Andrea it's modified weight loss or just habits continued. Exactly, rules don't really change.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Vanessa @vanperroneJanuary 9, 2012 at 5:55 AM

    So happy you brought this up! I am actually working with someone on his 9th weight loss attempt and what you explained today is exactly why he "U-turned" 8 times before: Deprivation of treats for months...and then overcompensation once the weight was lost. Learning how to treat yourself might seem counterproductive during the weight loss process, but its very important for the ultimate end goal of a healthy, steady weight.

    ReplyDelete
  8. vanessa- so glad you got exactly what I was saying. Deprive and overcompensate, not good.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The sobering truth is that most people need to watch what they eat their entire lives. In our age of plenty there's really no way to eat whatever's around, with no discrimination, and not gain weight.

    Personally, I don't know a slim woman beyond her 30s that has not exercised control over food practically forever.

    Maintenance sounds like work; Relearning how to eat healthfully sounds more appealing. If you learn new eating habits it becomes no work at all.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I read that article by Tara Pope Parker too. Once you have reached your goal weight, after the excitiment it can be a bit of a let down. People stop commenting on how great you look. Your jeans all fit! I started a new job in June after I had reached my goal. No one there knew me before ahead and just assume I am naturally thin. I get comments all the time like "of course you can eat this brownie, you are so thin". It is hard. I have decided to focus more on other goals, like running another marathon or taking one new fitness class a month (a new years resolution) so that I can still get that rush I felt when my skinny jeans became my fat jeans!

    Great post and definitely important topic to think about. I went to foodtrainers because I wanted to change my lifestyle. I know how to lose weight, but did not know how to maintain it (which I think is much harder)

    ReplyDelete
  11. The doctors are in the house.
    Ayala, agreed maintenance is just a bad term. Permanence, sustained change? Maybe we just reframe the concept.
    Melanie- agree it's a new chapter when it's not new but you're one to attest to the fact that the organizing/watching continue even after the jeans fit. Maybe, you just didn't know pre-foodtrainers that the losing and the maintaining were so similar. Either way you're a progress posterchild.
    What's the next race? You know, you run better without the Pill (kidding couldn't resist) love your comments and opinion always.

    ReplyDelete
  12. That article was depressing as it just confirmed everything I've lived with regards to my weight. The first time I lost a significant amount of weight (25# before my wedding, in my late 20s), I was so excited to be able to relax about food. Then I gained all of it back and more. I became really resentful about food and my weight and the work that it took to maintain. So I threw in the towel and gained more and more. Now I'm more realistic about weight and the vigilance required for healthy weight, but I'm still pretty cranky about it.

    Your George Clooney reminds me of a comment made by a friend. about 9 years into her marriage, she said, "I thought I could stop trying by now!" Nope, it's always going to take work. Same with weight and health overall -- it always takes work. And it's worth it.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This is one of the most difficult topics to discuss with people because unless you've reached a point where you're at peace with a healthy lifestyle forever and it's a joy to fuel you body with nutritious foods each day for the rest of your life then people see that type of living as "restrictive" and they view their current eating pattern as temporary... when they reach their goal weight, then they can add back the foods they've been restricting. That to me is all part of the dieting mentality... and can lead to restricting/binging. I agree with you that maintenance needs to be thrown out the window and a healthy lifestyle needs to be just that... a lifestyle. And it doesn't mean you can eat certain foods like burgers and fries. It just means you have to have an awareness that those foods are higher in calories -- so have a burger with no mayo a side salad. Or try a veggie burger and steal 1 or 2 fries from your spouse =)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Lisa such good points restrictive and temporary are the things that we need to guard against and getting to doing the best you can every day. Marie you nailed it with "relaxing" and no we can never stop trying in marriage or with food.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I think part of the issue is what exactly is a treat and how does that play into a long term weight journey. Should the goal be to stop looking at certain foods as a treat.. To some a treat is two slices of pizza (600+ calories?) to others it is 1 slice of a Terry's chocolate orange (45 calories).

    I read an awful lot in the beginning about cheat days and food treats and I just could never accept that. To work so hard and then scoff down 500 (or more) extra calories because I am too weak to go without seems lame. I don't want to give the impression this is easy. I fight against not making bad choices every day.. I just struggle with the whole concept of treats.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I only just read the article - hadn't heard of it. I like what the woman from California talks about: over the years of journaling, she knows how many calories she burns and how many calories are in certain foods. Being analytical, I like this approach. You say you don't recommend weighing food, but the tools I use when I'm counting calories often give measures in grams or ounces, which doesn't help you work out how much food you have before you. I find measuring helpful although I don't do it very often. Is that what you mean - doing it all the time is too much or are you saying that doing it at all is too much? Or does it depend on the person?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Caron depends on the person. I like as much as possible to be intuitive and if eating right foods, drinking the right things and exercising I don't find my clients need to weight and measure. Some like to and that's fine. Byz- I hear you. When making progress it can seem like a treat doesn't make sense or maybe right now you don't want. However, I see "treat training" as a skill not a step in the wrong direction. My criteria for clients are a) plan it, what have you been craving or yearning for? b) portion it c) enjoy it and eat it guilt free (if you can't don't treat right now d) next meal on track.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I did actually read about running and the pill...did give it some thought and am taking next month off as an experiment...actually don't know how much longer I am going to need it....but we will address that when the time is right and I will definitely be back at foodtrainers if I start eating for two!

    ReplyDelete
  19. This is interesting. I definitely fall into the trap of thinking "once I've lost X, then I'll...". But I'm having a hard time losing X in the first place. It's hard to be patient!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I think patient is a good word and trying to focus on the doing vrs the result. What happened to your couch to 5k program?

    ReplyDelete
  21. The Today Show did a segment on the information you mentioned that was in that article. My first thought was that it was going to give people an excuse to not even try. I wonder how much that changing one's diet really affects metabolism in the average person. I do believe there are some individuals whose metabolism is genetically slow, but overall a healthy lifestyle leads naturally to maintaining a healthy weight.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Just like anything I think that weight is something that constantly needs to be worked on. I know that I am always watching closely to see if things change for me and I've been the same weight most of my life. It's not really about losing, it's just about maintaining to me...

    ReplyDelete
  23. I think that maintenance is not a trap but it needs to go along with something that is often NOT learned with weight loss plans - intuitive eating. Your body naturally is going to give you signals to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. It takes a little while to learn how to respond to those signals but when you listen to your body (and I mean REALLY listen...not say "Oh I'm craving chocolate ice cream, that MUST MEAN that my body NEEDS chocolate ice cream right now"), maintenance comes more easily. I think that for people to figure out how to listen to their body's hunger and fullness cues, they might go through a time period where they are experiencing weight fluctuations as they figure things out. I was never one to "believe in" intuitive eating. My theory was that I would get just as full from a 400-calorie homemade meal as I would from a 1400-calorie restaurant version of that same meal, because the calories were "hidden" in the food. But it turns out that slowing down, tasting the food, enjoying the food, and tuning in with myself actually has given me the ability to stop when it's time.
    Of course, it's important to make informed choices (no good food vs bad food, but some foods have more nutritious value while other foods are less nutritious), get proper nutrients, and strive for balance. But my point is, when it comes to maintenance, I immediately associate it with intuitive eating, and really believe that it's something for everyone to strive for.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I heard TPP on NPR, and was bummed out because I know what she says is true. For the same reason that I eat a lot and get bigger and some of my friends eat a lot and stay the same size I will always have to eat less if I want to stay thin (when I get there). Just the way the cookie crumbles. I refuse to wallow in the "why me" and realize that I have a lot of other great things to be thankful for.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I hadn't really thought about the term "maintenance" before, but what you say is spot on. I did read the article, and like others found it depressing, but I think anyone who wants to lose weight should approach it with the goal of eating healthy/changing habits for life. So much research shows that when people go off diets, most re-gain the weight plus more! Better not to have gone on the "diet" in the first place. Yes, it can be hard work, and that's why deprivation never works. Like Lisa said, It's all about a healthy lifestyle, and one that you can enjoy for life!

    ReplyDelete
  26. EA, agreed and didn't think if in fact the going off leads to a rebound better not to have started.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Great post!
    I hear that so often. Even patients that labs are now normal that think they can eat whatever they want again.
    I do think it is important to maintain balance while losing weight and not feel deprived during your weight loss journey..or else you'll never make it. I think that is why so many people end up gaining the weight back.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I havent read the Fat Trap so I am definitely going to pull it out. I do agree with you on how maintenance indicates that there's a finiteness to it all. I think that's why people end up yoyo-ing up and down so much when it comes to weight loss.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Maybe the advice is don't make a change unless you can make it forever?

    ReplyDelete
  30. Keeping a food journal sounds as depressing as losing weight...
    Maintenance...the hardest part of the whole program.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I find that balance is the best solution. You have to make choices that are good for you and you have to realize that there are times, such as the holidays when you will eat more. It's good to make healthy choices for life.

    ReplyDelete
  32. good points and love how on topic u are

    ReplyDelete
  33. Thanks for your comment on my blog! I was at first not a fan of what you had to say because it's not what works for ME but after reading through the rest of your blog, I like you :) And it's very true that different things work for different people. I'll be reading more! And following you on Twitter.

    ReplyDelete