It’s Time to Change How I Think About Weight Loss Maintenance

I’m hard on myself. Probably harder than I should be. I set high standards and goals, and I’m good at beating myself up when I don’t reach them. When it comes to my health and weight loss journey, I push myself. And the results are impressive. I’ve lost around 160 pounds, and kept it off for over four years.

Three SidebySide

There are so many times, though, that I simply feel that this isn’t good enough. And that’s when I start beating myself up. And it’s got to stop. I need to rethink weight loss maintenance.

You know the saying “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”? It’s ancient. Really ancient. It’s commonly attributed to Voltaire, from a 1770 publication, but he was referring to an even older Italian proverb. The idea behind the saying dates back even further, to ancient Greek philosophers. And wouldn’t you know it, all those thinkers were right!

This post is well-timed. At the end of the week, I’ll have my monthly weigh-in, and typically, regardless of the results, I say harsh things to myself about the past month. Even with a loss, I tell myself I should’ve done better. Made better choices. Been more focused.

I know there are reasons for why I think like this. One reason is fear-based. I used to have nightmares, when I was losing the weight, and in those dreams I was suddenly back where I started, with people laughing, pointing and staring at me. It felt awful, and I would wake up sweating, my heart racing. I don’t have those nightmares anymore (knock on wood), but the residual effect is that (and I know how silly this sounds) I’m terrified that I could balloon back up to 400 pounds in quite literally the blink of an eye.

Another reason for my all-or-nothing mentality that from the get-go, I always knew that if this weight loss effort stuck, I’d be in it for the long haul – for the rest of my life. I didn’t acknowledge it early on – in fact, I repressed it, because thinking that way, when I was over 400 pounds, was terribly overwhelming. I chose instead to focus on the day-to-day, and find the things I could do right then to just be a little bit healthier.

As a result, I’ve never reached a goal weight. In December of 2010, when I hit 150 pounds of weight loss, I set a goal to lose 30 more. Nearly five years have gone by, and I’ve never reached it.

What I have done, though, is hovered in the same weight range – 160 pounds of weight loss, give or take a handful – for years. I chart my progress with a pen and paper, and here’s what the past few years look like:

Maintenance Chart

I added the blue stripe to prove my point. It highlights an 11-pound range, and with the exception of one spike in the spring of 2013, when I had a serious health scare, I’ve stayed within that 11-pound range for two and a half years. (It’s actually longer, but this was all I could fit in one photo.)

Which begs the question: WHY DON’T I CELEBRATE THIS EACH AND EVERY DAY?  It’s an extraordinary accomplishment. There aren’t many stats on long-term weight loss, but I’ve seen some that say only 5% of people who lose weight keep it off, and that number gets smaller as the amount of weight loss gets higher. But instead of acknowledging this rare and incredible feat, I berate myself for not trying harder, for not achieving more.

I’ve got to remember to not let perfect be the enemy of good. This will be a tough tightrope to navigate, but I have some ideas.

  1. It’s time to forget about the goal of getting to 180 pounds of weight loss. I’m not saying that number is unachievable, but I need to shift my priorities away from that goal, and focus on other things. I’m not going to stop my monthly weigh-ins, but not reaching that goal has created a lot of negativity, and I don’t want that poisoning other parts of my life. I understand the importance of goals, though… and that leads me to:
  2. Find other, non-scale goals to work towards. I’m good at setting goals for my skyscraper stair races, but I need to expand upon that. Set goals for the gym. Set goals for using the fitness equipment at my house. What I really need is to set train-of-thought goals that will help push me towards changing how I think. (Any suggestions?)
  3. Celebrate maintenance as the accomplishment that it is. Maintenance is hard work. It is not easy. Keeping weight off is just as hard as losing it to begin with, without the benefit of seeing smaller numbers on the scale, or the joys of fitting into smaller clothes or reaching other such milestones. Maintenance is a continual battle for me, and it says a lot about me that I keep fighting and coming out on top.

So I’ll start this week by embracing #3 and giving myself a giant pat on the back. And I’ll turn it outward, and give a big virtual hug to everyone reading this that’s maintaining their own success, whether it’s a little bit of weight loss or a lot, or sobriety from substance abuse, or not smoking cigarettes, or not biting your nails, or whatever. You are doing wonderful things. Astounding things. Amazing things.

And so am I.

Keep it up, David!

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14 Responses to It’s Time to Change How I Think About Weight Loss Maintenance

  1. David, for the record, you are an inspiration to me. It is heartening to know that someone like you has lost the weight and kept it off. So take a bow, and don’t worry about that “180” — you look great! *applause*

  2. Rob @ Nautilus says:

    My comment in terms of a math equation:

    (LOSING IT < KEEPING IT OFF) x (160lbs) = ∞AWESOME

    It's really difficult for most people to lose weight and nearly impossible to keep it off. You're winning the battle every day you maintain a healthy weight. Keep it up (and stay infinitely awesome)!

    • David says:

      Math equation?! You’re an even bigger nerd than I thought, Rob. 🙂 Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. Hope to see you again soon.

  3. Lori says:

    I think maintaining your weight loss is hard work and you are doing a great job! I know what you mean about it being ‘for the rest of your life’. It reminds me of an episode of the Cosby show. They were trying to get a neighbor to take her heart pills every day and she didn’t want to. I know Mr Cosby is not very popular right now, but here is the episode, the 18:10 mark is where they are trying to convince her it is worth it to take her pill every day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76xQitmk_VU

    Eating well and staying fit is the same thing. We all need to be in it for the long haul!

    • David says:

      Cute scene from the Cosby show. That was one of the only shows we could watch growing up, and I used to love the episodes where the whole family would put on performances like that. It’s a good analogy, thanks for sharing!

  4. Ted_D says:

    David – Thanks for tackling another big topic. I have a friend who has lost over 250 lbs in the last 4 years and works hard every day to keep it off. I’m proud to say I’ve lost another 30 lbs since I first wrote to you in May (for a total of 40+), and I give you and your story some of the credit for that. By this time next year, my goal is to lose another 85 lbs, but I hope that I’ll be able to be happy and celebrate wherever I am, so long as I don’t go back up to where I started.

  5. Danielle says:

    Kinda obviously amazing. I get it though, I’m no where near where I want to be, yet, but I’ve already lost 140 pounds. I need to celebrate that as well while keeping focused on the end game.

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