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The Myth of the Maintenence Zone

We are all familiar with the idea of the maintenance zone.  Basically, it’s the idea that we will do one thing in order to lose weight or get healthy, and then once we reach our goal we will increase the quantity or reintroduce certain foods so we can maintain.

On the surface, it makes a lot of sense.  Especially when you think of it as it relates to weight and calories.  For instance, if I want to lose weight, I need to be in a deficit as far as calories.  Once I reach my goal, I will then reduce that deficit and I will maintain.   Make sense…on the surface.

Now I want you to think of one person you know that this has worked for.  Not just for a week or month or even a year.  Not a person on the infomercial or that girl you went to high school with and only know on FaceBook because she won’t stop talking about those shakes.  One real live person that this idea has worked for long term. 

It’s hard to come up with someone, isn’t it?

That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of people that change their lives, health and weight forever.  They certainly exist and I talk to them on a daily basis.  However, if you sit down and pick their brain they almost never have a separate weight loss and weight maintenance strategy.

So what do they know that the rest of us don’t?

Our bodies are adaptable but it doesn’t happen overnight.

Let’s use the popular low-carb diet as an example for this one.

When you restrict starchy carbohydrates, your body releases water and can turn to your body fat to use as fuel.  Although this is typically a very short term result (which we will talk again about in a few weeks), it can still be very effective for temporary weight loss.

What also happens is that your testosterone goes down and your stress hormones go up.  Although it might not be severe enough for you to notice, it most certainly impacts the way your body metabolizes carbohydrates.

So then when you have reached your goal and decide to reintroduce the starchy carbohydrates, you will gain weight.  If you reintroduce slowly, using whole grains and give your body time to adapt, the weight loss should return overtime but the initial result will almost always be weight gain.  In the meantime two things happen:

  1. You throw up your hands, feel like a failure and shovel in the carbs.
  2. You freak out because you gained weight and now feel like carbohydrates are evil and the only solution is to avoid them at all costs.

The problem isn’t carbohydrates, it’s that you taught your body to handle one way of eating and then changed things up without giving it time to adapt.

This is how we get stuck in weight cycling.  We use one (typically unrealistic) solution to lose weight and then another (typically ineffective) solution to maintain.

Weight is not a destination, it’s a management issue.

What I mean by that, is the process of weight loss isn’t just about losing pounds but also about developing skills and strategies to manage different situations. 

Let’s use the strategy of eating only eat pre-portioned, delivered meals until you are ready to maintain.  You may get to a goal weight but what happens when you go out to eat?  Or want to make something at home?  Or get sick of microwaving your dinner?  You may reach your weight loss goals but you haven’t developed the skills needed to navigate the rest of your life.

Think of weight loss more along the lines of training for a big game.  If you spend months practicing every different basketball drill, scrimmaging and learning from mistakes you will be ready for anything that a game will throw at you.  If you only practice one skill, free throws, the first time someone passes you the ball, it’s going to hit you in the face and knock you out cold.

So what do you do with this information?

When considering any weight loss program, I want you to ask yourself:

“Can I see myself doing this for the rest of my life?” 

If the answer is no… or you find yourself white knuckling it through your day…or this is the 8th time you’ve tried this solution…or you say “Of course, once I’m no longer addicted to sugar and get rid of these toxins I’ll only crave kale and boiled chicken”…or you are binge eating…or you are ashamed when you eat certain foods…or you always start again on Monday…or if you are holding out until you hit that maintenance zone – THAT PROGRAM IS NOT THE RIGHT SOLUTION FOR YOU.

That is not to say you are destined to be where you are forever, but rather that you are setting yourself up for failure if you are already holding out for the mythical maintenance zone.  There is a better solution for you out there.

If the answer is “I don’t know if I can do this forever,” than maybe the change is too big and you should start with a smaller step.  For instance, “I don’t know if I could never eat bread again, but I can try working on my portions.”

This solution may be slower but it is ultimately faster than losing and gaining those same 15 lbs. over and over again.  The only thing I want more than for you to reach your goal is for this to be the last time you have to do it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Have you found yourself weight cycling?  Or is there some form of maintenance that worked for you?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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