Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Maintenance Rules

I think that I must be the one of the few people who can lose a huge chunk of weight and only then sit down and write down a plan for doing it. This isn't a Revolutionary Weight Loss Plan that will earn me millions, sadly, and it's really just for my own use, but I've been thinking about how much leeway I can give myself for maintenance, and what the minimum things I need to do are to maintain my loss. I realised a while ago that there's no real difference between losing and maintenance, but it feels like I should at least think about how I'm going to deal with this going forward.

I want to get what I need to do straight in my head so that I can hold myself to doing it. I don't like the thought of "rules" too much, particularly as I've never had anything too strict while losing, but I do want to give myself some guidance. So what I've done is picked the top few things which I think have helped me lose the weight and turned them into general but achievable guidelines to keep me on the straight and narrow. And looking through them most of them seem to be common sense as much as weight loss aids. From now on (and probably for the past few months without realising it), this is my plan. This is what I need to do. I want to write it down so that I can come back and remind myself how simple it actually is.

Rule 1. Regular exercise.

This is the big one. Until September it should be a no-brainer. I have to do it anyway to prepare for Berlin, and it's an ingrained habit now. I need to remember to take time off to rest from time to time (which is why I decided against calling it "daily exercise"), but I'm going to trust common sense to tell me how much is enough and what isn't quite "regular" enough. I'm also not going to say that it has to be running, or any other specific balance of exercise. There are no fixed amounts, and it may vary from week to week, but there needs to be something.

Rule 2. Eat predominantly vegetarian.

I think where I'm going with the veggie thing is that when I'm cooking for myself I will cook exclusively vegetarian food. When I'm eating out I will try to choose the vegetarian option most of the time (some of the places I eat in Spain are very veggie-unfriendly, so this is unlikely to be 100% just yet), and I will try to give my mother and other family members a little guidance in that direction when they cook for me. I will possibly work on reducing the amount of meat I eat still further as I educate family and friends, but regard this as a work in progress. I suppose that this has to take account of what I consider to be a balanced vegetarian diet - I'm not talking about chips, chocolate and meat-free pizza, and will instead focus on beans, whole grains and *shock* vegetables, but I'm not going to set any hard and fast rules here.

Which leads to

Rule 3 - quality not quantity

This is where I remind myself that if I want to treat myself I can do so with small amounts of something really luscious rather than a huge binge on rubbish. I also remind myself that I'd rather focus on positive things from day to day, like getting all the nutrients I need, than focussing solely on keeping something (whether it be calories, fat or carbs) below a certain number. I can work with targets I need to meet or exceed (like Rule 4...), I'm not so good with targets that are maximum amounts.

Rule 4. 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

Everyone is meant to hit this one, so this is somewhere I'm happy to commit to a minimum amount on a daily basis. I am aiming for zero tolerance on this.

Rule 5. Portion control.

Simply put, I've learned what a "portion" is, and I need to stick to it. I have some scales in the kitchen, and I'm going to use them!

Rule 6. Limit midweek drinking, and be sensible at weekends.

I'm not going to say no alcohol midweek, that's stricter than I've been so far. It happens from time to time, and it's OK as long as there's a good reason. It being Wednesday is NOT a good reason, by the way. Leaving drinks (for example) is. I just want to keep an eye on what I'm drinking and remember that not only does alcohol contain calories (even free alcohol!), but it also impairs my ability to make good food choices while I'm under the influence and my ability to work out properly the next morning. And anyway, much like some of the other rules like the fruit and veg and the exercise, this is pretty much common sense even for people who aren't trying to lose weight or maintain a big loss. There are other health implications as well as weight.

Rule 7. Plan ahead.

One thing I've noticed during the vegetarian experiment is that I'm becoming far more organised when it comes to planning my menus. I like this me. This me works out exactly what she needs to buy for the week's meals, writes a nice organised list, and buys it in one go instead of going to the supermarket every evening on the way home from work. This me is not only saving money by reducing the amount of wasted food (and by being able to bring home cooked soup into work for lunches), but by sitting down and planning a weeks worth of meals (and then buying the stuff to make those meals) I can look at it written down on paper, make sure that there's a sensible balance of food there and that indulgences are balanced out. I'm at far less risk of grabbing something easy on the way home because I've already got something planned with the ingredients sitting in my fridge waiting for me. I'm also more likely to try something new if I've planned ahead for it. This worked a treat for my daytime eating and I'm now working on adapting it for evenings and weekends. I'm cooking more, so even if something unexpected does happen, there are healthy meals in the freezer that can be defrosted if necessary as well as a couple of standby ingredients that can be turned into something edible.

Finally one extra "rule" to add to those. Keep an eye on the scales and don't let things get out of control before making changes. Try to stick within a narrow maintenance weight range. Do not wait for a 20lb (or bigger) gain before doing something about it.

It all looks deceptively simple. I look at it and wonder whether that's really all there is to it. But I'm determined that for now there will be no calorie counting and no forbidden foods (actually, I've just realised that there are forbidden foods... meat!). I've never done tried to live by those sorts of rules, and I don't intend to start now. I have never ruled out getting stricter if I hit a plateau, and I'm not ruling it out if I start to regain in the future.

But for now, I want to stick to what I know which essentially boils down to doing enough exercise not to NEED to count calories strictly. The reason I can be relatively relaxed with food is because I burn it off. Some people would find it less daunting to count calories than to run marathons. I'd rather run marathons and not have to worry too much about the quantity (as opposed to the quality) of what I eat. This is why I'll never make a fortune selling my Revolutionary Weight Loss Plan. I think it's a little extreme for most people and nowhere near gimmicky enough. It's far too sensible. (So why exactly do people get paid to do research which gives fairly similar advice)

The more I look at my rules, the more I realise that maybe it is possible to live like a normal person in maintenance. The only problem is that society sometimes has a very skewed idea of what "normal" actually involves. Normal doesn't (or shouldn't) involve a diet of ready meals and fast food, and a general culture of inactivity. Nothing I've set out in my plan (other than arguably the dominance of vegetarian food) is anything other than common sense and is little more than the minimum recommendations for everyone, reduced obese or not. If that's not seen as normal in today's society, then maybe that explains perfectly why there are so many overweight and obese people out there. I'm starting to wonder whether being fit and healthy is "normal" at all. And if it isn't, then I'd rather be extraordinary.


Blogger Isabelle said...

You're extraordinary, all right. How wonderful that you've discovered the athlete within you. I'm so impressed. We can't all be like you but we can admire you as you surge forward.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

Regarding the research - I suspect that since the study was about cancer and nutrition and funded by CRUK, that the weight issue was a byproduct of the research rather than the main focus.

I have been so impressed by yur progress. I am not getting fab results at teh moment because I haven't sorted out the food issue. Exercise has never been a problem.

I have to say though, that you've prompted me to have another go at running training and am currently working throught the couch to 5K programme from It's feeling really good. This morning I ran for 11 minutes out of a total 20 minutes on the treadmill and I'm enjoying it. Never thought I'd like running though. Have always enjoyed classes and playing sports but never saw the point in running before.

11:30 AM  

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