What is maintenance? It seems a simple, seemingly obvious, question. Ali asked it in the last post’s comment section. At first I was taken aback, because I thought I’d already answered it with my clever Job Description. But I hadn’t. Ali wanted to know whether maintenance is seeing the same number on the scale day after day after day. Hmmmm.
For people at their highest natural weight, I think it can be. I know when I was at my biggest, my body used its remarkable, dare I say miraculous, systems to maintain a weight, and often it was the same number day after day after day. Most variances I could chalk up to something tangible, and many I could plot on a calendar: the final days of my menstrual cycle would add two pounds to me, which would depart reliably on day two of my period, a day at the amusement park with salty popcorn and other water-retaining treats could add a pound or two for a day or two, then I was back at my number. I didn’t need to concern myself over what a pound here or there meant, because my body would take care of it. If a day hiking meant the scale showed me a pound down, I would hope it was truly a lost pound, but it never was. It was back the next day, as faithful and reliable as the pounds that played on the other side of my equation. I was in caloric balance.
Now that I maintain a weight that is lower than my highest natural weight, maintenance is not so easy to define. We operate from slippery assumptions. I can call myself a maintainer (and the NWCR accepts my proclamation) because today’s scale says I’m 57 pounds lighter than my all-time high. However, I have been as much as 68 pounds below my all-time high. So, am I really a maintainer, or am I a sloooooow yo-yo weight cycler? I don’t know. Is it important to know? I don’t know that either. Obsessing doesn’t seem practical. But still, in the safety of this blog, let’s obsess a little. Size acceptance advocate friends, proceed with caution, or don’t even click through. (If it doesn’t make you mad, it will bore you, at best.) Maintainer friends, let’s enter our dark territories.
Today’s weight, for me, is the highest number of my “range.” I’ve seen it five days in a row now. This tells me I’m dealing with more than water weight. As a calorie balancer, I will likely add five minutes to my exercise for the next few days (use the longer Richard Simmons DVD, wearing partial weights, or add half a mile of Leslie Sansone with a full 30 pounds of weights – vest, ankle straps and hand-helds), and I’ll make sure I’m in the middle-to-bottom of my calorie range. No flirting with the 2,000 calorie mark.
Last week, my scale showed me my middle number twice. I didn’t see my low number (the one I’ll likely report to the NWCR, by the way) at all. I like to see my low number at least once a week. I like to see my middle number most days. Five days at my top number makes me cautious. The number over my top number makes me heartsick. At best, it means I must do additional daily exercise (ten to twelve minutes) and nail the bottom of my calorie range within 100 calories. At worst, it may signal the impending re-adoption of a lost pound.
As I have re-adopted lost pounds in the past seven-and-a-half years, I have done so in little bunches, mostly of three. A range of 137-139 became 140-143, which became 144-147, which became 148-150, which I have now forcibly shoved down to 146-148. (Holding steady since June, so I’m counting it as a real re-loss, though the NWCR won’t give me credit. Two pounds either way is maintenance for them.) Each time I re-adopt lost weight is a mini slide into Hell. Anger and depression give way to resignation.
Getting back down to 137 would entail crafting a life that I can no longer lead. I was running, on average, 27 miles a week. I thought I was going to do that forever, but I was naïve. I now have a life that includes a calorie range lowered by 200 on both the top and bottom, as well as different exercise – a weight/aerobic combination that I came up with on my own in the name of efficiency and reclaiming time. I accept it as enough, and resign myself to a new maintenance weight, because it has to be if I’m going to have any life outside of weight-loss maintenance.
I am grateful that I figured out a different way to look at maintenance than as a “lifestyle.” To me, that would be like having to hold my smile for a picture indefinitely. I couldn’t do it.
My maintenance is a job. My regained pounds represent minor failures (which I have also experienced in my paying jobs), but they are more than balanced by my successes, and they inform my successes – help me to do better (if you believe that weight-loss maintenance is a worthy pursuit). I trudge on, do my job, every day, because I must. Having style is optional. Going to work is not. Having a good attitude is nice but not always forthcoming (despite my best efforts), and it’s optional. Going to work is not.
My size acceptance friends ask me if the payoff is worth the cost, and I say “it must be, because I’m still doing it.” I’ve thought that about many paying jobs I’ve held too. I always take paying jobs with the noblest of intentions, but periodically, I must stop and analyze: what am I contributing to the world, really? Is this, in fact, just a cog-in-the-wheel position? If so, is the machine producing something enriching and life-affirming? If not, is it at least occupying little of my time, so that I may be free to contribute in other ways? Each time I have moved on to a new paying job, it is because I thought I could contribute more to the world than in my prior position. (I took a pay cut once to do that, and was quite happy with my decision.)
As a weight-loss maintainer, my biggest fear is that my example may be used in ways that are not enriching or life-affirming. I caution my doctors not to hold me up as an example. “If my patient Debra can do it, obviously, anyone can. If you aren’t doing it, well . . . ” I don’t want to be a cog in that wheel.
Therefore, I keep doing it, maintaining, but parsing it, and I must be careful to treat no question as too simple. There are NO obvious answers and our assumptions all need examining – Gary Taubes’s, the NWCR’s and my own. What is maintenance, indeed? And can I contribute, in some small way, to an answer that is life-affirming? I am stoic, and a maintainer, by my own definition, though I won’t be insulted if you call me a slow yo-yo.
Oh, and, by the way, I finished Taubes. I have said what I need to say and have nothing more to add to the debate. Another single-theory-of-obesity True Believer shouts at the wind tunnel, and we all trudge onward through the gale.