Much has been written about the trials and tribulations of weight loss and I, for one, have penned quite a few lengthy pieces on the subject. Why? Because it never gets old.
Losing weight is challenging…but guess what is even more so? What becomes more arduous than actually losing the weight, is the “phase two” part – the maintenance period. And, “phase two” is (lamentably) the rest of your life. When it’s been more than a year since your initial weight loss, (your exciting burst of dieting success), the novelty of having a new body wears off and you realize, all at once, that it’s not about the weight anymore. And if it’s not about losing weight, then what is it about?
After weight loss, the journey to better health for most people becomes about balance – learning to balance yourself, your choices, and your life, plain and simple. And balance isn’t an act. It’s not something you find. It’s something you do.
Try balancing on one foot. Really try – for several minutes. You can do it just fine for a while, but after some time passes, it becomes difficult. Then, it quickly becomes very difficult. You struggle and wobble a bit to maintain your position…and then comes the inevitable moment when you need to put your foot down in order to gather yourself so you can balance again. If you make balance your focus, and actually practice, you do get better at it, and it does get easier. You can hold your balance for a longer period of time before letting go and re-grouping. This is a solid analogy to use to help you maintain your weight loss. Balance is about being in control, most of the time. Like many over-weight people, and people who suffer eating disorders, I lived a lifetime of not being in control, and I remember it very well. A big part of the motivation behind not falling back into unhealthy habits ever again, is the fact that I like this new feeling of being in control – control over what I’m eating and what I’m doing. A lack of control in life almost always leads to depression and “spiraling downward” into an abyss of hopelessness. And marching right behind hopelessness, to the tune of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” are those dreaded extra pounds.
Health and fitness, (when you’ve finally stepped away from dieting), is about continuity and deftly navigating the murky waters of indulgence and denial. Every day. In other words, you never want to go too far in either direction. I’ve learned that people who successfully keep weight off do so because they never want to be in the position where they have to diet ever again. One could argue that not having to diet ever again is reasonable motivation for maintaining weight loss.
Recently, I had to figure out a way to deal with an injury that sidelined my physical activity. Because I wasn’t able to exercise as much, or as strenuously, I decided that I probably shouldn’t eat as much. It was a good plan, and I did okay for a little while. I have to admit, though, that I was quite used to being able to eat a certain amount of food – and frankly, I just wanted to continue eating. When you deny yourself calories for a very long time in order to lose weight, it’s exciting to be at a point in your life where you can eat what you want when you want to eat it – sensibly, of course! I had to “rest” my hamstring for 6 weeks and I inevitably gained 8 pounds. No big deal, right? Well, for me, I know this much is true: An 8 pound gain is quite scary because 8 pounds can quickly turn into 25 pounds.
An exercise-restricting injury is a legitimate obstacle, but that doesn’t stop the feeling of failure that comes with gaining 8 pounds. In a moment of mindfulness, though, I realized that before, in my old life, this weight gain would have been something that worked to defeat me. Losing the 8 pounds seemed more monumental, and perhaps more difficult, than losing the 90 I took off a couple of years ago. Why is that? It’s simply because I had reached a point in life where I wasn’t dieting anymore. I wasn’t cutting calories. I was certainly watching what I ate, of course, but I wasn’t reducing my calories in order to lose weight. To have to trudge through the trenches of calorie reduction and denial again in order to lose the weight again was annoying to say the least. But, in order to regain balance and control, I needed to make some changes, so I did. I truly understand now that while I never want to be that over eater I once was, I also never want to be a dieter, either. This is why learning to balance “too much” and “too little” is so important. Daily balance is about being mindfully in control.
Take a common sense approach with food and try to find your way to middle ground every day. For example, if you have a big breakfast, go easy on lunch and then “keep it real” at dinner time. With exercise, if you take a day off, try to go a little harder the next day – or just go a little further. Just do a little bit more the day after you rest. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is easy – but you have to let it be. All too often people take an “all or nothing” approach to their calorie consumption and exercise programs. “All or nothing” gets you nowhere. Common sense is knowing that both indulgence and denial make your body cry. Your body can’t take it either way. The human body, mind, and soul crave a balanced approach. It’s more than okay to eat a big meal, enjoy a delicious dessert, or skip a day or two of exercise, but what you do after that is very important. If you’re mindful, balance can become your focus. When the number on the scale doesn’t really change much in either direction, the scale doesn’t matter any more.
I’m a Libra, and my sign is the scales. Oh, the irony! I am indeed a person who likes when the right side matches the left. I like when I spend $20, and then find $20 in the pocket of a jacket I wore last year. I like symmetry. I like when the pictures on a wall are hung perfectly straight, and centered. I also like knowing that I can have a big dinner if I’ve been mindful about my portions during breakfast and lunch. I like being an “Even Steven.” Being an “Even Steven” is how I have found success maintaining weight loss. Mindfully practicing balance is an important detail along path to a peaceful, healthy life. In fact, it could very well be the most important. It is certainly the longest part of your journey, without a doubt. Balance makes the commitment of “phase two” (a.k.a. the rest of your healthy life) easier to digest.
If you think of the maintenance period as a daily practice in mindful balance, you will probably find success after the weight loss. Because balance isn’t an act and it’s not something you find. It’s just something you do.