Phase 5: Now What Do I Do?

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?

Self-Realization
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.

A much healthier and happier me.

A much healthier and happier me.

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.

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