Weight maintenance: Friends' methods

Over the last few months, I asked a number of women, How do you manage the tendency to inexorably regain weight which you worked so hard to drop? I didn't speak only to women who are thin or average; two are still in the overweight category according to the charts and completely content with that. I learned that what works for one does not work for another.

Each, though, had an upper limit, and at that point called in the troops. Each has favourite methods; some use more than one, but they tend to fall into four groups:

1. Zen Hens
These women practice Mindful Eating, so that preparing and eating food becomes a pleasurable but thoughtful act. Instead of trashing a bag of pretzels while watching TV, Donna sits in an armchair with a view of her birdfeeders, peels an orange, savours the burst of citrus oil released by its peel, and slowly eats each section.

Nancy prepares meals that please the eye and plates them on her best dishes; extra points because she lives alone. They also analyze what mental states drive them to overeat or binge and are extra vigilant when stressed and tired.

2. Data Divas
I'm one, still logging meals and activity (on MyFitnessPal). Otherwise, I develop dietary amnesia and consume far more calories than needed—and if you're not finishing those fries, I will. We are fussbudgets who also thrill to FitBits, kitchen scales and calorie and nutritional information on packaged goods.

Connie has kept off her remarkable loss. She's eating a couple hundred calories a day more on maintenance but still pre-plans meals, logs, and consistently walks and visits the gym. She says, "I know I would slowly (or maybe even quickly) revert to my old habits without the logging part of it."

DDs are maniacs about empty calories and can tell you the tally for anything you are eating, even if you don't want to know.

3. Rewarders
Rewards, (and sometimes sanctions) provide motivation and accountability. After earning gold stars or goodies at Weight Watchers, several women say they continue with their own variants.

Louise has a weekly manicure at a salon only if she is at or below her goal weight. Munira has a hefty fine system set up with her sister in law; I am talking the price of a good pair of shoes for every two-pound gain—ouch! Weigh-ins are done together to avoid "misreading". Once, when they were both well under the limit, they sat down and killed a large three-cheese pizza.

4. Rules Rockers
These women (and one man) follow strict rules such as "Only eat during a given 10-hour period", "Juice-fast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays", or eat calibrated ratios of carbs, fats and proteins. They often follow diets named after physicians. Some Rockers leaven the rigour with free days when their old friends Ben & Jerry show up—for breakfast.

Within each group, there are variations. Some are assiduous exercisers, others depend on everyday activity like dog-walking. Some regard carbs as Kryponite, others can't abide life without pasta. The one commonality is that they know that without continual maintenance methods, pounds creep back sure someone trips on Dancing with the Stars.

Another commonality is that not one is willing to suffer from hunger; at mealtime, that growling stomach is okay, but they won't spend the day desperate and shaky. Most eat late-afternoon or mid-morning snacks (sometimes both), such as a piece of cheese and an apple or ten (yes, they count) raw almonds.

Not one of the seven women and one man in my small sample eats packaged meals, though one occasionally drinks an Atkins shake when her office's group lunch is absolutely off limits. 

Over my last thirty-five years, I've gained and lost what they call "suitcase weight", twenty to thirty pounds, at least three times. When I began the last project, in mid-2013, I thought, Not only do I have to lose it, I have to keep it off, because this time it was high blood pressure that initiated the loss.

I do not agree with that slogan "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels", which I have seen attributed to Kate Moss, but which I first heard at Weight Watchers in the '80s, when the model was a tyke. First, I do not regard thinness as the Grail, and second, Moss or whoever has not tasted my son Jules' homemade ice cream.

But my nice low bp reading supplies more than enough motivation, and I'm just the kind of person who is quietly pleased when my FitBit brrrups when I've done my steps.


Susan said…
This is such a timely post for me Duchesse. I too have suitcase weight to lose (or a bit more really) and have lost it a couple of times in the past. For me, mindful eating is the key. By mindful eating, I mean thinking about each things I eat and whether it is a proper portion, a good choice of nutrients, or empty calories--which I am determined to avoid.

You are so correct that pounds creep up. It's almost as if some of us have a set point that is set too high. I believe it is a metabolism issue. Just lately, I've lost a bit over five lbs and have about thirty to go. Thank you for this post!
Madame Là-bas said…
I am also carrying the extra baggage as well. It finds its way back to me. I've got about 30 to lose and I should go back to recording on My Fitness Pal. Too many restaurant meals with two glasses of wine do not help blood pressure. I think that we really need to adjust our eating plans as we age. Thank you for the reminder.
materfamilias said…
Some trepidation here as I will be weighing myself later this week after 7 weeks in places that specialize in gustatory pleasures. I'm probably closest to your Dara Divas group, but I may be planning a Reward of two as incentive to get back to my preferred weight. I did try to practice maintenance techniques (lots of walking, very little snacking) but I probably indulged enough to have added s few pounds...
Mamamiau said…
Another DD here! I discovered MyFitnessPal about 6 weeks into my current campaign to lose my excess weight and it has been a real eye-opener. Honesty is the key. No fudging. No sneaky snacks after I've "completed" that day's entries.
Duchesse said…
Susan: You may like this short article, which mercifully does not tout supplements or gimmicks: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/loseweight/pages/how-can-i-speed-up-my-metabolism.aspx

Mme: Let's hear "I have started again", Madame! MFP is terrific and it's free! If you want a friend there, send me an e-mail and I'll reply with my MFP name. (Mamamiau, might you be in too?)

Mamamiau: Good for you! MFP has made the difference to me re-gaining (as I always did in the past) and not. Yes, no cheating; like they say in AA "It works if you work it."

materfamilias: You are so active, a minor gain will drop off once you get home and back into your routine.
LauraH said…
This is a subject that hits me where I live. After years of up and down, sometimes by as much as 50 lbs, I found a method that works for me. About 10 years ago I lost 35 lb with a sensible-eating, record-keeping program developed by nutritionist Barbie Casselman in Toronto. I've managed to keep most of that lost weight off. I now weigh myself every 2 days and if I see that weight is creeping up I go back on the plan - mainly cutting down on sweets and cheese, my two big weaknesses. Right now I need to lose 5 lb after coming home from England...ah those cream teas. Oddly enough, I tried MFP and even tho I'm a bit if a data nerd, it just didn't click for me. Glad that it works so well for you.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: First, congratulation,s ten years is a terrific record of maintenance.

I am curious about what "did not work" on MFP. If a person inputs key info and then eats to the allotted calories (and if desired, the recommended protein/carb etc ratios) and logs accurately, I wonder how it cannot work. People on it use their own diets (from a nutritionist, Atkins, whatever.) Or, do you prefer a program where you show up to weigh in, like WW or your nutritionist?

What I appreciate at MFP is the the reports which graph my weight and BMI, the extensive food directory and the ability to record frequently-eaten meals so I don't have to keep re-entering. I also love that my exercise calories get added to my daily allowance so I know exactly whether that late night snack is a good idea or not ;)

Jan-Leanne said…
I've missed something. What is MFP? I hope for a reply but will google it now since it sounds like my cup of tea. I keep a food log and I weigh myself every morning, chart it and know if I should eat less that day to maintain my weight. Love the idea of tracking one's food intake on the computer. I have lost 8 pounds by eating MUCH smaller portions and not using sweets and red wine for therapy.
Duchesse said…
Jan-Leanne: It's the free website MyFitnessPal (www.myfitnesspal.com). I use it to log calories and exercise, and record my weight and measurements.

Ah yes, the sweets, the wine! The beauty of MFP is you can easily see when you have room for that and when you only wish you did.
I walk and keep tabs on my weight...if I am up a couple of pounds I choose lower point count meals for a few days.
Weight Watchers really helped me lose 30 pounds and like you I had to do it because of high blood pressure. It's an ongoing battle... maintenance means discipline.
If I eat a burger and fries at dinner then I will eat vegetables and salads for the next two days to balance out those points!
Being mindful of what we choose to eat does not mean depriving ourselves of the occasional treat or a splurge.
LPC said…
I'm in your first category, pretty squarely. Nice work divvy us all up! And I'm currently really frustrated by a 2lb weight gain that none of my usual tricks are conquering. I suspect it's caused by some supplementary topical estrogen that I now have to take (it was that or pain so bad I couldn't get up off the sofa), in which case I think I must just have to take Iman's approach and embrace the more of me there's bound to be. I'm still in a healthy range, but I've grown attached to slender me, over the decades, and am sorry to see her perhaps walk off into the sunset.
Duchesse said…
LPC: My weight fluctuates in a 3 lb or so range over the course of any month and many women I know bounce around even more. Naturally we don't want to let two become five, five float up ten... and so on- I've been there. But I recall your past posts about how you have both changed your relationship to eating, and your emphasis on health. While it is a personal matter, I do not see two pounds' gain versus incapacitating pain any kind of dilemma.
LPC said…
This is something other than a fluctuation, it's persisting. And I'd been the slightly lower weight since my wedding, when I actually decided I looked better there than a pound or two even lower. The thing that's unusual is not being able to take these two off in a week of paying attention. It's not a big deal, cosmetically, I suppose, but it is a real change in my body and therefore my sense of self.
Duchesse said…
LPC: A number of women I know have gained weight when their mobility was compromised via a chronic condition or surgery. But two pounds is minimal, what one of my friends calls "a rounding error". If you're up and about, that's what counts.
LPC said…
I guess I'm not making myself clear? The weight gain wasn't caused by the immobilization, but rather by the supplemental estrogen that remedied the immobilization. So of course I prefer the 2 new lbs to severe pain, but, for me and my body, 2 lbs isn't a rounding error, it's a new stage of life. May not make sense, but it's my reality.
LauraH said…
I wasn't suggesting the app didn't work, it just didn't seem right for me. After many many years of dealing with weight, I'm just not interested in the level of record keeping that seemed to be required. Tracking my finances and calendar take a fair amount of computer time so I prefer to stick with an old school approach when it comes to my weight.
Duchesse said…
LPC: You were clear, I just read it incorrectly; thanks.

LauraH: Yes, you do need a certain mind set to actually like it!
Jane in London said…
I found, during my 50s, that weight seemed to become so easy to gain. Such a shock - I had never needed to consider what I ate before (in terms of body weight)!

I took up running in my late 50s (I run 9-12K a week) and that has helped a good deal with fitness and metabolism. But, if I find I need to melt off some pounds, I adopt a slightly modified version of the diet used by Mrs Hawkins in the Spark novel A Far Cry From Kensington. I believe this is also a traditional approach in Germany - where it is called (in rough translation) 'eat the half'.

Basically, I eat exactly the same foods as usual, but only half portions of most things. I need to have something as simple as this, because I know I will not keep to a Weight Watchers type 'diet' and I do not enjoy tracking exercise or calories.

It works very well for me and nobody knows you're doing it. It's surprising how many takers you get when you say 'this dessert looks wonderful but I'll only be able to manage half of it - who would like to share?'!

Duchesse said…
Jane: Portion control is essential, whether one logs the intake or not. However, I'd like to clarify that WW is not a prescriptive diet; you can eat all your preferred foods.

There is counting, mainly to create awareness of how much you actually eat (many of us underestimate). (WW does offer recipe books and sample meal plans but only as supports for persons who need them.) There is also an incentive to eat no or minimal processed foods, and plenty of vegetables and fruit- just basic good nutrition.

Sigh. For me it would be better if Pasta never had been devised;-).
Duchesse said…
Barbara: Never met a carb I didn't like and pasta is top of list.
Jane in London said…
Indeed - and I know WW works well for many. It's just that I'm not inclined towards anything involving counting, weighing or logging. For me, it's easier to push away a half-eaten portion of food, or to serve myself half of what I would normally eat. It's a level beyond ordinary portion control. How tiresome it is that our bodies seem to rebel at this stage of life!
Mardel said…
I'm actually in the first category, although it took me quite a while to figure that out. I thought I'd go for the data but it was a chore I could care less about. Things are easier now that I know what pleases and satisfies me, and can more easily regulate problem emotions and behaviors.

Eleanorjane said…
Great post! I'm back from a week away at conferences, being fed (and overfed), little sleep and a lot of mental exertion. I feel the need to get back to some healthy eating and exercise, but I'm also tired with a headache...

I do like MFP and have previously lost about 16 pounds on it, but it does take a lot of work and mental energy to keep up. I've regained and not lost at least half or more of those pounds. I just can't seem to crack running my life and fitting in enough exercise and healthy food!
K.Line said…
I actually fall into all of these categories (but less the final one than the others). I don't like to limit my options!
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