I can follow a strict diet for a while and feel so good once I lose the weight. So why can’t I just keep it off?

Disappointed Lizzy

Why can’t I keep the weight off?

Someone asked me this question recently, and it’s a good one!  My first response was, “I think I know the answer; do you have any ideas about that?”

It seems so obvious to me, but I realize that it can be a blind spot for many people, particularly serial dieters.  Losing weight can be fun, empowering, and exciting at first, especially when drastic restrictions are in effect.  The results are exhilarating.  To keep the “high,” many dieters weigh themselves frequently, often daily.  Elevated mood – almost giddiness – keeps the streak going and makes the sacrifices seem worth it.  Willpower abounds.  “I have figured this out!”

Then, at some point, maybe after achieving a goal weight or at some point before that, something happens.  It might be a normal emotional hiccup like a bad day at work or something more jolting like a breakup, or it might be a normal testing of the boundaries like having a piece of cake at a birthday party.  Regardless of the reason, the scale becomes a traitor.  “All I did was have a little piece of cake, and my weight is up two pounds.  Something is not working anymore.  Maybe it is the sugar from the cake that caused that.  Can’t I even have just a little bit of cake once in a while?!  This isn’t worth it.  It’s too hard.”  OR “I really pigged out.  I knew I couldn’t do this.  I worked so hard, but now I’m up 3 pounds and it’s not working anymore.”

This is all brain craziness!  Scale weight and fat weight are not the same thing.  Scale weight fluctuations from day to day are usually just water weight or undigested food from a larger than normal meal.  This isn’t a problem unless the brain starts running wild with judgments and worry.  The stress is often handled by eating more food, and the downward spiral of brain chemistry can be difficult to stop.  A little blip on the scale can soon become a legitimate regain of 10, 20, 30, 40, or more pounds.

Stop it!  Just stop it right now.  Take a great big breath and blow it all out slowly.  Take another one.  What you do next is all that matters.  Your attitude is your most important tool.  Forgive yourself for whatever you did that was disappointing.  Then take an unemotional look at what you will do next.  The emotionally motivated habit, the usual next step, is probably to be extra strict tomorrow or Monday or whenever your next start date is, but that is the very thing that will hold the pattern in place.  Back in deprivation mode, you will just be a sitting duck for the next disruption.  You may be able to get back on a weight loss high for a while, or you may find that you can’t even find the willpower and determination to make that happen, but either way the weight will likely creep back up one way or another.

Instead, make your planning more realistic and allow for enough flexibility to keep disappointment in check.  If your previous plan didn’t allow enough food to satisfy physical hunger consistently, it will not be a workable plan long-term.  Stop ignoring hunger.  The same can be said for a plan that takes all pleasure out of eating; there is just so long one can eat like that without throwing in the towel and eating with wild abandon.  Add enough of the foods you enjoy.  There will be plenty of emotional highs and lows in life without adding more by setting up unfair eating standards and then judging the results, usually by looking at the scale . . . which leads me to another bit of advice.  If the scale has become something that feels unkind and unfair, be sure not to use it more than once a week.

Imagine what it would be like to just leave disappointments alone, without all the additional judgments that often follow.  Just be curious about what’s going on.  In other words, it’s enough to tell yourself, “That wasn’t part of the plan.  I wonder what that was about?  I must have a need I am not addressing.  I will treat myself with an extra dose of kindness now, since I am feeling a little vulnerable.”

Eating when we may not really need food is not the biggest problem.  It’s what happens next that really matters.  What happens next is always an opportunity for change.  How will you react to your next disappointment?

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