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Weight Loss Follow-Up - Keeping the Weight Off

fitnessWell, it's the start of a new year, and a lot of people are making weight loss resolutions, so I figured it was a good time to revisit a post from 2½ years ago, How I Lost 40 lbs in 6 Months. I've managed to keep the weight off (in fact, I met a new lower goal - 60 lbs lighter than my original weight), so I'm counting that as long term success. But I've also made a few adjustments, and had a few short term slips, so I figured I'd share what I've learned since then.

In that older entry, I made a short list of what I did to lose the weight, and then expanded on each of those items. Go read it for the details, especially if you haven't read it yet, but here's the short list:

  • Count Calories
  • Weigh Yourself Daily
  • Exercise
  • Optimize Nutrition
  • Take Days Off, but Don't Go Crazy
  • Find Ways to Make it as Easy as Possible
  • Set Reasonable Goals

I don't mean to imply that this is the optimal solution for everybody, but at least it worked for me, so some other people might find it useful. Anyway, let's go back through those items again with new updates since that old post.

Count Calories / Weigh Yourself Daily

I can't emphasize enough how useful those first two actions were for me. I set a calorie goal per weekday (I relax a bit on the weekends), and use the MyFitnessPal app to track exactly what I eat for the day to make sure I meet the goal. For one thing, I just didn't have a good sense of how many calories were in various foods before I started doing this (especially restaurant food). For another, logging the foods helps keep me from cheating. Certain foods that may just seem like little snacks can really add up if you're not careful. One cookie here (570 calories at Starbucks). A handful of sunflower seeds there (200 calories in 1/4 cup source). Maybe one or two beers with dinner (230 calories per each Sierra Nevada IPA). And before you know it, you've busted your calorie goal on just snacks without even eating anything filling or nutritious.

The scale also helps keep me on track. Now, don't stress over the numbers or fixate on weight entirely. After Thanksgiving, my weight on the scale went up 12 lbs. There's no conceivable way to gain 12 lbs of fat in a single day. But, the scale is still a good indicator, especially when you're on a normal routine. After weighing myself daily for a few years, I have a good sense of what my weekly pattern is like - a bit of a boost after my relaxed eating over the weekend, followed by a gradual decline to my target weight by Friday. If I relax too much over the weekends, as I did for a short time about a year ago when I also was lax about the daily weigh-ins, my weight will start to drift back up. Once I started weighing in daily again, it was a daily reminder of where I stood in relation to where I wanted to be, and I got back on track.

Now, I did alter my plan a bit as far as my long term daily calorie goals. My original plan was to ease my weekday calorie goal back up once I reached my target weight. But I've found that I prefer to stay strict during the weekdays, giving me a bit more cushion to relax on the weekends. It's a running joke in my family that I'm always hungry. This joke began before I ever even started on the diet (it's a big part of the reason I was so overweight to begin with). So I figure, if I'm going to be hungry, anyway, I might as well be hungry on 1250 calories a day as on 2000 calories a day. And it's a whole lot easier to be strict on weekdays when I'm eating at my desk at work or cooking a simple supper at the house, as opposed to weekends when we tend to meet up with friends.

Exercise

In that old entry, I mentioned that my wife and I were going to the gym a couple times per week. Well, it didn't last. The biggest reason was probably just the time - an hour at the gym plus time to change, shower, and drive all adds up to a decent chunk of the evening, especially with a few life changes that made us a whole lot busier. On top of that, my elbow gets aggravated when lifting weights, so my doctor recommended sticking to light weights at high reps. So, I switched to exercising with dumbbells at the house a couple mornings per week, and just recently adding in a leg day. It's still about 45 minutes per session, but I just roll out of bed to do it, and then go get the morning shower I was going to get, anyway, so I skip the extra time associated with the gym, and keep my evenings free.

During the spring & summer, I also try to jog and swim laps in our pool, but those are hard to find the time to keep up with. So, I try really hard not to slack off on my morning workouts.

And just to repeat something important from that previous entry - exercise is important for fitness, but unless you're a serious athlete, don't count on it to lose weight. You're probably not burning as many extra calories as you think you are. The best way to lose weight is to eat less.

Nutrition

I've stuck mostly with what I wrote in that old entry, but now concentrating mainly on getting enough protein and carbs even within my low calorie goals - 0.75 g of protein per pound I weigh, and 130 g of carbs. I haven't done any fad diets or specifically avoided any types of food (e.g. keto, Atkins, gluten-free), but just by default to get the protein and carbs without going over on calories, I've stuck mostly to lean white meats (chicken breast and pork loin), and baked or roasted foods. I also try to mix in different types of veggies for variety. And I usually have enough of a cushion to eat a ~50 calorie dessert with supper, which is just enough for a little treat.

I specifically mentioned Quest Bars and Muscle Milk in that old entry as supplements to try to hit my protein goals. And those are still good products, but they're not particularly cheap. So, I've switched to two protein supplements a bit easier on the bank account - Premier Protein Fiber Bars and Protein2o Protein Drinks. Like I wrote previously, those are mainly for snacks and as a post-workout drink. I still get the majority of my calories from 'real' food.

Just to put it out there, I recently wrote an entry on Good Sources of Potassium, back when I was starting to swim again but getting cramps. The surprising thing when I actually researched various foods, is that bananas aren't actually particularly good potassium sources. You're better off eating more vegetables, particularly zucchini and squash.

Take Days Off, but Don't Go Crazy

This is one of the areas I've found where I have to be pretty careful. Like I wrote up above, I'm always hungry, and certain foods are just packed with calories that can add up in a hurry. So, I can't just eat whatever I want for an entire weekend. I can relax a bit, and maybe pick one meal to splurge, but I still have to be at least somewhat disciplined.

Find Ways to Make it as Easy as Possible

This hasn't changed much. I still eat single serving microwave oatmeal for breakfast, microwave Lean Cuisines for lunch, and individually packaged afternoon snacks, and we still try to cook basically once per week, and then just heat up leftovers for the rest of the week. I just wouldn't have the dedication to make fresh, from scratch meals every day, let alone for every meal of the day. And I've already discussed how I've managed to fit in workouts the easiest way I could. It comes down to making habits you'll be able to stick with long term.

Set Reasonable Goals

This is one of the harder things to do longterm, and related to what maybe should have been its own topic - Find Motivation. My initial push was to get to a certain weight before a planned summer trip. But after reaching that goal and not having anything concrete to shoot for, it was easy to slack off a bit, which I did. But I buckled back down again for another vacation, then my 40th birthday, and then it was the holidays. Now we've got another trip planned in a few months. So, even though I've been managing, I know how hard it can be to find the motivation to keep the weight off. I've done it mainly by planning ahead for various events.

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So, I think that mostly covers the lessons I've learned over the past couple years of maintaining my weight loss. I hope that if you're reading this that it helps you out.

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