What do Maintainers have in Common?

I came across a very interesting article the other day in the health and fitness section of the Herald Tribune.  The article was written by Barbara Peters Smith and was about maintainers who are taking part in a study, specifically how they have been able to keep a considerable amount of weight off for more than a year.  Dr. James Hill, the director of the Colorado Center for Health and Wellness is the scientist featured in the article. He helped create a registry that is now tracking almost 10,000 participants. The article, which you can read in it’s entirety here, states that with the people he’s researched, there was little similarity in how they lost their weight. What they were seeing was a common link in how they’re keeping it off.

I was extremely curious as to what all of these maintainers were saying about their ability to keep their weight off and whether any of them shared my own thoughts and experiences on the subject.  Here are a few things that I learned about the study participants, and I thought I’d throw in my two cents as well.

 

 

 

According to Dr. Hill, men generally make the decision to lose weight because of a health event in his life.  The decision for women to lose weight is a bit more emotional. 

My thoughts:  I agree with most of these findings.  While I’ve personally known men to make the decision to lose weight based on a major health scare, I’ve also known men that lost weight in order to capture the attention of other women.   As for women, I think there is a host of emotional reasons for wanting to be thinner but I think that more women these days are wanting it as much for health reasons as they are for wanting to fit into that little black dress. 

Dr. Hill states that two-thirds of the participants failed at maintaining at some point prior to their ultimate success.  ALL of the participants said that maintaining is a constant challenge, and 98% say it’s worth the effort. 

My thoughts:  That number doesn’t surprise me in the least.  How many of us can say when we decided to lose weight that we did it right the first time?  Trial and error is how we learn and the more we learn, the better we are at understanding what our bodies need in order to keep the weight off for good.  My thoughts on maintenance being a constant challenge?  Um – yes.  One hundred times yes, it is a constant challenge  (you have been paying attention to my occasional whine-fests, right?)  And yes, I do agree with the fact that it is worth the effort.  Unless I’m feeling despondent and frustrated (again, see whine-fest).

Dr. Hill asked his participants whether it gets easier over time to keep the weight off.  Most of them say ‘no.’ Apparently it takes 3 to 5 years on average before they feel comfortable in saying they’re confident that the weight will stay off.  Not because of better biology either, says Hill;  but because it takes a long time to master their new behaviors.

My thoughts: If the title of my blog hasn’t already given away that answer, I agree that It never gets easier to maintain.  For me, that is just the simple fact of it.  There will always be hurdles to overcome and old habits still tend to die hard.  I am currently going into my 7th year of maintaining.  I’m still not feeling terribly comfortable in saying that I’ll never gain the weight back.

I’m not trying to sound pessimistic, I’m just stating the fact that life marches on, and even though I do what I can to keep our lives in balance, I’m subject to the same kinds of change as everything and everybody else.  I think it’s more about acceptance at this point in my life. While I do still worry about gaining,  I try to stay focused on the here and now of it all.  I’d love to be able to say I will never be heavy again!  but I just don’t think that’s a fair assumption.  All I can do is make a point to nurture the best parts of me every day while continuing to make better choices along the way.

Interested in knowing what else these maintainers have in common? 

 

  1. Their diet is primarily low-fat. My diet mainly consists of low-fat options as well.
  2. They engage in a high level of physical activity. Walking is their main exercise of choice and they do resistance training.  My activities are very similar.  Walking, resistance training and yoga. 
  3. They don’t watch very much television.  I don’t watch much t.v. either.  When I do, it’s always at the end of the night when I’ve done everything else that needs to be accomplished for the day. 
  4. They are always watching their weight. Um… yes.  Yes. And yes.  It would be nice to give these thoughts a long-overdue vacation, but don’t know if that will ever happen.
  5. They weigh themselves frequently.  I used to do this. I have been trying to refrain from using my scale because my emotions were too controlled by what I weighed.  I’m sure I’ll never give up the scale completely and I do believe it’s a useful tool to have, but until I can learn to use it in a way that builds me up instead of making me feel bad about myself, I’ll continue to struggle with it. 
  6. They don’t take a day off. To me, this goes hand-in-hand with the statement, ‘They’re always watching their weight.’  Even though I still indulge, I’m no more than one thought away from making mental notes about what I’m putting into my mouth. 
  7. They eat breakfast.  Again, something that I do without fail, although I tend to eat a later breakfast than most people – usually around 10 AM or so. 

 

Had you ever heard of the National Weight Control Registry before I mentioned it here? I had no idea it existed.  Started in 1994, it is the largest prospective investigation of long-term weight loss maintenance.  The study is ongoing and if you want to be a part of it, there is only one requirement:  you must have lost at least 30 pounds and have been able to maintain that loss for at least one year.  If you fit these requirements and want to make your voice heard, click on the link above and join in the study. 

 

Whether you’re dieting or maintaining, how do your thoughts compare with these thousands of long-term losers?  Is there anything that you would add to the above list that has worked for you? 

38 thoughts on “What do Maintainers have in Common?

  1. Karen@WaistingTime

    Well, as a yo-yo dieter, you can guess what I think! Maintaining has, in many ways, been harder for me than losing weight. I am a bit sad to see that it really doesn’t get much easier over time. I have realized I will always have to be diligent and work at this, but had hoped that eventually it would just be part of who I am and how I live and second nature.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I think someone should do a study on people like Cammy and Michele, who have slid almost flawlessly into the realm of maintenance. I’d like to know what makes certain people good at it while others like you and I struggle.

      Reply
  2. debby

    That is hilarious–the whole time I was reading this article I was thinking, there is ANOTHER weight control registry, even bigger than the NWCR? Wow, their findings are EXTREMELY similar, now THAT is really interesting. These people should combine their findings. Then I was thinking, who is this Dr. Hill. I think he is plagiarizing the information from the NWCR. LOL at me.

    The reference that Dr. Hill was from Colorado threw me off. I was pretty sure the NWCR was from back east. I am a member of the NWCR, and well before joining I studied their findings and tried to incorporate most of them into my life.

    Good review, Ellen. It is sometimes discouraging to think that we will always have to be more diligent, and think differently than other people about food. Probably the same as someone with a chronic illness just gets sick of it and ‘wants to be normal.’ That’s why you get asthmatics in the ER needing to be resuscitated, and diabetics with blood sugar off the charts and out of control.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I’m just surprised that I haven’t ever heard of this study, before. Where have I been?! Thanks for your comment, Debby. It is sometimes discouraging but I guess it beats the alternative. I’m telling that to myself right now as I struggle to maintain. It should help that I know it’s anxiety over this upcoming surgery, and you’d think that having the knowledge would be enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. But, it’s just another hurdle I have to get around.

      Reply
    2. Goodnuff

      You are so right on about it being like a chronic illness and wanting to be normal. I read that and a bell rang for me. I have been diagnosed with RA since 2000 and there have been many times, and still are, that I can’t wrap my head around why my life has to be so “different” and I feel good and think, naw, I don’t have it. I have it! I also have morbid obesity. It appears that the only way to “normal” is through effort, day in and day out effort.

      Reply
  3. Roxie

    It’s a fallacy to think that I will ever be “normal” – my default position is to turn to food in all situations. I can’t control those thoughts, only the actions that I choose to take. I can set up all sorts of external situation to make the maintenance easier, but I don’t know that I will ever not want.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      that’s where my problem is, too. Turning to food in all situations. Why is it so easy for some, while for others it is a constant battle? Always remembering that we have choices will be the key to maintaining. The urge may always be there, but the choice not to act on it will always be there as well.

      Reply
  4. Caron

    I joined the NWCR after I had kept my weight off for a year and filled out their packet of papers each year for five years. I was beginning to think I had this thing licked when I went above my goal weight and could not get back down for two years.

    In retrospect, I now know that I let the stress of my job interfere with my weight loss and maintenance but it was not clear then. Anyway, I stopped sending in the papers they sent me and have not joined again. I probably should not have been so ashamed of gaining weight and I would be another of their statistics for failure I guess. I did wonder at what point they might say “We don’t want your input anymore.” Sigh.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Caron, I don’t know if you’ve read some of the other responses but please do if you haven’t. There are many of us who struggle still, and know how hard it is. I can understand why you think of it as failing, but if you didn’t know at the time that the stress of your job was the cause of your gain then you couldn’t have known what steps to put into place to prevent the gain. I think you have great insight and your opinion absolutely does matter. Big hugs.

      Reply
  5. Hanlie

    I find this very interesting. I’ve often thought that many of the “diets” people use to lose weight would not be suitable for maintenance. And of course, some people go totally crazy when it comes to exercise, which is also not sustainable. I think the lesson here, for someone like me who still has to do it all, is to develop healthy habits that are sustainable and will result in weight loss AND keeping the weight off. And yes, one will have to stick with them for a lifetime.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Absolutely, Hanlie. That is a very healthy way of looking at it and I think that those who embrace that idea are the ones who transition more easily. Finding a good balance is important; it’s finding a balance that you can live with that can be a challenge.

      Reply
  6. Michele @ Within Reach

    It always interests me when you talk about maintaining because I find my experience a little different. Although I still have a lot more to lose, I’ve lost and kept off about 90 pounds for almost three years. It’s not been difficult to keep it off because the new habits I created are now my new normal. I also allow indulgence from time to time, and I don’t beat myself up even if I go overboard sometimes. I’m learning that it takes far more energy to be mean to myself than it does to be kind and loving toward myself — and the results are better.

    I didn’t realize you only had to maintain a loss of 30 pounds to be in that registry. I just might do so.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I have been thinking of your comment all day. I mentioned to Karen that I think a study needs to be done regarding people like you and Cammy who transition easily into maintenance and stay there, as opposed to people like me and a few others who have left comments on how hard we still find it to be. For me, it’s obviously an emotional flaw. There is something within me that desires food for comfort above the idea of maintaining. If I let that thought control me, I gain. It’s not unlike some people who are able to quit smoking after one try while it takes others 5 or 6 times before they quit – or worse still, spending one’s entire life trying to quit and never quite getting there. Maintaining has never been something that came easily for me; like one who is recovering from an addiction I take it one day at a time.

      Reply
      1. Michele @ Within Reach

        I would never call it an “emotional flaw.” That’s precisely the kind of thinking that perpetuates the problem. Here’s the quote I shared on Cammy’s blog this morning: “Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” – Anne Wilson Schaef

        So vital!! I truly believe the difference lies in changing thinking or just changing behavior. Just changing behavior without doing the necessary emotional work is what makes it a lifelong struggle. It doesn’t have to be that way. I promise you it doesn’t… you are far too insightful and analytical to not be able to get there. I mean that from the depths of my heart and soul.

        There’s a book I’m going to write about on my blog in the next month or so that will explain some of this — sometimes, the problems lie in trying too hard.

        Reply
  7. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    I really do need to quit stalling and join the NWCR. I’ll be in the minority, but that group needs to be represented, too! (I only have two things in common with the other maintainers, #2 & #7, and possibly a little bit of #4.)

    I don’t find maintenance to be that grueling. Maybe it’s mindset, maybe it’s just new habits, or maybe it’s because I allow for things like family dinners and celebrations and the occasional stop at Sweet Cece’s for fro-yo. I do have a whine-fest or Pout Day now and then, but I had a lot more of them when I was heavy. :)

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      You would be a great asset to the NWCR, Cammy. You are one of the few people I know who has been able to completely embrace her new lifestyle without faltering. You slid into your new role so seamlessly – I think that is a rarity. One day we’ll have the chance to meet and you can teach me what it is I’m lacking in that department.

      Reply
  8. Jan

    Thanks so much for sharing this article and your take on it (as a maintainer yourself). It was so interesting to read. I always wonder how I’ll do when I reach maintenance. It’s so nice to read other peoples takes on it. Thanks again!

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Thanks, Jan. It’s interesting to see how much easier it is for some than others to maintain and what’s better, learning from one another what works and what doesn’t.

      Reply
  9. Norma

    Lots of good points. I have maintained a 65-70 lb. loss for four years as of next month. I fit seven of the eight criteria on the list (I’m a Paleo-ish/Primal eater, definitely not low fat). I found the post & comments interesting – I wrote a post on the topic (titled Does Once Fat = Always Fat?) last month (in my blog archives athttp://notnormajean.blogspot.com/2012_02_01_archive.html) and what it comes down to is constant vigilance. The minute you think you can start eating/living like “everyone else” is the minute that scale starts to go in the wrong direction.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Norma – and for the link to your post. I think one of the hardest parts of being a maintainer for me is not falling into the trap of thinking that I can eat like everyone else. Sometimes it’s easy to forget. Sometimes I allow myself to forget and when I do that, I always end up gaining weight – an obvious sign that I must always be diligent.

      Reply
      1. Norma

        Thanks back at ya! You’re right — after even a short period of “successful” maintenance, say, even six months — it’s very easy to think “I can get away with (insert food) or (eating like all hell’s breaking loose because I’m on vacation and it doesn’t count) or (taking it easy on exercise)” — and for a lot of us that is a very slippery slope. For me, I have to behave as if I’m still in the losing process…forever. So be it.

        Reply
  10. Jenn @ Cooking Aweigh the Pounds

    I’m one of the weirdos who finds maintenance to be easier than weight loss, but I do agree with the constant diligence. I know that I will always have to think in terms of weight loss or maintenance, but that’s only because I refuse to gain any weight back.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I am so glad that you find maintaining easier, Jenn. That is one thing that I wish for myself. I know I have some food issues that prevent me from easing into that role. One day hopefully, I’ll get over those and can fully embrace maintenance as a lifestyle – not a challenge.

      Reply
  11. Roz@weightingfor50

    Hi Ellen, YAY…looks like I’m able to comment again too!!! So interesting. I look forward to the day I’m in maintenance mode instead of losing mode! Hope your week goes well.

    Reply
  12. Melisa @ Achieving Equilibrium

    Thanks for this insightful post. As a relatively recent maintainer (just over one year) I’m very interested in studies like this to know what I can expect for the future. Like others mentioned, it’s a bit discouraging that I will likely have to think about it for the rest of my life, unlikely “naturally slim” people. But so far, maintenance hasn’t been that difficult for me. I haven’t really gone past my goal weight (except for a couple pounds here and there after vacations, etc!). I think I’ve developed a good balance, but it’s still something I have to think about constantly. I should look into joining that registry – I wonder if they’d want people from Canada! Sorry I haven’t been posting/commenting as much recently – I’m still reading and enjoying your posts :-)

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Hi, Melisa! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this topic. It’s nice to hear from you :)
      I’m so glad to hear that you’ve found such a good balance with your weight loss and that you haven’t found it to be terribly difficult. I think some days are easier than others for me. When I’m stressing, it’s most definitely harder. Right now I’m trying to maintain while counting down to a surgery I’m all worked up about having in a few weeks. Things like that is just LIFE, and I hope to use this as a good learning tool that I have to find other ways to adjust to life without abusing food.

      Reply
  13. teresa

    This is really interesting!!
    Those things are great tips for the weight loss phase too. And might as well get into those habits.
    Especially the No T.V. thing stands out to me.
    I love getting all this information without having to do all the work researching. thanks!

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Hi, tree~
      I thought it was pretty interesting too, and nice to have so many success stories compiled into one study. I know that what works for one may not work for all but the majority of tips are pretty basic, I think.

      Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Always, always great to hear from you, Mary. I’m finding these comments very interesting as well and how different everyone is when discussing what maintenance means to them. XO to you!

      Reply
  14. Carrie @ Season It Already!

    Great post. I’d never heard of the registry before reading this. I’m down 25 and still on my journey to lose. I’m not yet a maintainer, but here is my experience so far:
    1) I don’t necessarily eat a low-fat diet. But those items that are high in fat, I eat in small quantities. When I read the “Fat Fallacy” about French people eating full-fat foods, I stopped watching it.
    2) Yes. Working out is key. When I stop working out, that’s when the weight creeps back on.
    3) I watch more tv now than I used to… Damn DVR. However, I do it at night before bed to spend time with my honey. ;-)
    4) Always watching weight. Of course, I guess I don’t understand this one. Maintainers wouldn’t maintain if they stopped watching, right? Sounds like a no-brainer.
    5) I weigh myself just about every day now. I used to think that was “bad”, but now the # on the scale has less of a meaning. There was a lot of pressure on that # when I weighed in once a week. Now, it’s the downward trend that matters and I realize fluctuation is normal.
    6) I guess I used to take a “day off” and get back on the next. But I think now I just re-evaluate my day and week. Nothing is off-limits.
    7) I’ve always been a breakfast eater, so this one is easy for me. However, my problem used to be how much I had for breakfast. I find when I eat a big breakfast, I tend to eat MORE calories all day long. So I try to pick something nutrient-packed to keep me going.

    I’m new to your blog, but enjoying it. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Hi, Carrie!
      Thank you so much for sharing your tips on this topic. I find it fascinating to read what others are doing in order to maintain their loss.
      It sounds like you have a very healthy handle on the whole scale thing. It can be such a good tool, and most maintainers I know use it to their benefit. I used to as well but when it started controlling my mood I had to stick it in the closet and show it who was boss!

      Reply
  15. Munchberry

    I had heard of the registry. I had gone there years ago looking for a solution to my excess puffyfluff. It turned out I had it within me. Sometimes I listen, sometimes I choose not to! Grrr.

    It is dismaying to think there is no day off. The stress alone will kill me. I don’t want to take too many days off, but I wonder if a day off is crippling as it seems. I have taken days off and was able to get back on. Maybe food is too important to me. I have trouble reorienting away from it since it is a constant preoccupation.

    Did you say you were serving Low fat cheese with my whine? No? DRATS and a HALF!

    Reply
  16. Goodnuff

    I have read studies before from the registry but always with the attitude that I’ll never get there. Just this moment I realized that what I was really thinking was, Whoa, look at everything they have to do to stay there. I don’t want to have to do all of that. I’ll take the short cut to the easy way please.
    Guess what Goodnuff, there is no short cut and there sure isn’t an easy way. But, if 1000′s of people before me could manage to do it, so can I!
    Thanks for another educational share, what can I expect in your classroom next Ellen?

    Reply
  17. Pingback: A Cautious Lifting of the Food Fog « searching for contentment

  18. Laura @ LauraLivesLife

    This is kind of scary about how spot on it is – I used to watch SO much tv, and now I only watch it at the gym! I wish I didn’t think about weight/calories/food so much though – I know it leads to unhealthy habits! Sometimes I think I was happier when I weight more (a lot) – I know that’s not true, but life certainly isn’t 100% easier, like I thought it would be!

    Reply
  19. Maude

    Very interesting! I’ve spent the last six months or so going thru another phase of thinking that I can eat however I want only to have it catch up with me yet again. It’s always good to know that I’m not alone in having to be so careful. Right now I’m in a place where I simply don’t have the will or energy to get myself back down to where I was. I’ve kind of accepted that at the moment I am where I am. It’s not too bad, but the concern is not to let it get any worse.

    Reply

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