A cycle develops where Phase 3 returns, only to have to defeat Phase 4 again, until eventually it happens: You enter Phase 5 and wonder what to do now that you’ve reached your goal. This is part five of What to Expect in a lifestyle change.
After decades of being obese and finally finding a strategy that worked, it turned out that reaching a healthy weight was–more than anything else–very scary. The fear of not being on a weight loss plan was terrifying. What if I increased my calories and starting gaining back the weight I lost, instead of just stabilizing? I just spent 15 months getting to this point and now what? I was at a loss. What was I supposed to do next?
I started to feel the pressure of wanting to weigh myself more frequently. I’d lost and gained weight so many times before my lifestyle change that I feared screwing up and gaining back every pound I’d lost. Even though I had lost weight eating real food, I was afraid I’d eventually end up back to eating as much as had most of my life.
And since I needed to stop losing weight, I had to increase my calorie allocation, but I was afraid to do it. I wondered if I should just add back in those extra 300 calories the plan first allotted me so I’d be back at 1,800 calories again or if would that be too many?
What it took some time for me to realize was that the lifestyle changes I made set me up to maintain a healthy mind and body. Over 15 months I had modified my behavior, learning to control cravings and mindless grazing, reconditioning my body to accept fewer calories, and building in healthier outlets to release stress like through regular exercise. I absolutely credit a lifestyle change approach as the reason why I’m one of the few people who lost a lot of weight without bariatric surgery but didn’t become another “gained back everything” statistic.
As a safety net, for the next few years, I kept up with the food plan template I’d adopted. I did gain a few pounds back, which totally freaked me out at first. Then I realized several things. First, maybe this was just where my body was happy. Since it was still a healthy weight, I decided to be okay with that. Second, I never had a specific number in mind, so I didn’t feel tied to any particular weight.
Third, as long as I was within a +/-3 pound range of where my body settled, I was okay with that. Finally, the whole point of the lifestyle change was to be happier. I didn’t want to calorie count my entire life and I didn’t want to feel deprived of having treats maybe more often than when I was actively trying to lose weight. Yet I continued to plan and log, weigh and measure. Eventually, I eased up a bit and trusted I had laid the necessary groundwork, reinforced it, and ultimately had developed a healthier relationship with food.
The Unexpected Psychological Baggage
One thing I didn’t expect was the psychological baggage that hung around after I reached a healthy weight. I was totally blindsided by this–the self-criticism and chastising scripts that ran through my head. It took years for me to learn to quiet these disparaging words. I said the most horrible things to myself- things I would never dream of saying to another person.
Although I started my lifestyle change telling myself it was for life, at the time, I didn’t appreciate what that really meant beyond losing weight and keeping it off. I have since discovered how truly ‘for life’ it actually was, which I’ve detailed in My Food Education.
Indeed, this is an ongoing process. I’m quite happy with how I eat, even though it’s radically different from my previous life and might seem very ascetic to others. I know I’ll never go back to eating the way I did, but I want to continue to improve where I can. And the best part is, though it is a lifelong commitment, it’s not some horrible burden.