Don't we all know someone who had lost 30 pounds, swore to never regain the weight and then regained that much and more? Or someone who had exercised regularly, suffered an injury and then became a weight-gaining couch potato?
These stories worried me, especially when a back injury threw me off track. Unable to play tennis, work out at the gym or practice yoga, I was limited to therapeutic pool walking. Distressed and irritable with pain, I found it easy to turn to friends in the refrigerator for comfort.
In this disquieted state, I discovered a book, Thin for Life, that distills the wisdom gleaned from 160 people who lost a minimum of 20 pounds (many lost much more) and kept it off.
The author, Anne Fletcher, MS, RD, wrote the book because she was discouraged by the notion that weight gain always follows weight loss. She set out to find the secrets of those who beat the odds. The author defined maintenance as not just reaching a weight goal but maintaining a healthful lifestyle of nutritious eating, regular exercise and positive relationships.
She found no single formula. Half of the people were in structured commercial programs, such as Weight Watchers, and half achieved results on their own. Even when the individuals were in a program, however, they owned it by modifying the program to suit cultural food preferences and participating in ways suited to their lifestyle.
Some lost weight acquired as children, a fact that disproves the notion that childhood obesity dooms adults. Challenging the idea of hopelessness, most had tried before and failed. They didn't starve themselves either; they ate often and well. The individuals didn't become compulsive exercise fanatics, although they did exercise regularly.
The fact that many were in their 50s and 60s invalidates the myth that losing weight becomes impossibly difficult as one ages. Many reached lengthy plateaus before they broke through to their ideal weight. At some point, most regained a few pounds before correcting course and returning to the desired range.
Overarching everything was the faith the people had in themselves. Despite past failures, they believed they would succeed and assumed 100 percent responsibility for results.
Each person accepted the reality of a critical food fact: if more calories are consumed than expended, weight gain occurs. Consequently, he or she looked realistically at what would make eating enjoyable and sustainable-even if favorites weren't included at every meal.
Each had a plan for the inevitable relapse. No longer a surprise, relapses were simply part of the process. Instead of beating themselves up, the individuals picked themselves up and resumed their program.
Everyone also accepted a body fact: use it or lose it. All followed exercise regimens that took into account age, interests and available time. When injuries occurred, they didn't quit, but rather modified their regimen and continued.
Unwilling to retreat into the comfort of food, each increasingly learned to face life head-on. Sources of pleasure and recreation were expanded. Satisfying activities were introduced, while self-limiting jobs or relationships, for example, were discontinued.
These individuals shared another common bond-they had a supporter who lauded their efforts and encouraged them when they despaired. Some purchased support in the form of trainers or commercial programs. Others relied on friends, colleagues, family or prayer. Independent of source, support was essential. Each person realized the task was too daunting to be accomplished alone.
My experience in losing weight and keeping it off is reassuringly consistent with Ann Fletcher's research. The myth of inevitable gain following weight loss is replaced with concrete, practical steps that each of us can implement into our daily routines. Adopting a sensible, livable eating and exercise regimen is within our grasp. Knowing this truth enlightens our outlook and lightens the scale.