Yesterday I posted about how my hubby Jack has lost 50 pounds since we met. A lot of people ask me how he’s managed to keep it off; especially people who have also experienced significant weight loss but wound up gaining it all back. The truth is the tactics he uses to keep pounds at bay are the same ones he used to lose the weight, and the same ones I use to prevent weight gain. But one of the biggest keys to weight management, especially long-term, is avoiding the traps that can lead to falling off track. Here are the three biggies and how we both navigate them:
Potential pitfall: cravings
I don’t think it’s realistic to go through life never eating your favorite foods and it’s not necessary in order to lose weight or keep it off. One favorite splurge for both Jack and me is French fries, but we’re pretty picky. They have to be made from real, hand-cut potatoes and cooked in a healthy plant based fat like peanut oil. When we have them on occasion we enjoy the heck out of them, but we create a healthy balance. The last time we ordered fries we paired them with omelets at lunch. I had a vegan omelet made with tofu and veggies, and Jack had an egg and veggie omelet. Afterwards we felt satisfied but not stuffed and had enough energy to run errands and have fun the rest of the day. One of the most important strategies for long-term success is to let go of all or nothing eating (no fries at all, or fries with a bacon cheeseburger, a few beers, and dessert).
Potential pitfall: extreme hunger
For both of us, and probably for every human on the planet, getting too hungry is a big risk factor for eating too fast, too much, and giving into “junk” food. When I first met Jack he often worked through lunch and skipped snacks. By dinnertime he’d be so hungry he’d order a heavy dish (we’re talking something fried, something covered in cheese sauce, gravy, or all three), or eat a meal’s worth of chips and salsa before dinner. Now, he always stops for lunch and munches on healthy snacks in the afternoon like nuts. My strategy is to stick to a specific eating schedule. I always eat breakfast within an hour of waking up, and have my remaining meals no sooner than three and no more than five hours apart. If I’m traveling I keep ready-to-eat back-ups like whole grain crackers, almonds, and fruit with me so I don’t have to go more than five hours without noshing. Never getting too hungry helps us both avert rebound binges and maximize our metabolisms.
Potential pitfall: motivation
I think it’s in our nature to tie our behavior to specific goals. Many people want to lose weight for an event, like their wedding, class reunion, a vacation, or a milestone birthday. Others have a certain weight or size they want to get to. But after the event is over or you’ve hit the mark, then what? Without something to work toward or connect your effort to a lot of people end up sliding back into old habits and seeing the pounds creep back. For me, Jack, and for many of my clients, the motivation comes from the everyday benefits of eating healthfully, like energy, sleeping well, and the sense of confidence you feel when you slide your jeans on and they zip up effortlessly. But it’s important to know your own personality. If you need an event, set one. Start planning your next vacation or weekend getaway. If you feel more motivated by personal accomplishments, make a list of them and read it often. One of my clients put a post-it on her fridge that simply said “no Spanx!” because she finally felt comfortable wearing a dress without them, and not going back was a huge motivator. Her incentive was actually more about freedom than size, a pretty empowering force. Think about the essence of what’s important to you and how you can stay connected to it. Figuring that out can make staying on track feel like a mission rather than a chore.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.