Tag Archives: self control

Why can’t you keep your weight off? — The 8 Essential Rules for Weight Maintenance

29 Oct

Recidivism among dieters has prompted major revisions in treatment methodology as researchers discover the significant contributions of genetics, psychology, and environmental factors to eating behavior. More than 85% of Americans have dieted during their lifetimes, yet the majority of diets offer little flexibility to accommodate the biopsychosocial components of the dieter’s life. Weight regain is virtually inevitable under these circumstances as self-regulation and emotional management deteriorate. No longer can the traditional focus of nutrition from the calories in versus calories out approach; exercise; and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) be considered the gold standard intervention trifecta. Studies report a 98% relapse (weight regain) rate following weight loss. Approximately 50% is gained back after three years and the rest gained back after five years. While discouraging, we can learn a lot from the two percent who are successful maintainers. What do they do? How do they think? Where do they differ in regards to behavior? Research accessing the lived experiences of successful and unsuccessful maintainers offer rich details that those of us who are actively engaged in the weight loss process and preparing to embark into maintenance can begin applying.


1.     Be constantly vigilant: The dedication you implement during weight loss must continue during maintenance. The effort you put toward your health cannot stop once you have reached your goal weight. Ask what you are doing now that you are willing to continue with when you achieve your goal. Defensive pessimism, a concept described in the weight loss literature, explains the adoption of an approach with a foothold in reality. Successful maintainers anticipate threats that may occur, know that there will be times they struggle, and plan ahead accordingly. Any goal that is met with commitment is one we will work toward with a “no matter what” attitude. Relying on motivation for goal achievement will lead to disappointment—we will often “not feel like it” or “not want to” do something, but those who keep on keeping on understand the fleeting nature of feelings. With practice, they can more easily move past them and onto how happy and encouraged they will feel if they follow through with what they know is in their best interest. Self-determination theory classifies these types of goals as intrinsic. Weaved into the fabric of our lives, intrinsic goals parallel our core values.


2.     Develop a support system: Not only is support the number one factor contributing to well-being and resilience, it is a primary element in maintaining commitment to weight maintenance related behaviors. While research shows that responsibilities in other contexts, such as familial, relationship, career, etc. can create tension that can lead to goal-compromising behaviors, having a support network minimizes the negative effects of goal threats.


3.     Challenge your ingrained beliefs and behaviors: Most individuals who have been on and off of diets for most of their lives acknowledge the entrenched beliefs and meanings around food often created in childhood. Food as comfort, food as love, and food as a stress reliever are three of the most commonly held attachments to food. Many of us grew up hearing “clean your plate” or “you can have dessert when you finish your dinner.” Throwing away food was unacceptable. On the other hand, many are brought up in households of abundance. Food was always available and access unconnected to hunger. In essence, it was used as a pacifier when negative emotion was experienced (i.e. getting a cookie from during a time of upset). Successful maintainers become conscious of their motivations to eat and begin rewriting their narratives about food and the relationship they want to have with it.


4.     Self-monitor: The National Weight Control Registry is a wealth of information from over 10,000 individuals who have lost and maintained their weight for significant periods of time. Self-monitoring is one behavior you will hear them mention repeatedly as critical to their weight maintenance success. Practical aspects of monitoring include consistent weight tracking, monitoring of portions, engaging in regular exercise, and setting boundaries around eating practices. Emotional monitoring to avoid engaging in stress eating or eating for reasons unrelated to hunger include practicing awareness and management of stress, choosing more effective methods of dealing with negative

emotion, but also being flexible and compassionate with one’s self when setbacks occur.


5.     Adopt a growth mindset: Carol Dweck, a researcher from Stanford University, has studied the difference between a growth versus a fixed mindset and its impact on goal achievement. Individuals who take steps toward their goals with a growth mindset focus on discovery and exploration and believe that through learning they can develop skills and enhanced knowledge and proficiencies. It encourages persistence and expectations of failure for the purpose of greater success. We learned to walk by falling! A fixed mindset, on the other hand, encourages one to give up easily and reduces the likelihood that grit will be extended toward mastering something new. The concept of neuroplasticity and the manner in which we can be active participants through adulthood in changing our brains should provide ample evidence and motivation to continue learning! The growth mindset spurs individuals to be on the lookout for opportunities, and expansion of one’s biases and normal ways of behaving increases gray matter in the areas that matter most too. Your prefrontal cortex will thank you! Finally, successful maintainers adopt a non-perfectionistic approach. While they may not like failure, they embrace it and give themselves permission to experience it; they allow versus avoid painful emotions and disappointment, thus positioning themselves toward greater pleasure; and they are grateful for their successes.


6.     Be structurally flexible: Successful maintainers understand how rigid food rules and depriving themselves of their favorite foods creates more cravings, more urges, and the propensity to binge. They realize that they can’t eat whatever, whenever, but they plan for indulgences in moderation. Structured flexibility gives them a sense of control without the belief that willpower will carry them through the tougher situations. They learn to ask questions of their cravings and check in with themselves to understand what might be driving their urge to eat. They practice recognition of black and white/all or nothing thinking as well as distorted thinking that propels them toward mindless or emotional eating. For example, the use of “I choose not to” versus “I can’t eat that” feels empowering and more intrinsically motivating. Being structured but flexible means having high expectations in combination with the understanding that uncertainty is inevitable and will require reflexivity and responsiveness rather than impulsivity.


7.    Develop a toolbox of strategies: Different contexts demand different strategies. What is effective in one situation may not be appropriate for another. But successful maintainers know that they have the choice to change their environments or change the way in which they respond to them. In some contexts, an “if__________, then____________” approach can work well. This is called an implementation intention. For example, “If Don asks me if I want some dessert, then I will say ‘no thank you’ and excuse myself.” In other contexts a more flexible, responsive approach is needed. This could mean drinking more water when a cravings is felt; pausing to really assess physiological hunger; repeating a motivational, empowering mantra; asking a question to increase awareness; and/or slowing down during a meal to fully experience satisfaction and reduce overeating. In essence, successful maintainers create rituals—new patterns of behavior that help to create lasting, meaningful change.


8.    Master mindfulness: Successful maintainers describe how they’ve acquired a new sense of themselves—about their bodies, about their minds, and about their lives and what is important to them. As they have practiced opening up to new experiences, objectively assessing their circumstances, and observing their behavior less judgmentally, they see their lives through new lenses. They practice being present, more compassionate, paying attention, deepening their awareness, avoiding avoidance, and intentionality. Through such practices, a successful maintainer can recognize that different identities sit down to eat sometimes – identities based on prior learning, on comparisons of self to others, and ideas about what others believe.


Don’t miss out on the discussion! Tell us about your emotional triggers and the biggest difficulties you’ve had as you move toward your goal of weight loss OR if you’re working on keeping it off! What bogs you down and gets in your way?


No Mo’ Plateaus!

25 May

My most recent article on self – control (the second in a two-part series found in the Diet Doc May newsletter generated a request for a blog on plateaus. Hmmm…that’s a very open-ended, broad topic. To the “Do you have anything on plateaus?” inquiry, I asked “Mental or physical?” I could hear the chuckle through the words of my follower, but she got it. Any phenomenon like this cannot be examined without considering it from multiple perspectives. So let’s dive into the diverse aspects of plateaus in the context of weight loss.

“My weight’s not moving!! I’ve hit a plateau!” I’m  betting these words have traveled over your lips with frustration, confusion, and discouragement. Especially if you have enjoyed consistent downward movement on the scale in the initial phases of your weight loss efforts, a “stall” can seem disheartening. Plateaus come in all shapes and sizes though– like all the different bodies in the world. You’ve got short, long, lean, lanky, round, rotund, portly, athletic. I’ve had clients email me freaking out that they’re doing something wrong when their weight remains the same for ONE DAY.  “Is this what they call a plateau!?!” Um…no.

Imagine you’re hiking, and you’ve just summitted a small mountain peak. You can feel your heart beating quickly, your respiration rate is high, and you feel like stopping for a little bit to catch your breath. You really want to get to the next mile marker though, so you tell yourself to keep going. As you keep walking, you see you don’t need to stop and rest- the trail levels out and for half a mile or so you’re taking a leisurely stroll through a pretty valley. You don’t feel particularly challenged by this area of the trail and you welcome the respite. The terrain gives you a chance to enjoy the scenery. You feel the sun on your face where it’s peaking through the trees. You imagine the softness of the prairie grass as it ripples in soft waves from the breeze. You realize you’ve not taken the time to appreciate what’s around you and where your panting and huffing and puffing actually got you until now! As you scan the trail in front of you, you notice some rather large boulders and  steps carved into the land as the grade steepens.  Twinging with both exhilaration and trepidation, you adjust your pack and think, “Okay, here we go!”, readying yourself for the upcoming challenge. One step at a time, with a mountain goat-like sure-footedness, you move forward. The trail continues to increase in elevation, and you find yourself leaning forward to increase your momentum. Your backpack feels uncomfortably heavy now but you trek onward albeit a bit slower and with more caution. “I’ll climb to that big tree and then rest” you say to yourself. “Climb”, “climb”, “climb” you chant. The tree seems to be further away than you anticipated! But you’ve been here before and as difficult as this feels, you push through it.

Plateaus, like the trek of a backpacker, come amidst peaks and valleys, rugged and smooth terrain, slow rises in elevation and steep declines. They must be valued in the full context of the journey, with an understanding of what is, in weight loss terms, physiologically normal. Our bodies are not linear and your weight loss won’t be either. Our bodies are dynamic, always changing in regards to fluid balance, intestinal mass and GI function, hormonal balance, etc. Even when you do not see a change on the scale, this is not an indication that nothing is happening in your body. The number on the scale is not always reflective of fat loss. It may take a day, three, or a week or two for it to register losses. I’ve had clients who I call “hangeronners” because they lose a couple pounds, the scale remains the same for a couple weeks, then they have a big drop, and the cycle repeats itself.  In essence, a plateau is what you define it to be, and your definition can change based on how you see your body responds.

If you hear yourself saying “I’ve hit a plateau,” perhaps this needs to be your signal to do the following:

1. Assess what you have been doing up to this point. What have you achieved, specifically? What have the behaviors been that have led to your success so far? Get very specific. Take your time with this. These are the areas you will want to continue and not let fall away.

2. Assess the areas you have struggled with. Honestly appraise the behaviors that could use a fine-tuning. For example, if you can admit to eating the leftovers off your child’s dinner plate a few nights each week, hold yourself accountable with this.  Pretending gets you nowhere. Admit, acknowledge, and then act.  Act= evaluate what you can do differently.

3. Rather than getting discouraged and automatically going to “I must be doing something wrong”, which is a value-laden, emotional response, stay objective. You could be doing everything you know to do–eating the appropriate amounts of food, staying consistent with eating balanced meals, structuring your meals effectively, and getting a good amount of exercise in. Maybe a small tweak is just necessary. Perhaps changing one of your longer cardio sessions to a higher intensity session is in order. After assessing the foods you’ve been eating you recognize that you are consuming quite a bit of artificially sweetened beverages and know that this can get in the way of fat loss, as well as prompt sugar cravings, so you reduce the amount you’re eating.

4. Whatever you define a plateau to be, use it to get real with yourself. Take stock, assess, appreciate how far you’ve come, identify what has gotten you there, and pay attention to the process for a bit versus being fixated on the end result. Of course the goal is important, but don’t discount what you’re learning as you put one foot in front of the other. With each challenge you are harnessing willpower, self-control, self-esteem, self-trust, self-wisdom, confidence, growth, and practicing viewing the difficulties not as setbacks but as opportunities to learn.

Plateaus are as much about your mindset as they are your body. We all have a metabolic set point at which getting underneath to achieve the lean physiques we desire requires a bit more digging, perseverance, and patience. Imagine plateaus as a barometer for changing your mental set point too!

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