Monthly Archives: May 2013

Why is maintenance such a big deal?

The reason I hear most boils down to people not expecting it to be as hard as it is.  Some folks get to their goal and breath a sigh of relief that the diet is over.  They are free.  They go back to the way they were before the diet and will tend to regain the weight gradually over the course of 3 years.  For some of these folks, the solution might lie in internalizing a healthy lifestyle.

The thing is, I’ve pretty much never been on a diet.  Every book on the subject that I’ve read in the last 20 years has touted itself as a lifestyle change.  So if calling it a lifestyle change were a solution, why do obesity rates keep climbing?  That’s one issue.

Another issue is that if you’re losing weight and you slip, the worst outcome is a plateau and the remedy is often to try harder.  Maintenance is already a plateau, so if you slip you’re in regain, and most don’t see a remedy for that.  If the rates on maintenance generally are bad, the rates of recovery after even slight regain are devastating.  Most people never come back from a regain of even 5 pounds, according to the NWCR who usually try to be upbeat about maintenance.

Maintenance seems to be a different psychological reality.  For one thing, it’s measured in years rather than weeks or months.  Some have compared it to prison, both humorously and in a sincere effort to frame the permanence of the endeavor.  Though as one of my favorite maintainers Tina said (and I’ll have to paraphrase because I can’t find it) “Prison is what I lost weight to escape.”  I’ve more often compared it to marriage.  I’m happy about maintaining for 5 months, but if I were a newlywed and celebrating 5 months, people might think of me as a dingbat.  Unless, of course, I lived in a society where nearly all marriages ended in 3 years.

Another thing I have compared lifestyle change (and by extension, maintenance) to is this rule of thumb I used to hear in writing circles, that it takes a million words to get good.  A lot of newbies, myself included, would whinge about how we could get around that.  One day I realized that if I am a writer, writing a million words should excite me, not oppress me.  And I think it’s the same with a true healthy lifestyle change.  It should energize me, not deplete me.  That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy.  Even successful writers struggle with deadlines, writers block, and staying on track, or at least that’s what they show on Castle.

I think the final principal difference between weight loss and maintenance is that in weight loss, there are many sources of external motivation.  People comment on you looking thinner or younger or sexier, whatever.  I didn’t get many of those comments when I was losing because I took a year to lose 45 pounds.  I actually got more comments once I’d been in maintenance for a while, because the change had been so gradual.  But people mention it frequently.  Internal motivation can be trickier for people.  I feel like I was mostly internally motivated for weight loss, and I questioned myself a lot because I didn’t know where the motivation had suddenly come from and I worried it might suddenly disappear.  I think for me it came down to the feeling that at 212, I was letting myself go and not taking care of myself.  I’ve always considered myself a health oriented person, curiously enough, but that is a subject for a separate blog.

On the corner of Recovery and Maintenance

Today I mark a couple of milestones.  One is the 12th anniversary of my introduction to 12 step recovery.  The other is 5 months of maintaining a healthy BMI.

12 years ago I went to a party for Mother’s Day and I could not believe how much I ate, and that at the end of it I still felt unsatisfied on some level.  I had heard of AA in high school health class, but wondered how sobriety was applied to overeating.  That day we happened to watch Bounce, a movie with Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow about a guy trying to do his 8th step, and while I remain unsure about his results to this day, I was entranced by the glimpse of the Big Book they showed.  Maybe the story is about life being messy but telling the truth is how you get through it one way or the other.

From a hopeful beginning, I struggled with recovery over the next 3 1/2 years.  As such, I kind of wonder about recommending it to people, because the breaking in was so very bumpy.  By any scientific measure, I was a chronic failure at 12 steps.  But I got up one more time than I fell down.  I found a meeting that finally worked for me and peeled the addiction onion down to codependency (past overeating, sugar, sloth, depression and anxiety).  Each of these involved falling through rock bottom to land on a lower one.  Some have suggested all addiction is really about codependency, about magical thinking regarding responsibility and blame.  I don’t know, I’m suspicious of single right answers at this point in life.

I mean, I grew up Christian and feel that’s so important, but because of addiction and mental illness and a bunch of other stuff it didn’t solve everything right away.  Love is supposed to be the answer, and I have a lot of Love in my life, but it can make things complicated just as much as it is the answer to everything.

What makes a story like mine important is not that it’s a recipe for sanity and self-actualization or even being saved or getting healthy.  Those things are all important.  But the value is in knowing the answers are out there, and you keep looking, and you’ll find them.  Some of them, you stay where you are and they find you.  Sometimes you need get up and go, sometimes you need patience.  God only knows when you need which (that’s the serenity prayer.)  I mean, I still am trying to figure out how to get and keep my house clean, and how to not spend more money than I’ve got.  I figure as far as problems go, those aren’t bad ones to have.

So how about the maintenance?  5 months is pretty good.  The thing about maintenance is that you only develop it by doing it.  I’ve often compared it to mastering other skills like playing the piano or writing.  You don’t learn certain facts and consequently graduate into solid maintenance, I guess.  Maybe it has something to do with recovery.

Some people don’t like the whole idea of addiction being a disease, because they say the last thing people need is to feel like their behavior is not their fault.  And the response to this that has evolved for me over the years is that I can’t choose not to be codependent, or anxious, or depressed.  I can only make choices that contribute to freedom from those states.  I can go to a meeting.  I can read literature.  I can reach out for support.

It’s more clearly understood if you look at weight.  I can’t choose my numerical weight, but I can choose what to eat (maybe not what I want to eat, but I work the steps for that) and I choose whether I’m active or sedentary.  And over time of making those choices, the weight responds.  I know a lot of people are not in a place to prioritize making those choices.  There’s a reason I was 42 when I reached my initial goal, and there are areas I’m still working on physically.

Maybe what’s important to understand with health (be it physical or mental) is that there is no such thing as stasis.  Your weight and your mood are continually responding to whatever is happening.  So are we just letting whatever happen to us, or are there choices we can make to move things the direction we want them?  Do we know what direction we want to go and why?