Slow the f**k down aka Maintenance aka You can always weigh more aka yikes

Your diet (meaning what you eat on a daily basis) hasn’t been great lately. You know it. You’ve been busy, food is delicious, you don’t have the time or energy to think about it right now, but you will, you know, eventually get around to it. And besides someone brought blueberry muffins to work today, and there’s leftover pizza in the break room. Yolo!

And then IT happens. You pull your pants out of the drawer and you realize that zipping them up and wearing them all day might cut so much blood flow off to your lower extremities that it will possibly result in the amputation of your legs. You debate wearing the pants anyways. When you give up on the pants, you look in the mirror and realize how far you’ve gotten off track and decide THIS IS IT! Today you will lose the weight. For good. You’re sick of being fat and will fix this asap.

Maybe it isn’t pants. Maybe it’s a candid photo your friend took then thoughtlessly posted on Facebook. Maybe it’s that reunion or wedding invitation. You get the point. You are suddenly DONE with being overweight and start looking for the program that promises the fastest results. You start immediately and eagerly await the imminent thinness.

Raise your hand if this has happened to you (I am raising my hand). Raise your hand if this has happened to you multiple times (ditto). If this is just your general MO for weight loss? So how’s it been working for you?

If you’re now feeling bad about yourself because this is totally you and you’ve done this a million times and here you are still STILL overweight and you are clearly a total failure — STOP. Stop blaming yourself. It’s not your fault.

All we’ve been taught is how to gain weight (supersize it!) and how to quickly lose it (go go liquid diet xtreme fat crush plan!). Something we are rarely taught is how to maintain weight, where ever on the scale you happen to be. And that’s crazy because maintenance is the key to the whole long term weight loss kingdom. I mean, think about it, when you do reach that goal weight (or ideally, goal weight range), what, exactly, do you think will have to happen? Hint: It’s not that you get to go back to eating “normally”.

I wrote in a previous article, that if most of us tried an exercise wherein we added up all the weight we’d lost in our various attempts throughout our lives and subtracted it from our current weight we’d get a pretty low and possibly even negative number. For the majority of us, myself very much included, if we could have just maintained even some of the weight we’d lost, we wouldn’t have spent very long being heavy. Without maintenance we are trapped in an endless weight yoyo, we are Sisyphus pushing around a giant boulder of fat.

There are two major emotional hurdles that make it easy to forget about or gloss over maintenance as “something I’ll worry about when I’m ‘thin'”:

  1. It doesn’t appear to get us to our goal.
  2. It is not glamorous.

To address #2 first: it’s not, get over it. I’m going to say something now that you’re going to get sick of me saying, as I’m going to say it a lot over the course of this blog, because it is truth that you MUST accept and embrace if you are ever going to successfully lose and maintain that loss. Here it is: long term weight loss is super boring, tediously monotonous, a slog, and about as glamorous as doing laundry. That’s because, like doing laundry, it’s just another daily task in your life. You can try to throw some new excitement into it — a new machine, fabulous new detergent — but that newness, no matter how colorful the box it comes in is, will fade quickly with endless repetition and will inevitably return to being another daily chore. And that’s just fine.

It’s fine because having clean clothes is really nice, and probably helps you keep your job and your friends, so it’s a very worthwhile chore to do. And you can get lots of satisfaction in your clean shorts and nicely pressed shirts. We’ve been sold on the idea that anything about fitness and healthy eating has to be EXCITING or we’ll never be able to sustain it. But we do tons of boring, routine, worthwhile chores everyday, successfully no less. Why can’t weight maintenance be one of those things?

At this point you’re wondering why I’m talking so much about maintenance only three posts in on a blog about weight loss. Screw maintenance! I want to lose weight dammit. This brings me to #1: Maintenance doesn’t appear to get us to our goal. The key word here is “appear”. Again, we been told, wrongly, that maintenance is something that only comes into play once you reach your goal. Unfortunately, the implication is that outside of that goal you’re either gaining or losing (or just a hopelessly lost cause I guess).

When I first lost weight I believed that about maintenance too. But over the last almost nine years, as my weight has fluctuated a bit, as it does because we are human, and life can be stressful and hard, I have come to understand that embracing maintenance is my most powerful tool in the ongoing struggle against my brain’s relentless quest to get me to regain that 100 pounds.

When you find you have gained 5, 10, or 50 unwanted pounds, and you get to that point where you can’t stand it anymore, all you want to do is start losing immediately. The idea of staying where you are seems intolerable. But think about this for a minute, you’re about to throw yourself from one extreme (overeating) to another (undereating). You know now, if you’ve read the last post, that your brain isn’t going to like this. It’s going to react quickly and throw some pretty strong hunger pangs and cravings at you that you will not be prepared for and that will, sooner or later, drive you to binge and probably abandon your effort.

What you can do to stop this endless cycle of gain and loss, is learn how to maintain. I know, I know, but you weigh so much right now, you need to lose it now! Even one more day is unacceptable. So here’s another thing I’ve learned over the last nine years, you can always, always, weigh more. I don’t care how much you weigh, you can weigh more.

Which brings me to the best advice I can give you if you are struggling with your weight. Before you even try to lose weight, learn how to maintain your current weight.*

Start with figuring out how many calories you need to maintain where ever you are right now. You can do this by consulting with a dietitian or your doctor. Or you use a calorie estimator tool to get a rough number. Spend 3-4 weeks eating that amount and then see if you gain or lose and adjust accordingly. I have found with meticulous tracking that because of my slower metabolism, I have to subtract 10 pounds from whatever my current weight is to get an accurate estimate for myself. Bummer, I know. But it’s ok.

Once you have established that number, try practicing maintenance for the next few months.** I know, that’s forever! But, hey, you’ve probably been overweight for a long time, what’s another 3-6 months if it sets you up for weighing less for the rest of your life? This is a long game you’re playing here (warning: this is another thing I will say a lot), you must be patient. If you’re anything like me, impatience has failed you thus far.

When you feel comfortable with maintenance, then you can move slowly into trying to lose some weight (more on that later). Even with the most successful weight loss attempts you will come to points where continuing to undereat enough to lose (even slowly) feels physically or emotionally impossible. These are the times in the past that you have fallen off the wagon, and maybe abandoned your efforts for good. But now that you have maintenance in your toolbox, you can recognize these times and adjust your calories to maintain your (new) current weight until you have the energy to continue losing.

You might find that in one of these “breaks” from losing weight, that you feel good at your weight and really don’t feel the need to continue losing. Awesome! It’s impossible for anyone to pick some arbitrary number and say that is the “perfect” weight for them (more on this later too). Breaks from loss allow you to adjust and discover that maybe a good weight for you is closer than you thought.

*If you have been told by a health professional that your current weight is an immediate threat to your health, please follow their advice and guidance.

**If you have only recently (less than a year) been significantly (more than a few pounds) overweight, and if this is the first time you have really been overweight, there is reason to believe that your brain is not yet “set” at this higher weight number. You may have an opportunity, if you do not stay at the higher weight for very long (less than a year or two), to prevent your brain from recalculating your weight set point to a higher weight. You should probably try in this case to start losing weight, slowly, as soon as you can and not spend time maintaining a higher weight. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, so research this yourself, it’s all pretty new I think. I just want you to be aware of the possibilities in play here. Anyway, just don’t do anything drastic unless you are under the guidance of your doctor.

Resources for calorie calculators:

  • Self Nutrition Data: BMI & Calorie Calculator
    Tips for a more accurate estimate:

    • If you have a desk job, I don’t care how many days a week you workout or that you often hit about 10,000 steps or have a standing workstation, unless you’re getting up every 30 minutes and jogging up and down a few flights of stairs, list your lifestyle as “sedentary”. If you hit over 10,000 steps a day, you can adjust it up. If you have a standing/walking job, you can adjust up.
    • This calculator asks for minutes of additional exercise per day. This means if you workout 3 days a week for 30 minutes, you take that total, 90 minutes, divide it by 7 (days of the week), and put that number (about 13 minutes) into the calculator paired with the best equivalent exercise from the dropdown menu.
    • If you find that the daily calorie estimate is too high or too low for maintenance, try subtracting or adding pounds from your current weight (I suggest in 5 pound increments) until you get to a relatively accurate estimate. These calculators are based on the average person, and you are a unique individual, adjustments are inevitable.
    • Ignore the BMI, it’s kinda useless.
  • Health-Calc: Total Energy Expenditure
    Tips for a more accurate estimate:

    • This calculator asks for minutes of activity or sleep per day. This means if you workout 3 days a week for 30 minutes, you take that total, 90 minutes, divide it by 7 (days of the week), and put that number (about 13 minutes rounded to the nearest 5 minutes) into the calculator under the correct category.
    • Make sure you are putting your exercises into the right categories. It might be tempting to put a challenging workout into the “Intense Exercise” category, but unless you’re doing true HIIT and working out at your max heart rate, you are probably doing “Moderate Exercise”. Remember to separate warm up and cool down times from the main exercise time. Warm up and cool downs usually fall into the “Light Exercise” category. Over estimating your activity levels and times will only falsely drive up your daily calorie estimates and leave you feeling frustrated. You can’t trick your body.
    • If you find that the daily calorie estimate is too high or too low for maintenance, try subtracting or adding pounds from your current weight (I suggest in 5 pound increments) until you get to a relatively accurate estimate. These calculators are based on the average person, and you are a unique individual, adjustments are inevitable.
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2 thoughts on “Slow the f**k down aka Maintenance aka You can always weigh more aka yikes

  1. This is great, Kate! I’m looking forward to reading more! 🙂

    (just as a quick aside – the BMI link is currently pointing to the pink picture)

    Like

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