In most diet cultures, maintenance is like this elusive holy land that we are all striving to reach. But what happens when you actually do?
Well… that depends.
If you have taken the time during your weight loss phase to create sustainable habits that can carry over, you may not see much of a difference outside of a little bit larger portions or an extra snack or two. Maybe you’ll have a little bit of ebbs and flows but you’ll be able to auto-regulate pretty well without much thought. You know how you got there and you have mastered that phase. All it takes is a matter of falling back into your habits.
However, if you had focused solely on your dieting lifestyle for a very long time, you may be in for a very hard lesson. And yes, I do speak from experience here.
A background on me… I knew diets growing up as a kid. They were everywhere. And that does seem to be the case for just about everybody I talk to within that same generation. It was a way of life and still kind of is depending on the circle you travel in. As I became a teenager, I went even further into the world of dieting on my own. I did have added reasoning that did come from some trauma from my childhood but my bigger reasoning was high school and college. I wanted to look like everyone else and I simply was always the heavier friend. The one who looked at a burger and gained 5 lb. The one who was forever on a diet but it was never working. She was me. I went up and down with my weight repeatedly. It depended on the season and the surroundings. By the time I met my husband, I was at my heaviest and he loved me anyway. Over the course of 6 years, we had four children and it was in between the 3rd and the 4th that something finally clicked for me. I began some diet culture-related actions like cleanses, diet pills, MLM related things and bought every book. But I also started some basic things that just made sense. I started going for walks and intentionally just moved my body. I started drinking water. I started tracking my food. That was it. Pretty soon, I was on my way and a lot of the diet culture things were left behind.
It took me 10 years to get to where actually I wanted to be and that was only because I had a lot of really amazing stops along the way.
- I started my journey in 2012 and that year ended with a surprise pregnancy.
- In 2013, I was 19 weeks pregnant and ran my first half marathon.
- 2014 through 2016… All the way up to ultra marathons!
- 2016 was also when I began to do strength training at a gym and at home. I gained about 10 lbs over the course of a year with strength training while still remaining in the same clothing that I wore when I was 10 lbs lighter
- 2017 I became a certified personal trainer and went back to work for the first time in 10 years. This definitely challenged our systems with food prep, meal planning, and everything that had gotten me to this point.
- 2018 we had a surprise move with the military that pulled us away from my new job and my support system. I did not handle the move very well and the stress brought about a lot of my old coping mechanisms with stress eating. I regained 10 lbs.
- In 2019 and 2020, I went to school for my masters and my activity levels dropped a lot. I regained 15 lbs. I also started my internship which later became a new job.
- 2020… The world shut down, my husband deployed and I began homeschooling. I also lost my job because it was a place that also had a kitchen and was affected by the shutdown due to the state that we were in. This was when an opening came about for me to finally have the skin removal surgery that I had been dreaming of for the last 6 years. It took me all the way until 2021 before I fully healed and started to fall back into my previous habits.
- In 2021, I started another job. I also started the trek to my first bikini bodybuilding show that offered a transformation category.
- 2022 I got down to my lowest weight and I walked the stage. It was monumental for me. I did it. I lost a total of 135 lbs from my highest recorded weight. And for the first time, I went into an intentional maintenance… And that gives you all the background there.
I spun out.
I had spent years trying to lose weight or actually losing weight. Had systems tested over and over again and barely made it through until my life changed and I had no choice but to change. And I finished that with the hardest push in the dieting sense that I have ever done in my entire life.
And like a pendulum pulled all the way to one side… I swung in the other direction hard and fast.
I was dealing with some other things that related back to my childhood but through this experience, I came to the realization that I had no idea of what I could possibly need during maintenance. I had never really been there before. Not intentionally. It was like going on vacation to a place you’ve never been and trying to figure out how to pack your suitcase. I did everything the best that I could and I still spun out.
So why? What caused me to spin out?
The thing I had strived for, for so very long… My weight on the scale being below 144 lbs (a rudimentary number that a doctor had once told me I needed to get to and stuck with me). That was the only goal I had ever set. 144 lbs or smaller. Nothing else. A constant strive for a smaller number.
That was it. I had nothing else. No goals. No idea how to live after the deficit. No clue what mattered anymore.
I had spent a decade striving for the next thing. Chasing races up to ultramarathons. Chasing education up to my master’s and even started my PhD. Chasing weight loss to get to my lowest weight. Chasing muscle to compete in a bodybuilding competition. I didn’t have anything left except the scale saying what it did.
How I failed to prepare for maintenance now blatantly stares me in the face now.
This list of those failures is very specific to the 19 months leading up to my show only.
- Diet Breaks/Practicing Maintenance: I had 2 diet breaks along the way and I didn’t even try to “live like maintenance”. I consumed every “non-diet” food I could.
- Eating Habits & Behaviors: I did not do focused work on my eating habits and behavior around food that had brought me to the need to diet. I had been a mindless eater. I could consume an entire tray of brownies or a whole pizza by simply not paying attention while I ate.
- Better Coping Mechanisms: I was also an emotional non-eater or overconsumer. There was no in-between. And my main coping mechanisms were through food or exercise.
- Non-Scale Victories: I barely paid attention to my non-scale victories as much as I paid attention to the scale. It wasn’t that I ignored them. I stated them but I didn’t focus on them.
- Volume Eating: I had gotten so good at ensuring that I felt full throughout the diet that I forgot how to sit with hunger,
- Balance with Food Choices: I went all or nothing with my “diet food” and “non-diet food”. I didn’t really try to keep food not labeled/categorized/separated.
- Balance with Social Outings: I didn’t go out to restaurants or go to celebrations.
It has been a long hard road with learning how to do maintenance aka life. Some of it has been overconsumption which can be called a bulk because I needed to have it all have a purpose. But it was an unintentional one that I just decided to hold on to.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to open up and go over some of the things that I wish I had done to prepare for maintenance, surprises that I found when I was in maintenance, and a few other things that took a lot of mental bandwidth to work through.
I’m so appreciative of you getting to this point and coming on this journey with me.
Full Maintenance Series:
- Maintenance Part One: How I Screwed Up
- Maintenance Part Two: Losing the Leanness
- Maintenance Part Three: GAH! THIS IS FOREVER
- Maintenance Part Four: How I wish I would’ve started
- Maintenance Part Five: My pants need to fit!
- Maintenance Part Six: Do I even know what I am doing?
- Maintenance Part Seven: Mindless Means Mayhem