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Achieving Your Goal and Maintaining Your Weight

You did it!  After months (or years?) of watching what you eat, reducing calories, and increasing your exercise and activity, you have reached your goal weight. Your cholesterol numbers look better. Your blood pressure is lower. Your blood sugar is steady. And not only are you feeling healthier, but you look great. 
So now what?
Before you think about celebrating at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, take a minute to reflect.  One of the challenges of reaching goals is how to think about the next step. Make a plan by starting with the right attitude and remembering how you got here.
Success in weight loss is about a lot more than grapefruit, acai berries, and supplements advertised in your favorite celebrity gossip magazines. It takes work. You made lots of small changes that helped you reduce calories, from switching to skim to avoiding those bedtime snacks. You stepped up your exercise regimen and maybe even started taking the stairs instead of the elevator. You found that fiber is your friend and that fats can be healthy for you if you choose the right kind. Without realizing it, you have learned a lot about nutrition and your own health.
But here is some new information for you to digest. Only 10% to 15% of people who lose a significant amount of weight are able to keep it off in the long term. That's a big problem.  So how can it be avoided? Think about these three concepts to keep you with the program.
1. It's a balancing act. Scientific data suggests that while nutritionally lopsided diets (ultra low fat, ultra low carbohydrate) are effective in the short term, they are difficult to maintain.  Why? You don't have to be a physician to realize that they're just not very much fun.  Sometime you need to eat a burger. On a bun. But if you buy the leanest beef, use high fiber breads, and skip the cheddar cheese, you can actually enjoy one of life's greatest culinary pleasures - while maintaining your weight. Avoid a perspective in which you are constantly depriving yourself of things - instead focus on those changes to make things better.  You should try to view your health and your weight from a broader perspective.
2. But you have to keep moving. Continue to make those changes, even after you have reached your goals.  It's easy to think of healthy solutions that you can incorporate into your life.  If you haven't already, it's time to start another food diary to see where you stand today. Many people use food diaries early in a weight loss program - they are very effective and help people identify aspects of their routine that can be adjusted to eat fewer and healthier calories. But now that you have lost the weight, it's a great time to take a another look - to see what you have changed, and also to identify things that you could be doing differently. Are you spending more time in restaurants than you were planning on?  Are you using 2% dairy products when you could make the next switch to nonfat?  The most successful people are those who not only reinvest in themselves, but reinvent themselves.  As soon as they accomplish a goal, they are looking for the next one.  In your case, it's time to sign up for that triathlon, learn to bake your own bread, or start your own blog to chronicle your experiences. The road is the goal.
3. And you will fall.  So get up already! We all raid the cookie jar from time to time. That's why it's there.  I personally feel that people should eat cake at a birthday party and go to a tailgate if there's a big game. That's part of life, and you shouldn't limit yourself constantly in the name of being healthy. Because if you do, you will get bitter. You will get frustrated.  You will get back to the diet mindset of starting again on Monday or on the first of the month rather than recognizing that being healthy is a long term investment that you need to enjoy. Everyone has a misstep here and there. No big deal. Don't throw in the towel or start throwing down a two liter bottle of soda.  You don't need to. Just approach things one step at a time. Slowly. Consistently. Deliberately.
So congratulations on accomplishing your goal. And hopefully you have realized that your health goals are not just about numbers like weight, blood pressure, or cholesterol.  While it is easy to measure them that way, maintaining good health is about looking at the bigger picture. Enjoy! And congratulations!

Be well.  Do well.
James Beckerman, MD
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