Most of us know the key to achieving a healthy weight is not so much losing the weight, but maintaining the loss. When teaching how to achieve a healthy weight long term, I like to use the analogy of a carpenter and his/her tool box. I suppose the carpenter could be building just about anything in the analogy, but I will use a house to illustrate. Tools for a carpenter building a house are many but include things like a hammer, nails, drill, sand paper, etc. A carpenter would get very little accomplished without his or her tools.
There are tools for weight loss and for a while most dieters use those tools very intentionally and consistently to achieve success. There are obvious tools like a healthy diet, portion control, tracking food intake, regular exercise, and label reading. There are other tools that are just as important and related to success but maybe less obvious, such as, goal setting, finding daily motivation, setting yourself up for accountability, and using support. All are key instruments that will help you to act upon your intentions to lose weight.
Just as a carpenter accomplishes the building of a house with tools, many people using tools to lose weight do accomplish weight loss. However, when a house is complete it still will need the use of tools to maintain its overall health. Most people know this and accept it when building or buying a home. When a house needs work, the tools that are needed to fix a particular task are intentionally taken out and used. I use this analogy for long term success at weight loss because too often we “finish” a diet and eventually many people find themselves gaining weight back. (1)
Understanding that just like a house needs to be maintained to continue its health, actions to achieve a healthy weight need to be maintained in order to sustain benefits. Sure, one will focus a bit more on counting calories or portion sizes or increasing fruits and veggies while losing weight. You may use many tools initially (just like a carpenter would). Hopefully the use of your tools develops into some healthy habits that became engrained. However, it is totally normal to derail — it should actually be planned on to use your tools again.
Regular weighing is a tool that works great — this way you can catch a small weight gain. This is the time to get out some of the tools that led you to your accomplishments in the first place. Many people dread this and procrastinate putting those tools once again into action. This may be in part because of the negative feelings they have toward themselves in getting off track. However, remaining positive and getting back on track, in my opinion is probably the key to being able to maintain a healthy weight over time. I always tell my patients that to be successful at a healthy diet or healthy weight for a lifetime, you must expect setbacks and derailment. It is what you do when you have a setback that matters. It makes sense to grab a screw driver when a screw comes loose, or to use a paint brush when touch up is needed. It seems much more difficult and maybe less accepting for people to do this with their diet. To take out those measuring cups again or to sign up for a workout class — to dig into the toolbox of long-term weight control.
To achieve a healthy weight over a lifetime you need to recognize the tools that work best for you, get them out and put them to use when needed.
1. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies. Am J Clin Nutr November 2001 vol. 74 no. 5 579-584.
This meta- analysis concluded that on average people who lost weight in a structured weight loss program were able to maintain 23 percent of their initial loss. In my interpretation, this means that 77 percent of the weight lost was regained. So if a person lost twenty pounds, they gained 15 pounds back but kept off the 5 pounds.
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