What is Maintenance? And Why I Like my “Job” Metaphor

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on January 31, 2011 at 11:24 am

What is maintenance?  It seems a simple, seemingly obvious, question.  Ali asked it in the last post’s comment section.   At first I was taken aback, because I thought I’d already answered it with my clever Job Description.  But I hadn’t.  Ali wanted to know whether maintenance is seeing the same number on the scale day after day after day.  Hmmmm.

For people at their highest natural weight, I think it can be.  I know when I was at my biggest, my body used its remarkable, dare I say miraculous, systems to maintain a weight, and often it was the same number day after day after day.  Most variances I could chalk up to something tangible, and many I could plot on a calendar:  the final days of my menstrual cycle would add two pounds to me, which would depart reliably on day two of my period, a day at the amusement park with salty popcorn and other water-retaining treats could add a pound or two for a day or two, then I was back at my number.   I didn’t need to concern myself over what a pound here or there meant, because my body would take care of it.  If a day hiking meant the scale showed me a pound down, I would hope it was truly a lost pound, but it never was.  It was back the next day, as faithful and reliable as the pounds that played on the other side of my equation.  I was in caloric balance.

Now that I maintain a weight that is lower than my highest natural weight, maintenance is not so easy to define.  We operate from slippery assumptions.  I can call myself a maintainer (and the NWCR accepts my proclamation) because today’s scale says I’m 57 pounds lighter than my all-time high.  However, I have been as much as 68 pounds below my all-time high.  So, am I really a maintainer, or am I a sloooooow yo-yo weight cycler?  I don’t know.  Is it important to know?  I don’t know that either.  Obsessing doesn’t seem practical.  But still, in the safety of this blog, let’s obsess a little.  Size acceptance advocate friends, proceed with caution, or don’t even click through.  (If it doesn’t make you mad, it will bore you, at best.)  Maintainer friends, let’s enter our dark territories.

Today’s weight, for me, is the highest number of my “range.”  I’ve seen it five days in a row now.  This tells me I’m dealing with more than water weight.  As a calorie balancer, I will likely add five minutes to my exercise for the next few days (use the longer Richard Simmons DVD, wearing partial weights, or add half a mile of Leslie Sansone with a full 30 pounds of weights – vest, ankle straps and hand-helds), and I’ll make sure I’m in the middle-to-bottom of my calorie range.  No flirting with the 2,000 calorie mark. 

Last week, my scale showed me my middle number twice.  I didn’t see my low number (the one I’ll likely report to the NWCR, by the way) at all.  I like to see my low number at least once a week.  I like to see my middle number most days.   Five days at my top number makes me cautious.  The number over my top number makes me heartsick.  At best, it means I must do additional daily exercise (ten to twelve minutes) and nail the bottom of my calorie range within 100 calories.  At worst, it may signal the impending re-adoption of a lost pound.

As I have re-adopted lost pounds in the past seven-and-a-half years, I have done so in little bunches, mostly of three.    A range of 137-139 became 140-143, which became 144-147, which became 148-150, which I have now forcibly shoved down to 146-148. (Holding steady since June, so I’m counting it as a real re-loss, though the NWCR won’t give me credit.  Two pounds either way is maintenance for them.)  Each time I re-adopt lost weight is a mini slide into Hell.  Anger and depression give way to resignation.  

Getting back down to 137 would entail crafting a life that I can no longer lead.  I was running, on average, 27 miles a week.  I thought I was going to do that forever, but I was naïve.  I now have a life that includes a calorie range lowered by 200 on both the top and bottom, as well as different exercise – a weight/aerobic combination that I came up with on my own in the name of efficiency and reclaiming time.  I accept it as enough, and resign myself to a new maintenance weight, because it has to be if I’m going to have any life outside of weight-loss maintenance.

I am grateful that I figured out a different way to look at maintenance than as a “lifestyle.”  To me, that would be like having to hold my smile for a picture indefinitely.  I couldn’t do it. 

My maintenance is a job.  My regained pounds represent minor failures (which I have also experienced in my paying jobs), but they are more than balanced by my successes, and they inform my successes – help me to do better (if you believe that weight-loss maintenance is a worthy pursuit).  I trudge on, do my job, every day, because I must.  Having style is optional.  Going to work is not.  Having a good attitude is nice but not always forthcoming (despite my best efforts), and it’s optional.  Going to work is not. 

My size acceptance friends ask me if the payoff is worth the cost, and I say “it must be, because I’m still doing it.”  I’ve thought that about many paying jobs I’ve held too.  I always take paying jobs with the noblest of intentions, but periodically, I must stop and analyze:  what am I contributing to the world, really?  Is this, in fact, just a cog-in-the-wheel position?  If so, is the machine producing something enriching and life-affirming?  If not, is it at least occupying little of my time, so that I may be free to contribute in other ways?  Each time I have moved on to a new paying job, it is because I thought I could contribute more to the world than in my prior position. (I took a pay cut once to do that, and was quite happy with my decision.)    

As a weight-loss maintainer, my biggest fear is that my example may be used in ways that are not enriching or life-affirming.  I caution my doctors not to hold me up as an example.  “If my patient Debra can do it, obviously, anyone can.  If you aren’t doing it, well . . . ”   I don’t want to be a cog in that wheel.

Therefore, I keep doing it, maintaining, but parsing it, and I must be careful to treat no question as too simple.  There are NO obvious answers and our assumptions all need examining – Gary Taubes’s, the NWCR’s and my own.  What is maintenance, indeed?  And can I contribute, in some small way, to an answer that is life-affirming?  I am stoic, and a maintainer, by my own definition, though I won’t be insulted if you call me a slow yo-yo.

Oh, and, by the way, I finished Taubes.  I have said what I need to say and have nothing more to add to the debate.  Another single-theory-of-obesity True Believer shouts at the wind tunnel, and we all trudge onward through the gale.

  1. You’re right about natural weight. My body has stuck to one spot for a long time, and if it veers much out of that range, there’s usually a good reason for it. Medically speaking, that can be a valuable indicator, another way to tell if one’s body is out of whack. It is shocking how many people believe that they’ll just keep gaining weight forever if they don’t diet, that they could easily weigh several hundred pounds if they lapse. I’m sure it happens, but it’s rare.
    What you wrote makes me wonder about people who, for whatever reason, wish to maintain a weight above their natural one, and if they must keep such detailed track of their energy/caloric balance as you do.
    By the way, I am quite looking forward to your future posts on social ramifications and your bservations. I just read the post and comments at , and damned if some of them weren’t heartbreaking enough to drive one to thoughts of violence. My apologies for getting so off-topic.
    What is maintenance? Depending on your time, energy and motivation, you can maintain some sort of diet and exercise plan. But whether you can maintain a certain weight by doing so is, I believe, not entirely within your control. It’ll be interesting to read people’s comments on this.

    • “Depending on your time, energy and motivation, you can maintain some sort of diet and exercise plan. But whether you can maintain a certain weight by doing so is, I believe, not entirely within your control.”

      Repeated for emphasis, and perhaps the center kernel to debunking the whole perpetuated fallacy .

  2. Debra, you write such a good post. It is not what a lot of newbie losers or maintainers want to hear. But I think there is a lot of truth in your personal experience.

    That’s interesting about maintaining your weight naturally at your highest weight. Because even though I ‘officially’ started at 255.5, and I also saw 262 for a period of time, I actually ‘maintained’ at 257 exactly for many years, in spite of not having a scale, and weighing myself maybe 4 times a year when I was around someone else’s scale. I even limited my food sometimes, and would say to my friends ‘I have to work at maintaining my svelte figure.’

    Sometimes I think that my decision to maintain at 168 is giving in, or settling, or is just part of that slide into hell. But then I remember that I am hopeful that this is something that I can more realistically maintain for a LONG time. I have to remember that it is still a drastic change for my body

  3. Wonderful post! Loved your replies at Dr. Sharma’s site, and I DEFINITELY want you to shoot me an e-mail:

    Onto the matter at hand: one thing I and my group at Second Helping Online have picked apart is that no standard definition of maintenance currently exists, scientifically. Each studies defines it differently.

    The problem sets off a chain reaction:

    1) Science has no definition, so therefore neither does public policy or the industries that rely on such research (assuming of course they find said research with all the emphasis on weight loss).

    2) Those that market and advertise said industries don’t even consider maintenance beyond the throw-away tagline “and keep it off” when in reality it’s a different animal.

    3) Because of the influence of marketing/society/media (basic agenda setting theory in journalism — media doesn’t tell you what to think, but what to think about) … any question of maintenance slips through the cracks.

    My goal’s to break that chain reaction, and it’ll take an army of maintainers like ourselves to do it.

    For me personally, I’ve managed a 200-pound weight loss for 8 years (old fashioned way, though I did as a food writer of all things) without a set definition or any guidance. And my life was chaos for about three years after hitting goal. I did it anyway.

    But if you ask yourself “what would it actually take for maintainers to total more than 3-6 percent of those who lose weight?” Having a structure and understanding of maintenance, from science on down to media and marketing, would make the concept less obtuse.

    So I say let’s start a revolution. The experts don’t even ponder maintenance, many more don’t care, and those that do don’t have a wide enough profile yet. I believe a group of highly driven, committed people will make the difference. I realize that sounds very Polyanna-ish, but if my weight loss and especially maintenance taught me anything, it’s that there’s nothing remotely naive or polyannish about positivity. It’s something you have to fight for.

    But that’s on a societal level. In the meantime, there’s men and women forced to navigate the gray area of maintenance.

    For me, I entered maintenance the day I hit my original goal and I never looked back. That doesn’t mean I didn’t relapse, and reclaim that ground. It didn’t mean I had to relearn my body and how I related to the world, or even myself.

    It did mean I began to grasp how extraordinary people can be. And how extraordinarily petty. It did mean that I eventually let go of thinking I had “a weight problem.” I manage my weight just like “normal folk.”

    I generally stay within a 10 pound range (10 above, 10 below) and tweak my food/exercise as need be. And in the process, And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

    LOL, wow, wrote a post myself there. Please send me an e-mail — I’d love to promote and support the truly wonderful work (writing and life wise) that you’re doing.

    Onward! Vive La Resistance!

    Russ Lane
    Second Helping

    • Actually, the National Weight Control Registry does study maintenance. They also have a very weak definition that most scientists adopt when they are studying the subject. I have several posts on the NWCR, and many mixed feelings. I hope you’ll read them. Will shoot you an email, as you request.

  4. I am surprised that some size acceptance advocates ventured in, but welcome, guys.

    Debby, one thing that helps me hold out some hope was watching my Mother. She lost weight in her middle age, probably 30 pounds, and worked very hard for many years, maybe 15, maintaining the loss, then she regained her weight for about a five-year period, but when she was elderly, something changed of its own accord and she lost the weight again (about two years before going into her decline, where she had no reserves to help her fight, though she was ready to go, so that was not entirely bad). At any rate, I’m just hoping to avoid that five-year yo-yo return. If not, well, I’ll take the LONG-time thing you’re talking about and that my mom pulled off. It’s acceptable, and my joints are better for it. And if I avoid the yo-yo, I avoid the gallbladder, heart and immune function issues I’ve talked about before.

    • My mother was heavy most of her life. She went on Weight Watchers in 1973 and lost 80 pounds, down to 135, which she maintained for six years. My younger brother was killed in a car accident in 1979, and she slowly gained it back. She occasionally tried losing weight, and would lose 20 or 30 pounds and always gain it back.

      About three years ago she gleefully told me she had lost 10 pounds without even trying! She was suddenly eating very little. I made dinner for both of us and she ate maybe half of her usual portion. Other meals we had together were the same. Once we split a can of soup, 100 calories each, and then didn’t want anything more.

      I went with her to her doctor a month later, and I told him I was very worried about her because of her weight loss. He looked at her weight, and said she had lost eight pounds in three months, and that was nothing significant. I told him that she had not been dieting and had struggled with her weight all her life, and he totally blew me off, no doubt happy that she was losing weight since all people need to lose weight to be healthy, right?

      She continued eating 100 and 200 calorie meals and saying she was stuffed, losing weight, losing another 80 pounds over the next year to weigh 10 pounds less than she had those six years she was maintaining. And then she died. She basically just shriveled up and died.

      Freaked me out so much I gained 15 pounds.

      A few months before she died, she was finally diagnosed with scleroderma, which starts out by hardening your skin and making it very difficult to bend your fingers, and then moves inward to start hardening the organs. There’s no cure, so it probably wouldn’t have done her any good to get an earlier diagnosis, but I’m still pissed off by that doctor that didn’t listen to me.

      • Can’t believe I was so mad I left out words. “Once we split a can of soup and =she= didn’t want any more.” I had a big sandwich.

        “…he totally blew me off, no doubt happy that she was losing weight since all =fat= people need to lose weight…”

      • Wow, Teri, what a sad story. How awful that her unexplained weight loss was not regarded as a symptom to be explored, but merely an occasion for celebration. Yeesh. When will our fat phobia stop blinding us?!

    • My mother too had a weight problem throughout her life. She only lost weight through illness. Interestingly, she also lost the desire to smoke when she was well into her sixties and spent the last 20 years of her life smoke-free, through no particular effort of will.

      Aside from the few pounds that I have lost by becoming a more mindful eater, I find that if I lose weight through any other means than severe monitoring of everything I eat, coupled with an almost constant feeling of hunger, it means that I am ill. The only time that I lost weight “effortlessly” was when I became hyperthyroid. Fixed the problem, gained back the weight (which was actually all lost muscle, the fat never left).

  5. I’ve been thinking a lot about this post.

    Yeah, I get the job metaphor. Sometimes maintenance can make you feel like a caged monkey, throwing feces at ignorant passerby that have no idea how much concentration is required to accomplish a goal that society does not support (but always talks about being important even if they have no idea how it works). Yes, that makes me angry.

    But the way I see is this: I liken maintenance more to a clean plate.

    I suffered plenty before I lost weight, so the suffering of maintenance doesn’t get me down as much as I thought it would. If suffering’s unavoidable, let it be in the name of growing, being the best I can be and someone I can be proud of. I’ll live through anything in the name of that, and taking a certain pride in accomplishing a task with the whole deck stacked against me. Taking a certain pride in defying.

    I call it “An exercise in joyful defiance.”

    I’d just like to build a world in which didn’t require all that. I won’t believe it’s impossible, because frankly that I’m alive and still pushing forward is a testament that “impossible” is utter nonsense.

    • Russ says: If suffering’s unavoidable, let it be in the name of growing, being the best I can be and someone I can be proud of

      I understand that you feel that losing weight and maintaining the weight loss has done these things for you. I’m 41 years old and have had a BMI between 30 and 37 since I was 11. Although I’ve spent many years exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet, I never try to lose weight. My philosophy? I do the same things for my health that I’d do if I were naturally thin.

      My way of “growing, being the best I can be and someone I can be proud of” has been earning 3 degrees in architecture (b.s.) and engineering (b.s., M.Eng.), doing meaningful work (I’m a project manager in the renewable energy industry), doing volunteer work, paying attention to my relationships with partners and friends, and doing my best to act with wisdom and integrity.

      If I was thinner, how would that make me a better or more successful person? If I’d decided to take on that part time job in weight loss maintenance, would I have accomplished everything I have, or even that single, focused, relatively unimportant goal? Doubtful on both counts.

      Earning the engineering degree while working full time was very difficult. You’d better believe that being a woman in my profession requires joyful defiance.

      I’m not denying that weight loss and weight loss maintenance are difficult and take thought and suffering to accomplish. My question is, does difficulty in and of itself make a goal worthwhile, or can it just detract from more important parts of life? My answer to that was and is “no;” to me, it’s a goal that’s not worth the continuous effort and sacrifice.

      And most people, whether they’re willing to admit it to themselves or not, agree with me on that. That’s the very logical and legitimate reason why so few maintain weight loss.

      • Hi, there, DeeLeigh. Glad you’re in the fray. You know, I warned you at the end of paragraph three that this would be a hard one to swallow. If you have even an ounce of respect for me after this, well, you are a true friend. Your response to Russ is right on.

        Russ, you want to start a “revolution.” You should know, I fantacize about that too. Your’s however is the “Yes, weight-loss-maintenance-is-hard-but-you-can-do-it!” revolution. Mine is the “Whoa, let’s-rethink-the-war-on-obesity-entirely” revolution. I do not claim to have the answers. I am not Ghandi. However, I think a peaceful solution starts by respecting the intellect and contributions of people of all sizes. I am not smarter now than I was when I was fat. I just understand the puzzle a little better now, and I am not afraid to question its value. If there is any “leadership” ability in me, that’s where it lies. In the courage to question the whole darn thing. As I age, I see my weapons in the battle being diminished and compromised. My deteriorating joints take away my ability to run, joyfully, for exercise, and I find a different route and trudge on anyway. My retention of iron removes the ability to eat certain “healthy” vegetables, and yet I trudge on. How long can I do it? That’s a good question. And I hope it adds value to the world. Real value. We don’t need another Women’s Day article on yippy skippy weight-loss success.

        Since the war on obesity (and fat people) is being fought on the battlefields of medicine and science, I think finding peace involves getting the MDs and scientists to rethink their assumptions and to sit at the table with their fellow MDs and scientists, as well as fat people and maintainers, who are more than the sum total of their behaviors and BMIs. The central question on the table is NOT how can we make all fat people into weight-loss maintainers, but how do we promote health for all people, regardless of their size, regardless of how they choose to fill their time on this planet. Other questions include, “Accepting that fat people, on average, are as smart and aware as naturally trim people, and the social consequences of being fat are not enough to keep people from getting fat, why are we, in the developed world, growing ever fatter?” The answer, I believe, is a complicated puzzle that involves endocrine, genetics, environmental chemistry, and behavioral science (acknowledging that behavior is driven by, or at least influenced by, endocrine and genetics), as well as other areas of scientific inquiry.

      • Debra, I have a huge amount of respect for you, and thanks for understanding that I wasn’t just trying to have a brag-fest there. I wanted to illustrate how growing, being the best I can be, and being proud of my accomplishments doesn’t require me to be thin; how the things I’m proud of and the difficult things I’ve done in my life are of a different type. I was specific in order to show just how difficult those things have been, and why they mean a lot more to me than changing the size of my body would. Many fat people have other, equally or more impressive lists of accomplishments. Being able to put aside the weight issue can help us accomplish other goals – goals that may be more valuable.

        I’m sick of the assumption that becoming and staying thin is a prerequisite for all other accomplishments, because it just isn’t. Not at all.

      • OMG, Dee Leigh. That was a masterful, brilliant response. I bow down to you!

  6. Great! Look forward to it!

    Re: NWCR

    Are you referring to their criteria (30 pounds off for 1 year, I think?) or the 10 percent.

    Many of the studies from NWCR (and what few others exist) are pretty flimsy within the studies themselves. When I spoke with John Graham ( explained they tweak the definition per study for reason of expectation.

    I have a ton of respect for NWCR, but if they aren’t even following their own definition within their own studies, it’s pointless.

    When I write it about, reading you, or Lynn or Barbara, we’re all trying to create a language for post-weight life (see what I did there?)that doesn’t exist. A lot of times for myself I wonder if I confuse the methodology (stay at exactly the same number vs. having a range) for a “definition.”

    GOD, I love talking about this stuff! Thanks!

    • While you were responding to me, I was visiting your site, foraging about. Read your post on the definition of “maintenance.” Gotta tell you, that study you use to quote a 6% “success” rate is no more uplifting than the NWCR’s. As I suspected, different methodology, still not a great result: “Only 6% of all overweight individuals lost and maintained at least 5% weight loss.” Five percent? And this was also a study based in self-reporting. Yikes.

      Russ, hang around. Comment. Explore my posts. Clearly, you are a glass-half-full person. I don’t like to think of myself as a glass-half-empty type, but I have arrived at a different place from you. And, actually, it gives me peace. Trying to keep the “lifestyle” smile plastered on my face was exhausting. I found that immersing myself in the science, regarding myself as a personal experiment, coming to admire (and participate in) the size acceptance community worked better for me.

      Oh, by the way, here’s the link to the NWCR’s definition of “maintenance success,” which they do not follow. NWCR registrants need to have lost 30 pounds and kept it off for a year. Mathematically, that only equals 10% when one starts at 300 lbs, which many of us did not. I don’t know why John (aka Graham) Thomas did not quote this definition to you. The scientists who developed it included Rena Wing, the lead scientist at the NWCR. When I talked to him once by email, he gave me an equally confusing answer to a similar question.

  7. Wow. Thank you so much for all the information. I’m sorry I “took you aback” with my question. That wasn’t my intention. I’d seen Some “scientific” definitions of maintenance but found them unhelpful as they look backwards from weightloss rather than focussing on the day-to-day trudge. I find your job metaphor very convincing and reflect on it a lot. In fact I think I run many of those processes during the day myself. As I approach my first anniversary of this journey’s beginning, I guess I’m just scared about where I go from here. At the moment, my answer is: I’m not sure but let’s see what the scales say tomorrow, let’s count and try to make target tomorrow and we’ll worry about the day after the day after. Thank you so much for this blog and for answering my question.

    • Whoa, Ali, no need to apologize. There is nothing I appreciate more than being taken aback. And to be returned to such a fundamental question. Very good for me.

  8. Weirdly, I am currently looking at this from the other side.

    In November, I started paying a LOT more attention to the actual quality and nutrition that I consume, rather than having a myopic focus on restricting calories.

    In the learning process, I realized that… “huh… I appear to have been starving myself for the last 5 years I have been “maintaining”…


    So now I am eating about 500 calories more every day than I used to for maintenance, and paying attention to stuff like protein, fat, carbs, sodium, potassium.

    I was at the top of my “acceptable maintenance range” in November.

    The change in my eating habits has dropped me ten pounds. That’s now 5 pounds below my “preferred” weight and I am actually flirting with my “umm… you are starting to worry me” weight.

    But I am having trouble turning it around.

    I increase the calories by 100 each week I am still losing, but my body is still losing.

    WTF? Is my “natural” weight being reset? Is this a fluke? I don’t want to lose, but I am curious as to exactly how high I am going to have to go with increasing my calories to arrest the slide.

    It’s got me quite kerfluffled, as it’s not an issue I am used to having, coming from the restrictive maintenance mindset I’ve had for so, so long.

  9. I keep on top of macronutrients too, No Celery. Hmmm. Of course, I’ve never gone below a 1,600-calorie daily minimum, and many days I’m at 2,000. On a 5’4″ female body who exercises rigorously (but does NOTHING that compares to roller derby), that’s not “starving.” I provide these numbers so you may compare notes, as useful.

    If you really are losing significant weight without a good explanation, and ten pounds is significant, then maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see the doctor, just to make sure everything’s okay. (Teri’s story about her mother, above, serving as a precautionary tale regarding the sensitivity of doctors with regard to weight changes, of course.)

    Oh, and speaking of Roller Derby, if you ever come to KC to skate against the Roller Warriors, drop me a line. I’ll show up (and maybe take my family or my adult tap dancing class) and I’ll wear red and blue and holler for you. I’ve never gone to a Roller Derby event before, but I think it’d be fun.

    • No Celery: Have you noticed any other changes besides effortless weight loss? Heart palpitations, tremors, diarrhea (or looser bowels than is usual/normal for you), tiredness? It could be a thyroid problem. Sorry, I see thyroid issues everywhere, having gone through two bouts of hyperthyroidism in the past 18 years.

      • No… no other issues… and I seem to have gotten the rapid loss part under control, it’s just kind of creeping a little now, so I’ll keep playing around with the numbers to try and find the one that fits.

        Thanks for the concern, though!

  10. forgive my typing today. long story there.

    nocelery brings up a fascinating point. she knows she is supposedly in maintenance but her body doesnt appear to be reacting in a *typical* way…holding on to the fat or trying its best to reverse the previous losing process and regain…as we often assume is almost *inevitable*.

    how/when/why does a *typical* body switch from weight loss, done in relative comfort for some folks once the learning process involved has become second nature, to making the maintaining process into a *job*. when, in other words, can i estimate this process turning into work?

    because–except for the occasional *hungries* i go through, which i correct by upping the fat and calorie intake & lowering carb intake for a few days, living with the process thus far (still losing, slowly, with typically unpredictable plateaus) feels much less like work coompared to living my life day to day before i started (this attempt to lose) & in th early months.

    so…what will eventually signal my body: “okay, now the losing phase is over and maintaining has begun.” obviously some endocrine changes are involved?

    but when will that dreaded day of reckoning happen? and why has it not happened yet?

    i had to stop strength training awhile back. i am not able to walk much, either, until i complete some surgeries & rehab. with reduced activity ive noticed a reduction in appetite, overall.

    also, just when i start to think ” oh, it looks like i’m maintaining now”, then more weight loss occurs (so far). while being way more sedentary.

    its horrible how much better i am treated compared to one year ago…but im the recipient of all that privilege and it feels incredibly liberating. i think less about food & food preparation than i did “before”. i… said enough for now. just wonder when it turns into work.

    • RNegade, sadly, there are no standard answers, from science, medicine or common culture. Until there are, we must assume that all bodies are different. If I were you, I’d examine my past and look for clues from your own body — is there a pattern you might be able to look for that happened in the past?

      Here’s what we DO know: 97% of people will regain (whether they are calorie balancers or carb controllers). There is no magic. This regain may happen for some almost immediately and for others after a significant time in “maintenance.” These people, regainers, on average, are as smart and aware as people who are naturally trim or who maintain (like me). Or so I believe.

      Based on this fact — 97% failure — and the assumption of equal intellect/body awareness, I don’t think there is any set point at which a body “clicks” over to maintenance, and the process becomes easier to do. Moreover, it remains at least as hard as the loss process (which may be unsustainable for many people).

      My own history: When I lost the weight, I set no number goal. Like you, I gradually kept losing over an 18-month period, with boring plateaus interspersed with pleasant slides. At last, I nestled in at 137 (after thinking I’d nestled in at 163, 154, 147 and 143). Then I had a long post-weight-loss honeymoon and stayed under 140 for about three years, during which time I was a running addict. After three years, the running became more and more difficult, and I had to adopt other strategies for the exercise side of my equation. Currently, I run, generally, once a month for two miles, just to make sure I am maintaining cardio conditioning at a runner’s level using other means. As I rely on other methods than running, maintenance becomes more difficult (but I’ve found ways to make it less time-consuming). Standard advice to find a sport that I love does not yield, for me, something that supports maintenance. I do tap dance for joy’s sake. I love it, it makes me sweat, but not to a runner’s level of conditioning, so I must do additional exercise even on my tap class days.

      • “Here’s what we DO know: 97% of people will regain (whether they are calorie balancers or carb controllers). There is no magic. This regain may happen for some almost immediately and for others after a significant time in “maintenance.” These people, regainers, on average, are as smart and aware as people who are naturally trim or who maintain (like me). Or so I believe.”

        I like post-weight to less a yo-yo than a metronome. My personal answer was pushing the boundaries on the rest of my life, finding ways to make the “maintenance” work under the hood and not require constant focus. But it never gets “easier,” no.

  11. As I read Russ Lane’s comments, I wanted to ask another question.

    Didya ever notice — so many of the “I lost the weight and kept it off! Really easy! And you can toooooo!!” types have a certain rather prominent — and relevant — characteristic in common?

    They have a muscle mass advantage (which, according to theory, yada yada) …

    because they’re men.

    It consistently beats all to me why all those lecturing types would think that what works for them is also going to work for a population whose biochemical profile, and propensity to hold onto body fat for the purpose of sustaining additional life, is completely different from their own.

    • @littlme | I know now it’s not your intended reaction, but I always think of “A League of Their Own” when I see things like your post and chuckle a little:

      “There’s no men in weight loss!” I’m gay, for Pete’s Sakes. Doesn’t that mean anything anymore? 🙂

      Sorry to be so sanguine about your point, but I get comments like that a lot and they baffle me. I’ve spent hours with reporters only to not be included in articles because I’m a guy.

      I suppose I am a tad defensive — this whole “There’s no men in weight loss” thing does sting me — and I’m not angry. Rather, I’d like to understand. I’d really, truly like to understand why.

      I request that you see me and my work as I am and it is. Not by appearance. Isn’t that the point?

      If you look through the site, I’m one of the few men involved with it. Evelyn Wells (who still has my favorite weight loss story ever), my partner-in-crime Angela Baldo, New Orleans personal trainer Kelli Brooks, Carla Marie Campia, who’s just a sweetheart, few more. I have a ton of repsect for Barbara Berkeley and Passing for Thin.

      And in talking with them, what you’ll find is we have way more in common than we do differences.

      I could care less how people lose weight. I REALLY don’t care if they think they should lose weight. All I’m interested in is the choice, and making sure people’s choices are bravely supported.

      So if any woman or man makes that choice to lose weight, yes I do want it to be an amazing, positive one in the long term. Otherwise it’s like feeling in jail.

      People deserve more than to be thrown to the wolves, alienated, excluded, not being felt they have voice, ignored. Particularly after as hard as they’ve worked and how much money and emotional energy others have taken from them.

      I say there’s a better way. I can’t always say I achieve it, but I”ll fight like hell to find it and support others to do the same.

      But in no way did I ever say this was easy,for me, you or anyone.

      What I’d like to do instead is build a better world, find a third way. For everyone, not just people who look like me or match the same set of chromosomes.

      • I’d like to build a better world, too. One where becoming thin and staying that way isn’t considered important. One where people don’t feel socially and personally compromised just because they’re heavier than average. One where people don’t believe that their real life won’t begin until they’re thin.

        Not just for me, but for everyone who’s invested time, money, hope and emotional energy into something that’s little more than a cosmetic issue and a question of social conformity.

  12. Hey guys! Y’all brought up some awesome points. I’ll put them in different posts.

    I kind of chuckled when y’all read that I was a glass half-full kind of guy.

    I lost my weight originally after recovering some pretty extensive abuse history(I used to chalk up “repressed memories” to hippie therapy BS until it became my life. Go figure). In the fallout, I woke up one day and wondered “who would Russ be without the weight?” It was definitely a shield, but the weight wasn’t about the weight at all. It was about not feeling like property.

    I hit goal, was doing the best writing of my career, came out and never looked back (that was nothing compared to deciding to lose weight, lol) and was in charge on my life for the first time. Sure, the weight was a part of that but wasn’t a cure-all.

    Around the same time I hit goal I walked straight back into a similar situation that began all this; losing weight also meant dealing with the added attention was completely foreign to me. I wait for the results of my first HIV test the same weekend my mother was diagnosed with three brain tumors. Throughout mom’s illness I never discussed the other events, particularly because the perpetrator was a family friend.

    For all the Big Drama of that, the most difficult things were the simplest aspects of life post-weight: learning how to date/flirt, realizing I’m developmentally completely out of whack, realizing I could wear clothes that fit, even determine a personal style, dealing with loose skin, half the world telling me I’m still too fat, the other half calling me anorexic, and realizing that EVERYONE deals with grief about their bodies, not just obese folks.

    That’s my “Success Story,” lol. And moving to New Orleans to restart life at 30 after all that … yeah, there have been plenty of staring-at-the-wall days.

    But my weight loss was never about the weight loss, or health, or body image. It was putting a lot of pain to an end. If that’s what ordinary life was going to give me, screw it. I’d make my own way. If I’m going to have to suffer, let it be in the name of something positive, something moving forward. Solutions.

    Otherwise it’s just more pain that never goes away and nothing changes no matter what your waist is. That’s abhorent to me.

    That’s why I started Second Helping, because I couldn’t tolerate the thought of any woman or man dealing with a lot of post-weight crap at the end of a long and much-debated weight loss process. It struck me as dishonest; all that attention “help” and support only for people to be thrown to the wolves when there’s a lot to sort out in maintenance — both in the mechanics of it, and also the significance.

    Throughout all these things, I saw how truly extraordinary and how also extraordinarily petty human beings can be. I can’t stand the polyanna “Success Story” hype because it’s not actually useful to anyone in the long term.

    Hard-fought optimism? I’ll take that any day.

  13. Re: Post-Weight and Body Acceptance

    This is a really interesting topic. When I first began writing again after mom’s death, I interviewed fat activist Shirley Sheffield:

    One of the things I’d most like to do is team up with someone in NAAFA or another body acceptance person. I call it a “Your Life, Your Choice” campaign. Because personally, I view maintenance and body acceptance as flip sides of the same coin.

    Basically, it’s two different paths to the same place: finding out what you can accomplish, dealing with who you are and honoring what you find.

    No, you don’t *have* to lose weight to find yourself or face yourself or be happy of fulfilled. Nor do you have to remain fat. But regardless of which path one chooses, I say let it be an actual *CHOICE.* Not one society/marketing/anyone else makes for you.

    People would be much happier in general if they did.

    The irony of it to me is that I had to lose weight to realize that. And especially for people who have put in extraordinary effort to change their bodies, there needs to be people there to make sure keeping their weight off is as great as it can potentially be.

  14. Ah, Russ, a hug. Anyone who deals with the shadow of abuse needs a hug from time to time. Those shadows, while becoming more manageable (and it sounds like you’ve done some good therapy), do linger, haunt, so a double hug to ya’, guy. And a third for losing your mom. I am, technically, an orphan. I’m in my 50s, granted, but losing parents is never easy, even as adults.

    Now, on to business. There is a place for you here in the discussion, but it may not be the place you’d like it to be. As a maintainer, you fit the profile and have something to offer. Please, however, keep your revolution over at your own site. Now that we know about it, if we choose to participate, we can. And I thank you for making it available.

    This site, however, is not for revolutions so much as humble discussions. Here, we accept that cultural mythology about weight and the science of weight control have collided and created an ugly mess, and we’re trying to sort through the rubble and come out with something more useful to us than what either scientists or women’s magazines have handed us so far. We approach each topic with some attitude, true, but also a humility and respect for one another’s experience. Each of us lives our own personal scientific experiment, we’re each an N=1. Many of us have done some extensive research, some are RNs or are in other professions that lend a different, useful, lens through which to view the wreckage. We come together here and just talk. Sometimes we throw some unsolicited advice at one another, but mostly we talk. And we don’t try to convert one another so much as test our ideas on each other, and with respect for our differences. (Sometimes, it seems, the SA folks get a little hard on us maintainers, but we can take it. We’ve, technically, got society’s imprimatur, which is an unfair edge, and we are a curious bunch.)

    So, if you wish to enter the fray, friend, do so, with respect for where you are. Good luck on your own site and with your own revolution.

    Speaking of unsolicited advice, or maybe just springing an idea. (Actually, this takes us back to topic — what IS maintenance.) Gotta tell you, that 10 lbs plus-or-minus, a 20-pound maintenance range (and as I calculate it, if your base low weight is 155, that’s 13%), strikes me as pretty broad. Maybe not so much a maintenance range as something else. One maintainer to another, I’d pull it in. Three pounds (my range) is narrow, probably too much so for most people, but 20 may be interpreted by your body as a legit yo-yo episode, not so healthy.

  15. Debra, thanks for writing this magnificent blog. It’s really good, and it’s starting to garner the kind of attention it deserves.

    I hope I’m not being too much of an asshole. Everyday, all my life, I’ve gotten the fact that most people would think more highly of me if I was thin – if I’d just do what you guys are doing – shoved in my face by the media, and sometimes (less frequently now than when I was younger) by real people. I think it’s an unreasonable demand, and I’m infinitely stubborn. But it’s tiresome and tiring and it really does make it hard to be a weight loss cheerleader for other people, even though strictly speaking, I wish people success with whatever their life goals happen to be. (as long as they don’t involve hurting others, of course)

  16. Ah, DeeLeigh, I’m fine when you guys go after me (or at least I recover quickly). I’m just trying to strike the right balance and feel a bit protective of some of the other maintainers here. I see them in three dimensions, and know that some of them are reluctant participants here, anyway. And while we all need our assumptions challenged, I don’t want them chased away. They are as tender as anyone. They’ve lived in the fat phobic world, and now, as maintainers, they/we are society’s “winners” and yet our victory rarely tastes as sweet as it’s presented in Woman’s Day magazine. The minor accolades that we got while losing, for most of us, are long gone and never felt right anyway. And now we’re lost in this netherworld. Russ is right that there is no vocabulary for a lot of what we do. While I prefer my metaphors to his, we’re both struggling, and I appreciate that. And I am trying to struggle without also hating on my old fat self (something we’re encouraged to do) and while looking dispassionately at science (something that’s really hard to do when you’re one of the lab rats). I want Debby, an RN, to look at the same stuff I’m looking at and feel free to give her opinion. Likewise, No Celery (who’s also flaming SA), Mo, etc. All the maintainers. I don’t want them to fear my blog. The line can run thin between challenge and attack. I know I can cross it without noticing at times. RNegade, I have come think will handle herself with you or anyone else, no problema. I just stand back, there, and watch. Wish I could sell tickets.

  17. Thanks for the hug, but a big part of my beginning 2nd helping was putting all the “property” stuff to rest.

    Of course we all have our own spaces here online, and I fully understand and respect that. I just wanted to join in the conversation, moreso with you personally than disrupting your community.

    But so it’s clear in the future: I’m not Polyanna, a mysognist, or trying to shove my ideas down people’s throats. And all the good things in my life I had to bleed for.

    Thanks for correctly realizing what I am after — just like you, to get people thinking, and to get a conversation going about a question that’s not even wise for me to answer alone. And how to put that answer into action.

    We all know maintenance can suck. It can be a job, a jail, confusing, all those things. I live it.

    But what specifically would make maintenance less like a job and what can we do it about it? If maintenance is ignored, what will it take to not be ignored? What are some solutions? What else is possible?

    And why are so folks so resistant to that conversation?

    But personally?

    Given how easily I can gain/lose weight and factoring in a chaotic freelancer lifestyle, with muscle growth, etc. the 10 range (it should have read five above, five below) works for me for the time being.

    It’s always the same: before I can get substantive conversations out of some very savvy men and women there’s usually the hurdle of “You’re a man so I couldn’t possibly understand” / “You haven’t suffered enough for your weight or loss” / “You sound positive, so clearly you’re misinformed because the world’s a horrible, horrible place!” / “You’re giving unsolicited advice.”

    And no, I have no great tolerance for that, especially from a community of people that one some level knows what’s possible.

  18. “@littlme | I know now it’s not your intended reaction, but I always think of “A League of Their Own” when I see things like your post and chuckle a little:

    “There’s no men in weight loss!””

    That’s not what I said.

    And that’s not how my name is spelled.

    I’m gay, for Pete’s Sakes. Doesn’t that mean anything anymore?

    Actually, particularly in this instance, when you’ve decided to talk right over me about what you’re interested in discussing, and completely misconstrue the point I was trying to make, just like an arrogant straight man would when discussing the same topic (which was, to reiterate, the male muscle-mass advantage and its overwhelming representational percentage in the number of “I did it! You can too!” types) …


    However, at this point, I don’t plan to comment on this more, for the following reasons:

    – anyone else reading — female, male, gay, or straight — can view the point I was trying to make,

    – this site is a place (generally, lol) for peacable topical discussion, and

    – I have no interest whatsoever in being placed in the role of “combative, argumentative female” (and particularly in being the one tossed off the site because someone else chose to completely disregard the point I was making).

    Thanks for helping me make that point, though.

  19. Hmmmm. We have verbal collisions, I think, because the age range here and range of experience is broad, and normally our society, unwittingly(?), sets size acceptance proponents and weight-loss maintainers against one another. It’s hard to fight that.

    I think you’re right LittleM that Russ didn’t “hear” you. I don’t think he meant to further offend — he was trying to create levity, but botched it — and I think he’s just happy to find another maintainer site. His first impulse may have been to win converts, which put me on edge, but I think he can actually be converted to a humble commenter. (Don’t you just love being talked about, Russ?) At any rate, I’m not about to give you the heave ho, LittleM, so no worries there.

    I think my next post will be about how we can handle discussions here. I think I need to create a page, to be listed at the top of my front page with “About” and “Disclaimer,” and you all will need to help me create the rules for it. Then, if someone bursts onto the scene without really knowing us and says something awkward, I can refer him or her that-a-way.

    Oh, and I should have said this earlier. DeeLeigh, you aren’t an asshole. You’re really quite thoughtful. You don’t always make me comfortable, but comfortable isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

  20. Debra, it says a lot about you that you can have a blog where size acceptance people and weight loss maintenance people can have a reasonable discussion. It really is a volatile mix. You give people respect and that goes a long way.
    Russ, I don’t believe that being fat/losing weight is a choice for many of us. In one sense, you have people who greatly compromise their health and quality of life by doing so. In another sense, society doesn’t give us a real choice.
    You stay fat, and you find you’re greatly limited in your job prospects, quality of health care, sex life, and many other things. Certainly, you could say this about many other physical attributes, but with fatness, it’s unfortunately more the norm that fat people agree they deserve second-class treatment, and it’s comparatively rare to find fat acceptors.
    As with any other facet of human life, there are exceptions to the above; I speak in generalities only.

  21. I too love this blog, and the fat acceptance folks who are here (hey!KateHarding!FatNutritionist!ShoutOut!) — this is exactly the kind of discussion I want to be a part of.

    So, in brief, here’s my story: chubby kid, gained much weight in high school as my worry about the future and my depression were dominating; discovered and explored ambivalence about size acceptance in college (at UC Santa Cruz at a very formative time in the size acceptance movement). Got married at a young age (23) and gained weight rapidly — up to a BMI of around 49. Got diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 25 and out of fear and sheer will, got down to a BMI of 36 which required several hours of intense exercise daily and a strict 1,500 calorie a day to maintain… so I eventually got tired of that and slowly regained. Back up to where I was. Then I started Metformin and started a slow decline, which over many years (about 10), interrupted by pregnancy, led me to where I am now — a BMI of around 41.
    Maintaining where I am — about 40 pounds less than my highest weight — takes some effort, but mostly it’s about managing medications, stress, hunger — rather than strict monitoring or more physical activity than I can joyfully incorporate.
    I am a “success story” — mostly because I survived depression as a teen, I survived a tough childhood, I have handled my share of difficulties as an adult with as much grace as I can muster. I have gratitude, and yet, I get mad when I feel like I’m considered a “failure” because I’m still fat. I love my body as it is — I have loved it larger and smaller, too. And hated it larger and smaller, too.
    Thank you for this space. For your honesty. For trying to walk the “middle path.” I hope to keep talking!

    • Welcome, AcceptanceWoman. I try hard to honor everyone’s personal experience. There is only one thing I would challenge in your story. When you regained the weight from your forced 36 BMI, you say “. . .so I eventually got tired of that and slowly regained.” My thought is that it’s more than weariness that pushes on people to create the process of reverse and regain. There’s endocrine pushing you to eat, there’s genetics kicking in to force you to conserve calories, there are all kind of redundant biological systems that are at work internally wearing down your resolve. That is the place where maintainers and size acceptance folks can find common ground and maybe offer up to the scientists something worthy of examining/testing. If, as a maintainer, I can wrap words around the impulses I feel, and you as a regainer can say “yeah, and this is how my experience was different from that, went one more step . . .” If, as a maintainer, I can find a way to talk about the requisite exercise, and you can say “Yeah, and that will work for a person unless and until . . .”

      Our first responsibility is to shoot down the cultural mythology that continues to allow us (and scientists and doctors) to write off the crucial turning moment (which may be a series of moments) of reverse and regain as a mere drop in resolve, a surrender to weariness, the manifestation of your gluttony and sloth (BAD AcceptanceWoman!). Yeesh. I believe that cultural censure against fat people makes resigning oneself to that moment (or series of moments) so much more abhorent than most scientists understand. Public health figures fight against the size acceptance movement because they think it motivates people to just give up and give in to some flip decision. They have no clue how much more powerful diet culture remains compared to the size acceptance movement. So, in addition to offering fodder for scientific inquiry, we can chip away at the stupid assumptions about fat people that stifle real thinking on this issue in favor of prejudice.

      • Oh, yes, that was shorthand.
        Thank you for such a human and humane understanding.
        For me, the critical thing that I was missing probably was support for maintaining those behaviors. I know that for me, maintaining my BMI (I’m 42 years old) where it is takes an amount of effort I can live with, but right now, maintaining a BMI of 36 is level of effort I can’t sustain.
        The turning point for me was, (I was about 26 years old) when I was talking with a friend about “staying where I was” in terms of weight loss and she said, “why not keep going?” It was a Sisyphus moment. I think that really made me realize that all of the work I had done, all of the times I had gone to bed at 9 p.m. so I could be at the gym by 5 a.m. — none of that would change how people saw me. And then, very slowly, I did start changing my behavior. I kept up the physical activity at first, because it still felt great, but each of the “pushing past” behaviors slipped away until I had eventually gotten right back to my highest weight. I don’t consider myself a failure because of it — my mid-20s self was doing things that were completely understandable. I really missed having a social life, something I couldn’t maintain with the workout then work then prepare diet food then sleep schedule I was on when I was losing weight.
        I couldn’t agree with you more (I just read your post about the NWCR and what you would do if you were Queen) — I think bias and unchallenged assumptions thwart true study of the issues around weight.
        I have a masters in public health, so I know what you are saying about how public health fears size acceptance. The misunderstanding and bias runs deep.
        Ultimately, I got into public health out of a desire to serve the population I would call “people with a tendency to gain and carry extra fat” — and focus on health improvement overall, not weight per se. So, the dialogue here is so helpful for me to participate in.

  22. Hiya Mulberry —

    Thanks so much! The similarities/differences between body acceptance and maintenance fascinate me. THIS is what I came here for.

    Not sure what you mean here: “I don’t believe that being fat/losing weight is a choice for many of us. In one sense, you have people who greatly compromise their health and quality of life by doing so. In another sense, society doesn’t give us a real choice.”

    Greatly compromise their health by losing weight, or staying fat? Depending on which research you believe, it could go either way. Just want to make sure I understand.

    I’m not disputing that fat folks receive a lot of prejudice/unnecessary grief. You’re right, that’s not a choice. What is a choice is who you are in the face of it.

    That can mean losing weight, sure. It can also mean simply not caring about what others think of your size. In this society, both are brave choices. I just don’t believe one’s inherently better than the other. Two paths, same destination.

    Personally, I think one of the biggest shocks in hitting goal was realizing that it can be equally limiting as being 350 pounds are, albeit in very different ways.

    One, you have as many limits (it used to be sitting in chairs; now it’s where I work). Loose skin politics (whoo boy). Two, everyone behaves like you’re cured and have no respect for how much work/concentration is involved in sustaining something like that. God forbid you gain weight; everyone’s “concerned” and weirdly eager for you to return as you were. Gross generalizations, not all happens to me, you get it.

    It’s the double standard to end all double standards: society makes it impossible to be fat, and it also makes it impossible to sustain a weight loss.

    The ugly truth is you’ll take grief regardless of whether you lose weight or not. The whole “being thin makes life great!” is pure illusion — it’s damaging to fat folks and maintainers alike. It ain’t all Subway Ads, you know?

    When I mentioned choice earlier, I meant it in the “acceptance” sense. What’s important is that maintainers actually feel empowered by a difficult process. That’s what I love so much about size acceptance. Being Ok in your own skin, regardless of hegemony du jour.

    Better, I say, that the choice to lose weight or not be made independent of what others think. I think they’re be less resignation in fat folks and maintainers alike if there were.

    Are we getting each other’s points more clearly?

  23. Wow, this has really become interesting! I’ve long been a subscriber to Second Helping (and remember Russ from the maintainers group on Sparkpeople) and I’m addicted to Debra’s site. So I’ve wondered more than once what the dialogue between you would be.

    It occurs to me now that your perspectives are so completely different, I have to wonder why, in my mind, I grouped you together in the first place. I think it comes down to the one thing you have in common: a willingness to discuss weight maintenance, and have that discussion publicly. If we were talking about the huge field of weight *loss*, where every possible gap and permutation of an idea is elaborated on by a batch of researchers and commenters, you may never even have become aware of each other. But it’s such a small community that even takes up the question of maintenance and that’s why you both fill such an important role for us strugglers. All of my thanks to both of you!

    • @Jen — Thanks!

      And what you’re pointing to is why it’s important we work together and why I spend a lot of time on other folks’ boards. It’s nothing to do with “Conversion.”

      There are so few people actually focused on maintenance in any substantial way. No matter what industry (research, trainers, journalists, writers/bloggers, PR folks, on and on). Frankly, it’s a frontier of knowledge that we’re all on. And all those perspectives are important. All of them.

      When I began SH it was intended to be a magazine, like my old food section. It was horrifying to realize I was explaining more to my sources than I was learning. Not the way journalism usually goes.

      And it occurred to me that folks like Debra, Me, you, the folks on the boards, actually in the trenches navigating all this stuff. We’re the experts.

      Aside from doing my own thing, I want to make sure all those voices get heard in as loud as manner as I can possibly arrange.

  24. Not difficult to picture how you categorized us together. We are maintainers, and much alike, except in how we are different.

    He is a youthful, energetic, 30-something, who has developed an indominatable optimism despite a rough life.

    I am a, er, middle-aged (since I plan to live to 102), pensive, 50-pluser, who has developed an indominatable cynicism/stoicism (pick your adjective/pick the day) despite having lived a rather blessed life.

    • @Viajera | *Shout out to New Orleans!* I moved here around the time I started this whole phase of life. Yes, it has zero bearing on what I actually do. And yet I feel an affinity. Maybe it’s because my way of enjoying maintenance is taking a certain pride in what’s almost impossible to accomplish. It’s hard to describe.

      A lot of media and marketing has co-opted things like “inspiration” and “choice,” definitely. But they talk about the wrong choices. Nothing about weight loss is straightforward — aside from the mechanics of doing it, there’s also all the mental transitions you make. You’re not slimming down your body; to varying degrees you’re trading in a new identity.

      In all the science discussion (which is important), the transition into a new life is the most glossed over.

      Maybe revolution’s the wrong word (and clearly got us off to a bad start here, which I”m glad we’re past). It’s more like clarifying what’s already out there.

      The only real choice is my mind is that folks are living up to the standards they set for themselves, irrespective of weight.

    • You know, you’re right. We’re totally Bert and Ernie, Debra 😛

  25. @Russ Lane – shout-out to a fellow New Orleanian! I’m impressed that you’ve maintained your weight loss since moving here. NOLA has been part of my downfall. Quick backstory, I’m a former long-time maintainer (80lb total loss), over half of which was maintained for 8ish years. During which time I moved here. The main factor for me was no longer having time for the part-time job that maintaining was for me, as DebraSY has described it. I started grad school, which is a full time+ job, and in the limited time when I wasn’t working I actually wanted to enjoy what’s great about this city (of which food, drink, staying out and sleeping in late – all contrary to my former maintenance life – are integral components) and have a social life. Like DeeLeigh, I was putting my efforts into other goals (i.e., finally earning my PhD). So here I am 6 years later near my one-time peak, now in the role of a frustrated dieter experimenting to find something that will get me back to that long-term maintenance level.

    Anyway, all that leads up to my point, which is that the idea of “choice” rubs me the wrong way, probably because of its prevalence in the media culture. Every day we’re bombarded with messages that if you just CHOOSE to eat less and move more, if you just do X, Y, and Z (whether you buy into Taubes’ miracle solution or South Beach’s or whomevers), then it’s SO SO SO easy to lose weight!!! The implicit message between the lines there is that if you don’t, then you’re actively choosing to remain fat. But that’s not always the case. Some people (myself and, from the sounds of it, AcceptanceWoman, just to mention two) have super-efficient metabolisms that resist all but the most extreme efforts (i.e., hours of exercise daily, calories restricted below any sort of reasonably-healthy levels). Sure, there’s still a choice there, I suppose, but it’s not nearly as straightforward as presented in the media, and involves far more sacrifices than are ever acknowledged.

    Otherwise, I really like what both you and DebraSY are doing. Like you, weight had been a shield to me through my teens and early 20s, and reaching that goal weight and maintaining it brought up all kinds of new challenges, in addition to the benefits, that I’d never imagined – and back then there were few resources available, at least that I was aware of. So keep it up!

  26. what a cool discussion!

    it would be interesting to pursue the idea of identity change more, which russ touched on.

    i feel conflicted. in several ways. over loving my changed body, but still loving the body i had before. over enjoying overweight privilege, in contrast still smarting from former fat discrimination i experienced and ongoing fat discrimination in our culture in general. over taking great pleasure (an understatement!) in what is, statistically, the honeymoon phase.

    it’s a form of crazy making, as russ and others have suggested.

    should i not be having this much fun because i *know* the other shoe will drop (maintaining will become hard, then awful, then overwhelming, then impossible)? or should i just make hay while the sun shines? lol.

    technically, i’m already a maintainer (that first 10%), but i am simultaneously still a loser…my point being that even the language around all this is, well, kind of crazy. 🙂

    if psychology and biology are inextricable, in more ways than we currently understand, then what role(s) does my cognitive/emotional life play in whether i maintain or not? none at all? a teensy bit?

    i look forward to more discussions about the conflicts
    (social, emotional, interpersonal, etc.) *maintainers* go through. including the use of that identifier, m, which seems like hyperbole at this point because, well, lucky me, i havent hit the actual battle field yet. lol.

  27. @RNegade

    The good news of not having any real language or definition yet of maintenance is you get to set the rules yourself.

    Yes, I’ve dropped another 30+ pounds in “maintenance.” My maintenance began when I hit my original goal of 180, 10 percent body fat. And I don’t let nobody tell me different.

    And in terms of the identity stuff, that’s really my whole personal focus. Angela, my partner in crime, is the scientifically savvy one. I can do science reporting, but I”m better with food and people.

    Now this is a shameless plug *blushes*, but the manifesto for the site is here at Did my best to break it down as well as I could.

    And my personal .02 (would love to hear others): I feel the cognitive/emotional aspects of maintainance — the reality of the old “you can’t just lose weight you have to change your lifestyle” cliche — are the gamebreakers. That’s why I keep pushing myself, my limits on what and my cooking so hard … the more the realities of my life changes, it’s almost impossible to really fall into the same two pizza a night deal.

    If I’m doing the same things, having the same basic life as Old Russ, why wouldn’t I expect Old Russ’ body to return? “Maintenance” involves so much more than what you eat and how you move, and I had to learn it the hard way.

  28. If you want to go to Russ’s manifesto, leave your responses there, if you have them. This thread is growing long and unwieldy.

    The major difference between your approach and mine, Russ, is that you do champion weight loss. You couch it, wrap it in some clever context, but you really do champion it. I do not and I don’t want that happening here at this site. It’s a language/semantic thing. Size acceptance, for me, means health first, advising people who are thinking about weight loss (yet again, generally) to stop and think about size acceptance first, and not as a prelude to weight loss, but to consider it instead of weight loss (I reject the old “accept yourself and then you can conquer your weight-loss demons” meme). Read my “About” and maybe you’ll get the idea. I believe it is most important that people, first and foremost, live joyfully, eat healthfully, exercise and treasure the body that happens. Devoting a reasonable amount of time to this goal is noble. Devoting the kind of time maintainers must, should be examined critically. Is the payoff worth the cost, medically, scientifically, emotionally, practically? For how many people is radical weight-loss maintenance really possible? PLEASE DON’T ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS HERE AND NOW! They are rhetorical and the whole point of this blog. Moreover, they are worthy of a whole, on-going blog.

    If people have lost weight, or if they are determined to lose weight and clearly know the odds against them, then (from my non-medical strictly friend-to-friend vantage point) I’ll help them dig in their heels, because yo-yoing is the least healthy thing to do, physically, mentally and emotionally. But a 97% failure rate (based on my research) to me suggests that size acceptance for the majority of people (97%, roughly) is the healthiest mindset to hold and the healthiest way to spend one’s time on this planet. I adore my fellow 3%ers. I want them to feel comfortable here, because the support is invaluable. On the other hand, I think from a larger, societal point of view, the SA message is important and under-represented in the marketplace of ideas. I disagree with you that maintenance is “ignored.” It is assumed. Moreover, messages with regard to encouraging weight-loss maintenance will be and have been co-opted to promote weight loss itself (and all the Biggest Loser mythology that goes with it). Please respect my site, and do not use it as a marketing vehicle. If you wish to comment here, I hope you see it more as an opportunity to learn, listen and grow, not promote. Shameless blushing notwithstanding.

    To all: will post soon. Am being eaten by taxes!

  29. I hate to de-lurk at the end of such a long thread, but what Debra said in this last comment is exactly what I’m struggling with. I am a committed and passionate proponent of size acceptance. I am new to the community but have become absolutely convinced that it is the best, healthiest, most moral and all around “true” path through the wretched morass we call a culture.

    But….I am a (small time) maintainer, and sometimes that makes me feel like a fraud. How can I, in good conscience, advocate for something I really don’t practice? Can I exhort people (in all sincerity) to accept their bodies at any size while I spend a tremendous amount of energy tying myself into knots to make sure I never crack the 1_0’s again?

    • Welcome, Charlie’sdaughter. I have from time-to-time felt like a Size Acceptance fraud, too. For many years, I commented at BFB without revealing my own story. I was careful to use third person, as in “fat people often are subjected to . . .” I never claimed to be (currently) subjected to whatever we were talking about. I did also contribute my own experiences in my bigger body, using the past tense. I never lied. Even on my application, Paul (who approved my participation during his day) knew who I was. And at that time, I had very little vocabulary or idea about who I was. I told him I’d recently lost weight, but that I’d yo-yoed in the past, and that the language and culture I was feeling as a reduced person “wasn’t right, somehow.” When I came out of the closet at BFB, I was pleased that no mob showed up on my doorstep with a tar pot and feathers. I recall I picked a time when a troll was bugging us, and found an appropriate way to talk about my situation in the forums that may have been additionally useful to ridding us of the troll. After that, I continued commenting there for about a year, ALWAYS respecting the no diet talk rules, then I opened this site for business, where, obviously, diet talk is allowed, but not so much venerated as analyzed. I still read BFB religiously and comment periodically.

      So, at any rate, welcome. Help me figure it all out, along with the rest of the people here.

      • I’m an administrator on BFB. There are lots of fat people who are maintaining a weight loss, who accept themselves at their current (fat, but not their heaviest) size, and who are against sizism. Hell, I did that myself for many years, but I framed it as a HAES (health at every size) side effect. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an entirely understandable area of cognitive dissonance. You don’t have to be at your heaviest to accept yourself as a fat person, you know?

        And, if you really are more concerned with health than weight, then you may actually be more of a HAES person than a weight loss maintainer. We don’t discuss the details of that sort of thing at BFB like we do here. It triggers too many people. But, maintainers are welcome there as long as they’re substantially on board with the philosophy and they stay on topic.

  30. I too am a member of BFB and I too suffer from cognitive dissonance. I can’t really call myself a maintainer in that I am objectively overweight, though I weigh a bit less than I did at my highest weight and have been able to wobble around at this lower weight for about two years.

    Just as I am a Jewish agnostic who thinks Buddhism makes the most sense, spritually speaking, I am a strong proponent of HAES who would *still*, after all these years, like to lose some more weight.

    I am therefore deeply appreciative of this site, which feels more like “home” than my own blog, which for the most part attracts “weight loss warriors” who want to prove they’re right.

  31. That’s a really awesome thing you pointed out, NewMe.

    But I do have to challenge the assumption behind it though. Why *can’t* you call yourself a maintainer? You earned the right. You mention “objectively overweight.” I reckon that’s from a BMI perspective?

    Who gets the say? What science says? What “Weight loss warriors” say? What mom/spouse/friends says, etc.? Body grief doesn’t stop no matter what size you were, are or will be.

    Lord knows the comments, “evidence” and more is pretty substantial that none of us “maintain.” Again, there’s no real agreed upon definition and it’s very much in the eye of the beholder.

    Why not take the case that if you’re maintaining and know it, the rest doesn’t matter?

  32. Russ, people here get to define themselves, choose their own labels or choose none at all. You are the champion for maintenance and the “maintainer” label. Do that on your own site. Not here.

  33. Russ, here’s my opinion about choice in a nutshell. Being fat has some things in common with being gay. You may choose to live as a straight man, you may choose to live as a slender man. But sooner or later, most of our bodies and minds cry foul. Living as straight (for a gay person) or living as slender (for a fat person) is a constant internal war. Choice is a tricky thing to nail down, and it may be easier for some to fight the war, but it’s still there.

    As a topic for this or a future thread, I’d like to suggest that long-term weight loss and subsequent maintenance is a lot like winning the lottery. Everybody wants to win the lottery, and dreams of all the wonderful things they’d do with the money. Everybody wants to be slender, and dreams of the wonderful life they’d have, if only. But the reality is that along with your money win or weight loss, you also get a new position in society and are often cast out by those with whom you thought you were on an equal footing. Your new social group will not be much kinder, especially if they knew you back when.

  34. Yes, people do get to define themselves. Exactly the point. But if you’re defining yourself and your own goals by the static other people are giving you by the expectations of society … don’t see you see the fallacy in that, logically? How that’s hurtful and damaging, emotionally?

    Not only to the individual, but to all the lurkers, the post who don’t post, the people trying to find something more than the ugly ass world we live in.

    If I’m championing anything, it’s the choice to just stop playing the game society gives you and letting it disempower you.

    People will try that no matter what your waist size is, what your demographics are, whatever wounds you carry, and whether anyone’s willing to even hear it for whatever reason. No matter how much better you think someone else has it.

    Society is what it is: the only question that actually brings substantial change is who we’re going to be in the face of it. If we can’t challenge our own assumptions — as confronting as that can be — will anything actually ever improve, be better, be more alive?

    But the last thing I want to do is disempower anyone here. Exactly the opposite. You’ve a sharp, brilliant mind and write beautifully, Debra, and I respect you even if your posts throughout this entire conversation make it clear it’s not reciprocated. Wish ya the best.

  35. wow. re: cognitive disonance…i didnt realize that i am in such great company, with so many others here whom i have come to respect & admire. this is so reassuring.

    deeleigh explained it so well in terms of being haes advocate, where i prefer to put my energy, yet also being interested (& having a personal stake) in the phenomenon of weight loss that is not followed by regain (non yoyo-ing).

    when i contemplate *maintainer* as a self identifier (even just one identifier of many), it feels off because it still emphasizes (at least in my mind) weight loss. it feels as off as identifying myself as a dieter would feel. yeah, im losing weight & prefer not to yoyo, of course, but that process is not a significant consumer of my time & energy anymore.

    in other words, the process of doing those behaviors that are effective (for me, not making generalizations here) for weight loss & improved health are second nature now. mostly automatic.

    however. the social & cultural & psychological & interpersonal aspects of having a very different body, now, continue to interest me & challenge me. much much more than anything related to changed eating patterns.

    i am enormously grateful for this site, all the participants & especially for debra. & her wisdom, her compassion, empathy, clear sense of boundaries, & honesty.

    • What’s the conflict between being a maintainer and being “overweight?” There are very few people who can go from fat to thin and stay thin, while there are quite a few that can keep 20 or 30 pounds off long term. And if you start out fat, being 20 or 30 pounds lighter usually isn’t going to make you thin.

      The cognitive dissonance I was talking about was more being pro-size acceptance while feeling that you want to be below your largest size.

      And, HAES sometimes (but not necessarily) involves doing things that keep you below your largest size even though you’re not weighing yourself regularly or keeping track of nutrient counts. So, distinguishing between HAES people with side effect weight loses and weight loss maintainers who don’t insist on trying to become or stay thin can sometimes be all about intent.

  36. @deeleigh: yes, i too was talking about the cognitive dissonance involved in being pro size acceptance & advocate of haes (among other conflicts) while doing an experiment that has resulted in significant weight loss. haes practices took me from about 330 to about 295, over about 18 months. didnt weigh myself during that time, so am going by doctor’s records (i didnt weigh self for decades, but doc did, & i always asked not to be told). i suppose that eliminating alcohol consumption was a major factor in that original loss.

    i was sick of hearing, in nursing school & elsewhere, that i could not possibly weigh 300 lbs unless i was eating like a pig, etc.

    decades earlier i had chosen a “healthy” diet of low fat dairy, lean meats & fish, whole grains, with lots of fruit & veges. it wasnt a diet to lose weight, but to increase chances of better health. rarely i ate food that is considered dessert (cookies, pie, cake), during holidays & other celebrations…and i enjoyed a weekly treat (a box of mike ‘n ikes was typical). some extra chocolate was mandatory for pms.

    so, my eating was what i thought of as non-restrictive, enjoyable, and quite healthy & balanced. to this day, i love candy. i would eat it every day (a lot of it), just like i did as a young teen, if i thought that it would be healthy for me (or not too unhealthy).

    when i started my experiment, i set out to test a hypothesis (for myself): that exercise & calorie reduction did not result in long term weight loss & was not sustainable. or enjoyable. this required keeping track & recording data (a free website made that part very easy).

    i wont bore with details, but the experiment has been eye opening for me, and highly pleasureable (after i got through some challenging phases.) i dont know where it will end. last week i weighed 180 (was weighed at hospital, so assume accurate).

    i am more surprised by these developments (too many to discuss) than i can express. and conflicted.

    much of what i believed about myself is turning out to be in question.

  37. RNegade,

    I have a question/comment for you, but first, I want you to know that I am truly pleased that you have found a way to eat that suits you. That’s fantastic.

    I did notice however, that you still would eat sweets til the cows came home if you knew it would not affect your health. I find this really interesting since a lot of proponents of various “eating systems” say that once they really get into whatever system it is, they no longer crave XYZ (usually sweets). Has this struck you? Do you have any thoughts on it? Just curious.

    (BTW, as I’m sure you can guess, I love sweets too, but manage to keep my consumption down to two pieces of what I call “medicinal chocolate”, usually, but no more than, once a day.)

    • @ newme: thrilled to meet a fellow candy lover!

      please see my full reply to your question in “comments”

  38. short version–> i eat chocolate every day. usually one serving, sometimes more. i dont crave other *sweets*. sometimes i crave berries & so eat them.

    long version–> rarely, i forget to eat some chocolate, or i just dont have the desire, but i never let my stash run low…i kid around with my spouse and say “it brings me security” (referring to the large amount i keep on hand…at least six big bars, usually much more) but deep down i’m not joking. it does bring me a wonderful sense of comfort to always have it, if i want. i believe chocolate is healthy, for many reasons.

    mostly i eat it for the pleasure. 🙂

    i suppose i do crave chocolate, but not in large quantities. eating more would not bring more pleasure. of course, i may decide to eat several servings in a day at some future time, and that would be fine too.

    i made the remark about candy because i do have a distictive child like part of myself, which simply adores candy for its vast beauty, variety, and goodness. and all the wonderful psychological associations it conjures up. i first started eating it regularly when i had money of my own to buy it, for instance, which i connect (emotionally) to having some measure of freedom & independence. also, candy is something that my husband & i have eaten frequentlly together throughout our marriage, a kind of shared sensuality that does not involve sexuality. so, a very nice form of shared intimacy for nearly any occasion.

    but i dont eat other kinds of candy nowadays (besides chocolate), although i do think jelly beans (and other similar candies) in mass quantities are amazingly wonderful…just heavenly! (sort of like i think tequila is an awesome beverage…as long as i can have half the bottle.)

    so. maybe i have no cravings for sweets because i have some each day and because i avoid the kinds of sweets that are equivalent, physiologically, to drinking a shot of corn syrup. (most grains set into motion physiological changes in me that i am thrilled to live without.)

  39. RNegade:

    Thanks for the further comments. Much of what you said rings very true for me too. My husband and I have a huge stash of President’s Choice (a Canadian grocery store brand) chocolate from France in the basement and we both have our two squares a day, as mentioned above. That was a fantastic comment about the shared sensuality/intimacy of the chocolate. I would say that it applies to me and my honey too.

    I must say that I also lurve me some cake (although jujubes and jelly beans are great too). I am pretty good at keeping my great lurve under control though.

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