A funny thing happened when I made it past the halfway mark of my 20-pound weight loss goal: I started to get nervous. Nervous not that I'd plateau and fail to get to 20 (I plateaued once for three weeks and just kept on keeping on), but that, when I reach the goal, I won't know how to shift gears. This is less about pessimism born of statistics—the vast majority of people who lose weight put it back on—than the math problem of moving to a new equation for "maintenance."
Right now, the Social Diet group is about as finely tuned to the goal at hand as a barbershop quartet, and that's probably the only time I will ever mention barbershop quartets in a positive context. We yak a lot, in near-perfect harmony—to the intense irritation of colleagues—about how energizing it is to do what one reader, Ruth Durbin, did: "Solve for X." Here's what Ruth wrote me:
"I'm still not sure what got me to Motivation Land. I suspect it was keeping the calorie diary plus weighing myself every day on a DIGITAL scale. It allowed me to see weight loss as an equation—I could solve for X—and not a battle of willpower, which I will always lose."
Solving for X, that fundamental concept from high school algebra classes I took in the late 19th century, neatly summarizes the satisfaction that comes with adjusting the calorie in/calorie out dials in order to lose weight (that's all apps, bracelets, and scales do, they help with the numbers in the equation).
Yes, the real goal is a fundamental, permanent "lifestyle adjustment," but as I wrote in my first blog, the route to lifestyle adjustment requires a plan, and a plan is, for lack of a better word, a diet. Which is, basically, an equation: Solving for X. Our plan is based on the Cooking Light approach to healthy eating and begins with this fundamental principle: Cut portions, not foods, and eat only the most delicious foods. I can honestly say I've been enjoying my food more than ever before: Less really is more. I post shots of some of that food here, by the way.
Marilee Lindemann, a university prof who has thought an awful lot about this whole diet and maintenance issue, has written an interesting, though not exactly anxiety-relieving, blog about maintenance, which she calls "The Virtue Rut." Here's a taste:
"Two years after a major weight loss, my weight recently has been trending upward, and I think it’s because I’ve gotten complacent and maybe a little bored with the routine of trying to stay more or less in the same place. This is a familiar story, of course: You lose weight. You’re proud, you’re happy, you know what you need to do to keep it off. Time passes. You skip a workout here, eat or drink too much there, weigh yourself the next morning and discover that you haven’t regained 53 pounds overnight. So you start playing little games, letting old habits (another bite of this, a couple more glasses of that) creep back in, and the next thing you know, you’re up a pound. Or three. Or seven."
Lindemann called her initial weight loss success "The Virtue Binge," a phrase that reflected her intensely conflicted excitement about losing weight as the director of an LGBT studies program and a lesbian who believes that modern body-image standards are oppressive and characterized by "fat shaming." She explores her conflict here.
And now she's in a Virtue Rut. That's what I'm afraid of, as I look ahead: Solving for Y. But of course, first I have to get to goal. For now, it's all about the X.