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.
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.
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.