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The Fat Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Phase 2: Switching from Loss to Maintenance

Done I’m done.

I am officially done losing weight. I’ve reached my target weight. Or, to be more accurate: I have reached the bottom of my target weight range. Or, to be even more accurate than that: I have made a final decision as to what my target weight range should even be (something I wasn’t sure of at the beginning of this project), and have reached the bottom of that range. My goal was to get my weight between 135 and 140 pounds; as of this writing, I weigh 135. I’m done. I am off of weight loss… and am now on what everyone informs me is the much harder project of life-long weight management.

As I always do when I write about this stuff, I promise yet again: This is not going to turn into a weight control blog. If you want to know the details of how I lost the weight, you can read them here: but I’m not going to bore you every day, or indeed every month, with the tedious details of what I’m eating and how much I weigh and how I feel about it all. I’d rather lock myself in a box with snakes. And as I always do when I write about this, I want to make it clear: I’m not evangelizing about weight loss for every fat person. I know that weight loss takes a lot of work, I know that it’s harder for some people than others, and I think the cost/ benefit analysis of whether that work is worth it will be different for everybody.

But enough of you have been interested in the other writing I’ve done about this project, so I wanted to update you on where I’ve gotten… and where I’m going from here.

Road_work_sign Or, to be accurate, where I think I’m going from here. Because everything I’ve read tells me that, as difficult as it is to lose weight, it’s more difficult by an order of magnitude to keep it off. Lots of people lose weight; relatively few people lose weight and keep it off. It does happen, but it’s less common by far. I do have some ideas of what I need to do (and not do) to make this work: I’ve done a lot of reading about this, I know what many of the pitfalls and success strategies are, and since forewarned is forearmed, I feel reasonably confident that I’ll be able to make this happen. But this part of the project is very new to me — I’ve only been on maintenance for a couple of weeks now — and this post is going to have a lot more questions in it than answers.

Lose it The first question, of course, is, “What am I going to do to maintain my weight?” And in an entirely practical sense, that question has a very simple answer: I’m going to do exactly what I did to lose the weight in the first place. I’m counting calories, and I’m exercising almost every day. The only difference — and I mean the only difference — is that my daily calorie budget is a little higher. I am not changing anything else… and I don’t plan to.

Couch_potato Everything I’ve read about maintaining weight loss says the same thing: One of the biggest mistakes people make with weight loss is that they think they’re done. They think that, once they’ve lost the weight, they can go back to their same old eating and exercise habits. And their old habits are what got them to gain the weight in the first place. As I’ve said many times when I’ve written about this topic: Our “natural” food instincts cannot be trusted. Our “natural” food instincts evolved 100,000 years ago on the African savannah, in an environment of food scarcity, and they are not capable of coping with a food environment where Snickers bars are easily and cheaply available on every street corner. Our “natural” food instincts are dummies. That’s just reality. Weight control isn’t something you do once and then forget about. It’s a permanent lifestyle change. Like any lifestyle change, it becomes less self-conscious and more automatic as time goes on… but it’s still a permanent lifestyle change, and not a one-time project. (That’s why it’s so important for weight loss programs to be sustainable: if you lose weight, but don’t learn healthy eating and exercise habits that you’ll be happy with for life, it’s not going to work in the long run,) When people stop consciously managing their weight, and go back to their old unconscious eating habits, they gain the weight back.

Peets-freddos And I can see exactly how that could happen. The day I decided, “I’m done,” one of the first thoughts that came rushing into my head was, “Woo hoo! Now I can go have a frappuccino at Peet’s! I can get a double cheeseburger with fries at the Double Play! I can eat anything I want! I’m not losing weight anymore!”

Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed. I knew this was coming. And I knew it was a bad, bad idea. I knew that this inner “Woo hoo!” was the siren song leading me back to 200 pounds. So I ignored it. I kept up my program. The day I decided, “I’m done,” I ate exactly as I would have if I’d still been on the weight loss program. I think I ate a cookie, and let myself go over budget by about 50 calories. (Both of which are things I did fairly often, even when I was on weight loss.) I’ve since dialed up my calorie budget slightly, and am still trying to decide what it ultimately ought to be… but the nuts and bolts of my program are the same. Counting calories; staying within a daily calorie budget; exercising almost every day.

Doll tape measure But weirdly, and very unexpectedly, the other thought that rushed into my head when I decided I was done was, “You could lose a little more.”

“Come on.” the voice said. “Keep going. Five more pounds, and you’d be a Size 6! Ten more pounds, and your body fat percentage would be in the ‘Athletic’ range! You can do it!”

This wasn’t about anorexia, or any other body image distortion. I didn’t think I was too fat, or even fat at all. This was about being weirdly attached to the process of losing weight. The little victories, the sense of accomplishment, the feeling of having a goal that I was getting closer and closer to every week… that’s been very deeply satisfying. And it’s been strangely hard to let go of. As difficult as this process has been, I’m going to miss it. I clearly have to find some Zen-like way of seeing ongoing weight management as a victorious goal in itself. (I’m thinking anniversaries. Celebrating six months of maintenance, a year of maintenance, two years, three years… those are goals, too. And getting to a year of successfully maintaining weight loss will mean getting to sign up for the National Weight Control Registry… and I’m enough of a nerd to think that will be loads of fun.)

Attention What’s more, the process of losing weight has been bringing me attention and compliments that ongoing weight management probably isn’t going to provide. There’s going to come a time when the people I’ve known for years are finally used to the weight loss, and they’re going to stop mentioning it. And new people I meet aren’t going to know that I ever looked any different. I do have seriously mixed feelings about the compliments — there is a “What was I before, chopped liver?” quality to them that annoys me — but they’re still compliments, and I know I’m going to miss them when they start to fade.

And some of it is just a mental habit I need to break. For a year and a half now, I’ve been thinking that losing weight was Good, and that maintaining the same weight was Not Good. I now need to unlearn that mental habit, and learn the new one. Maintaining Weight Good. Maintaining Weight From Week To Week = Success.

But there’s another reason the “losing weight” part of this project is proving hard to let go of.

It’s that I now, officially, have to accept my body the way it is.

Road ahead For many months now — for the year and half since I’ve been on this project — I’ve been very focused, not on what my body was like at the moment, but on what I was trying to get it to be. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been very happy with my body during this process. I’ve actually been happier with my body during this process than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve been getting tremendous pleasure out of my body, and I’ve had many, many stretches of being intensely present in it, and very much in the moment with it. But as much as I’ve been enjoying my body, I’ve also been very focused on the goal of getting it to a different place. And it was easy to displace any anxiety or unhappiness I had about my body onto my weight… and to assume that, as the weight dropped, the unhappiness would too.

And some of it has. A lot of it has. But it’s not like my body is now the exact perfect body I would choose if I had the power to. I still have a flat butt, droopy breasts, chronic middle- aged- lady health problems I won’t bore you with (nothing life-threatening, just annoying). Since I’ve been losing weight, a lot of my anxiety about my body has transferred from my size to my age — something I really can’t do anything about. And the weight loss itself has brought on a few changes in my body that I’m not thrilled with. (Have we talked yet about loose skin? Oy fucking vey.)

Peace So now that I’m officially done losing weight, I have to accept it: This is the body I have. Sure, there are a few things I can tinker with still — getting my abs stronger, my legs more muscled, my bicep curls back up to 25 pound dumbbells and maybe even higher. But when it comes right down to it, this is my body. It’s not going to change that much, except for a few gradual changes from strength and stamina training, and the gradual changes of getting older. I have to learn to accept it, and to love it, and to find peace in it. I am way, way happier with my body than I have been for years; it works better, it feels better, and I’ll admit that I think it looks better. But it’s not perfect. And it never, ever will be.

And I have to learn to be okay with that.

To be continued tomorrow. In the meantime: If any of you have been through this process, I’d love to hear what you have to say about it. If you’ve lost weight and kept it off successfully, I’d like to hear what maintenance strategies have worked for you; if you’ve lost weight but then gained it back again, I’d like to hear what you think made maintenance harder. Forewarned is forearmed.

Comments

  1. bbleeker says

    I have lost a lot of weight too, and I’ve been maintaining since April. Like you, I just keep doing what I was doing before, just with a slightly higher calorie budget, and being more relaxed about making exceptions. Recently I’ve made a few exceptions too many, so I’m being more strict again for a while, until I get the extra kilo off again.
    I only started getting compliments quite late, when I was getting really close to my goal weight. And almost at the same time, I started getting concerned remarks about how I shouldn’t get *too* thin. I still get those last anytime I happen to mention I’m on a diet. Well, never mind; I still think “YES!!” every time I see myself in the mirror. :-)
    I’m 55, and my body isn’t perfect either, but there are still things I can improve; I’m learning Alexander technique at the moment, so I’ll have better posture, and when I’m far along enough with that to continue on my own, I’ll start working out with weights again to lose a bit more fat and gain a bit of muscle.
    Success with your maintenance!

  2. valhar2000 says

    “What was I before, chopped liver?”
    If I ever hear a little voice inside me ask that question, another little voice comes up right beside it with the answer:
    “Yes, that’s pretty much what we where. Now smile and thank the nice man.”
    Takes all sorts I suppose.

  3. Valhar2000 says

    And almost at the same time, I started getting concerned remarks about how I shouldn’t get *too* thin.
    I just love those! In a sarcastic sense , of course. I could easily loose 15 more pounds, or more, without being “too thin”; people are just not used to seeing me looking like this, that’s all.
    On the other hand, it is nice to realize that I did it! I did the impossible!
    I also still have to maintain my current weight (and it does indeed seem as though it will be much harder), but having got here at all is oddly exhilarating.

  4. says

    Hi, I’ve never commented here before but I have been a faithful reader for about a year now and I just wanted to say that I really appreciate your weight loss posts. I started reading them back in April when I was really unhappy with my body but discouraged about trying to lose weight and I was still trying to sort out how I felt about the fat acceptance movement and whatnot.
    Your posts motivated me to begin a weight loss program that was healthy and sustainable. So far I have lost about 35-40 pounds, going from 200 to 160 (give or take a few depending on the day). I finally feel good about my body, I am in great shape and I eat a lot better than prior. And for the first time I think I have found a sustainable way to maintain my weight. Now, like you, I am at the maintenance stage, so this post is timely for me.
    Thanks again! Also, your posts on atheist are pretty great.

  5. Thegoodman says

    Its important to remember that if you really begin working on your biceps, abs, and leg muscle; you will likely “gain” weight.
    My wife looks like she weighs 125 lbs, she actually weighs 145 lbs but she does a lot of lifting and can kick my ass in our P90X workout.
    I love the topic of weight loss and I congratulate you on taking an intelligent approach to it and being successful.
    While I have never had to lose much weight; I have had to change my habits as I aged to maintain my weight. I have stopped drinking soda completely, I do not eat fried things, and after a few years of this I crave neither.

  6. Andy says

    This is exactly what I’ve been going through, but a little more complicated. I’m (male) currently about ~18% body fat. Which basically means I’ve got a slight “beer gut”. I want to get lower, but I never set goals when I started losing, so I was really sitting in limbo and freaking out everytime I felt “fat”.
    What complicated things, but ultimately was my saving grace was my love of weightlifting. I hate cardio, and have done the majority of my fat loss lifting weights. Back squats, deadlifts, Bench Press, Cleans, etc. Keeping those numbers going up while cutting is a struggle, and if at all possible requires you to take some serious monitoring and perfecting of your diet.
    I ultimately settled on a body builder style carb cycling diet, which has been wonderful for me, and I will continue well into my maintenance and possible bulking in the future. Basically I have high carb/high cal days on some workout days. Medium carb/medium cal on most workout days, and low carb/low cal on non workout days. As I get to my target weight (207 lbs because it’s the weight class I want to compete in). I’ll cycle in more high days and have less low days.
    A month ago I was flipping out trying to figure out what body fat I was at with precision (you’re never going to really know within 2-3%) trying to mismanage a ridiculous diet having no clue where I was going to end. Now I have a clear goal, a clear weight, and a clear plan to get and maintain it. The ordered nature of everything was key.

  7. says

    I wish you luck with this. May I suggest that weight training allows you to continue with achieving goals, so perhaps you might try to shift the focus thataway? You can keep on working to a new personal best, and get that satisfaction. As noted above, though, it would be best to shift your body measures to tape measure rather than scale; muscle is heavy.

  8. says

    You’re an inspiration!
    When I was in an unhealthy relationship, my weight ballooned – I’ve always been a chunky chick, but my 5’8″ frame was carrying 325 pounds. After I got out of the relationship, my weight steadily fell to 265… which is where I’ve been maintaining for the last 2 years. It’s time to get moving again – I’ve got an ideal weight range in mind, and I’d like to get there eventually.
    When I lost the weight, though, and to keep maintaining where I’ve been, it’s been a lot of course correction. I’d find myself going back to old habits, and my body would start to drag, and the awareness of, “Oh! I’m not eating right again!” would happen, and it’d be course correction time. That’s happened numerous times – all of which I’d go up by about 10 pounds, then back to my 265. The important thing for me has been to not feel discouraged when the weight creeps back; just to feel more determined about getting back on track.

  9. Karen Reed says

    Congratulations on your discipline to get to this point! But as you point out, it’s not like you reach a goal, like say, graduation, and get a diploma that you can frame and see on the wall that will be forever a fact about you. Maintaining your weight and health is a daily mission. Kind of like brushing your teeth. You wouldn’t skip that right? Unless it was after an insane night of partying and sex and you were just too tired afterward to brush those teeth. Well, in that case, you’ve got good reason and a valid excuse. The thing is we eat several times a day, and most people can’t party and/or have sex all day long so ditching the maintenance plan is less excusable. Here’s how I manage it. It’s like a checking account. If I want to go out for Mexican complete with Margaritas ( I do admit to only having 15 chips), I will be super low-carb the next day and try to up my calorie expenditure. Muscle building is good, and watching sugar/carbs is key. Then there’s the trying to come to terms with the ole aging body. Focus on health not youth.

  10. says

    don’t eat a lot of food. the food you eat? it should be raw veggies and clear liquids. move a lot. don’t stay in one position for too long. challenge yourself, physically. get a pet that needs to go outdoors sometimes, regularly. take a vitamin, daily.
    heh, it’s ok to carry an extra 20 or so when times are tuff. for some, that’s actually a smart move. don’t worry, amukins are about to find out what it means to be “poor” in a more fleshly sense, and very soon. all this fat = money to our overlords, money they are about to seriously begin burning off.

  11. Sarah says

    Way to go!
    Have you checked out Spark People? It’s social networking for people who are losing weight, maintaining weight loss, and closely monitoring our health in general.
    Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus are great for seeing those motivating graphics and having indoor yoga, cardio, strength training, and balance exercises in a happy, cute Japanese-looking setting.
    An iPhone app that I love, love, love is Water Your Body. I have been drinking about 100 ounces of water daily since downloading it; before then, I’d go days without a sip of water. I look AND feel better. It gives you those awards for sticking with it for a certain number of days.

  12. says

    At the time when I am looking at re committing to weight loss I want to say thank you for the inspiration. I have lost the same 40 Lbs over and over regaining it sooner or later since I was 18. Your approach, lucidity and success are a big inspiration.
    With all my best wishes,
    Cleo

  13. says

    The Every Other Day Diet was created by 3 of the most renowned diet and fitness experts in the world, has helped over 300000 people in more than 100 achieve phenomenal results, and has been proven to work in everybody!

  14. says

    I’m brand new to your blog–got here via your latest Alternet article (though how I got there is shrouded in internet mist)–and am thrilled to find such an articulate atheist and skeptic who has also confronted the realities of weight-loss and maintenance.
    Just six weeks ago, after years of some weird kind of hopeful denial during which I gained 80 pounds, I finally said, “Hey, energy in minus energy out equals energy stored,” and started keeping a detailed food diary to track a significant calorie reduction. The value, the power, of rationality has been immense; your posts about both atheism and your weight loss have helped me see the path I’ve taken myself in slowly abandoning mysticism, becoming an atheist, AND being able to deal head-on with The Whole Calorie Thing.
    What’s more, the post where you take Fat Acceptance extremists to task helped me zap the doubts that FA believers planted in my mind when I began blogging about my own weight-loss efforts.
    Thank you for writing! You’re fantastic, a real inspiration. I’m so glad I’ve found my way to your blog.

  15. says

    Good job, Greta! Glad you finally made it! It’s a normal thing for you to think of those things. Temptation’s always there to lose our goals. Three years ago, I used to be overweight. I eat a lot and be lazy having an exercise, so I grew bigger that time. I tried different ways to lose those fats, but it won’t work. And then one time, I went to West Palm Beach cosmetic surgeon and have a liposuction procedure. The results were so amazing! Up to now, I still have this beautiful body that I maintain through diet and exercise.

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