Weight Loss and Maintenance by Al Coon

"A Diet is built of sand, to be washed away by the next high tide, while a successful Journey is built of rock that pushes the waves aside."

"Studies in stress have shown that even good change, change that is exceedingly welcome, causes stress to increase for a time."

" There is a whole fun world of athletic games and physical challenges that just might be calling your name. Or maybe it is just being able to walk around the block, smiling all the way, while not being out of breath. Tying your shoes, or simply sitting comfortably with your legs crossed, may be just the dream that will supply the motivation that you need. "

Al Coon The Reasonable Journey

Defining Our Terms

In this series of essays, we will be discussing the Weight Loss Journey," or "Journey" for short. In any discussion, it is best if the meaning of each term being used is clear. What do I mean by "a Journey"?

When we take a trip, we often say that we journeyed from one place to another. “To travel” and “to journey” in this sense are one in the same. We can say that we journey to Grandmother's house for Thanksgiving, or that we travel back home after the feast, and convey the same meaning. However, this use of the term is not what we will be focused on here.

There is a second way that the word Journey is used. Webster's tells us that it can also mean: "any course or passage from one stage or experience to another." In this sense, “to Journey” means to alter your inner self, and the outward expression of that self. A Weight Loss Journey is a path that we walk, from a place outwardly defined by a set of habits and activities that are destructive, to a place that is defined by a new set of habits and activities that are positive and healthier.

While the outward expression of the inner change is what we normally are focused on, especially at the beginning of our Journey, it is the inner change itself that is the heart of our Journey. All the positive things that we reap from our Journey flow from this inner spring.

A Journey is not a Diet. In fact a Diet and a Journey are mutually exclusive of each other. It is like trying to create a worldview that includes both a belief in a flat, two-dimensional "pizza world", and a spherical "pumpkin world" at the same time. If the world is a flat circle, it cannot be a spherical ball. If one is "on a Diet," he cannot be on a Journey, at least as the term is defined for these essays.

A Diet is a radical departure from normal eating (and often from sanity as well, judging by some of the crazy things that Diet books promote), which is done for a temporary amount of time, in order to drop weight quickly. The concept is fatally flawed at its very heart. You "go on a Diet," you never permanently embrace a Diet. A Diet is temporary, implemented in order to produce some quick change on the scale. You don't just go on a Diet, but you always go off of it as well. For this very reason, it cannot be a Journey.

A Journey is a permanent change in behavior, driven by a permanent change in the inner self. A Journey will change, as the traveler grows into the process, but it is never completed, any more than the Journey of life is completed, as long as you continue to breathe. A Diet is built of sand, to be washed away by the next high tide, while a successful Journey is built of rock that pushes the waves aside.

Why Shouldn't YOU Go On a Journey?

Right up front it would be good to have the negative aspects of going on a Journey on the table. I am a firm believer in motivation, and I think that a positive attitude can push any person to heights never dreamed of. However, I also believe that we must be honest with ourselves, as we build our well-founded enthusiasm.

It isn't easy! Let’s start with the fact that a Journey will require effort. I once listened to a lecture by a salesman who stated that, "Sales is the best paying difficult job that you will ever have, but it is the worst paying easy job you can find." I am sure that we all can see that this makes a lot of sense for someone who is in sales. However, it is just as true for someone on a Journey. A Journey is an extremely rewarding undertaking when the necessary effort is applied, but it is a miserable and depressing waste of time if we skip the necessary steps.

You cannot rush a successful Journey! It cannot be done quickly. If you are in a hurry, you will only sabotage your success. We all would love to be able to move from our starting weight to our goal weight in a couple of weeks, and then go on to live “happily ever after.” However, we are living in reality, and there is no "handsome prince" solution for a Cinderella weight loss story. No fairy godmother will come along to help us on our way. We must accept the fact that time is going to be a very key ingredient in our Journey, lots of time.

Behavior Modification Will Be Required! A Journey that will accomplish all that you want it to will require something from you: CHANGE. Ouch! That can hurt.

People like things to stay the same, far more than they like change. Studies in stress have shown that even good change, change that is exceedingly welcome, causes stress to increase for a time. Unpleasant change is even worse. So, whether all of the changes that you will go through in your Journey are ones you are eager to implement, or are instead ones that have you digging in your heels to avoid, they will all produce some level of stress for you.

Another aspect of change is that your normal routine has become comfortable, and when you disrupt it, for a while you feel as if you are giving up a part of yourself. It is like moving out of your house, while some renovations are being done to it. The upheaval in your life is not pleasant, and things just don't flow smoothly during the transition.

You Could Fail. You may have attempted to lose weight in the past. You may have "gone on a Diet" or even attempted to start a Journey, and fell flat on your face. Failure is painful, and nobody wants to go through that, especially after having felt it many times before. This fear will have to be overcome in order to have a success Journey this time. But you can overcome this fear, and let's talk about why the effort can be very much worth it for you. (Also, in a later article I will be discussing how even failure can lead you to your goal!)

Plowing Ahead – Why You Should Journey.

Okay, now we have looked the ugly negative side right in the face. We know that we are not going on a mere walk in the garden type of Journey. It will take significant effort and it will take a lot of time: the rest of your life actually. So, why on earth would you want to go on a Journey?

You Have Your Own Reason to Journey. It is there already, and you may have already identified it. Perhaps you don't know what it is yet, but I assure you that it is there inside, just waiting to be discovered. Let's look at a few possible motivating reasons for you to tackle this major undertaking.

Looking Your Best. You may remember a time with longing when you were thinner, or perhaps you never were thin, and have always dreamed of being so. You feel that you would appear your best if you were at your goal weight, and that is reason enough for you to put the necessary work into creating a successful Journey.

Physical Freedom. Weight can slow you down, and make you tired when you would otherwise be feeling energetic and eager to be doing things. Is there something that you would love to be doing, but you just can't manage it with the extra weight you are carrying? Dotti and I have a very dear friend, who had always loved to ride horses, but for years she was unable to do so because of her weight. When she reached her goal, it was a joy to see the light in her eyes as she talked about being able to ride again.

There is a whole fun world of athletic games and physical challenges that just might be calling your name. Or maybe it is just being able to walk around the block, smiling all the way, while not being out of breath. Tying your shoes, or simply sitting comfortably with your legs crossed, may be just the dream that will supply the motivation that you need.

Fear of Possible Consequences. You may find that avoiding that which you dread most will be your most powerful motivator. Pain comes along with excessive weight. Our joints ache, and they can be damaged, by carrying those extra pounds. Knowing that lightening their load, may take away our pain, and that can drive us to accomplish a great deal.

Various health issues, such as diabetes, risk of heart attack, and other ailments, loom over your head when you are excessively overweight. Knowing that you can do something about these frightening issues may be what will spur you on to begin, and successfully establish your Journey.

Longevity. Perhaps you will be pushed into action by your grandkids, who may not even be born yet. Longer life is guaranteed to no one, but you can increase your odds of living to see your grandkids, and even your great-grandkids, by moving your weight into the “Normal range” and keeping it there. What a beautiful way to inspire yourself into positive action.

A Living Example. Being a good example to others can be very motivating. Think about your children as they watch you. When you have reached goal and remained there for years, they will say, "If Mom can do that, maybe I can." "If Dad can lose weight like that, it must be possible for me too." Maybe their challenge will be something completely different, but seeing a parent overcome a major challenge is inspiring, always!

You have friends and associates around you. They will also be inspired by your success. Think of the lives you can touch simply by having a successful Journey. Everyone around you will sooner or later realize that you have lost a significant amount of weight. With the majority of Americans being overweight today, that means that many of your friends are probably overweight also. Many of them will be moved by your example. Some of them may very well go on a successful Journey themselves, because of your actions. Is that what will drive you to your successful Journey?

Self Esteem. There is a chance that you may have, to some degree, considered yourself a failure because of your weight issues, or for some other reason. Going on a successful Journey would turn that unfortunate self-view on its head, because you can't be a failure if you have taken a major challenge like this and overcome it. Knowing how you will feel after reaching your goal, and being able to maintain that goal for years, may just be what you need to drive your Journey for you.

A Reason Must Exist to Succeed. You may have some other reason that will drive you, or perhaps it will be a combination of reasons, but in order to have a successful Journey, you must have a reason that burns within your heart, pushing you forward to do what needs to be done.

It cannot be someone else's reason, but only YOUR OWN REASON will work for you. Search it out, write it down, and turn to it whenever you need a boost in your attitude. You can attain whatever realistic goal your heart desires for its reward for your Journey, if only you will walk the path that lies before you right now.

FAITH. A powerful incentive to go on a Journey, once you have decided what your own motivating reason is, is the simple fact that you can do it successfully! This is a fact: YOU CAN DO IT! Not only is that true, but it is critical that you BELIEVE that it is true.

To succeed, you need hope. The one who reaches the finish line is the one who KNEW he would all along. Knowing that you are going to succeed, gives you the drive to overcome any obstacle. As long as you believe you are going to reach your goal, you will continue to add additional personal resources to attack any problem until you actually get over, under, around, or through it. If you don't believe you are going to win, you will quit when the going gets rough.

So, I will say it again: YOU CAN DO IT! Say it to yourself, "I CAN DO IT!" And say it again and again. Start each day by saying it. Embrace it and make it your very own belief, buried deep in your heart. It is truth, and truth will rest very comfortably there.

What Else Can You Do? In the final analysis, what alternative do you have to going on a successful Journey? You really only have two:

  1. Go on as you have been doing. Carry the extra weight around with you for good, and possibly see it increase even farther. Face the consequences of that in your health, in your restricted physical abilities, in your self-image, and in all of the other areas that your weight touches.

  2. Go on a Diet. As we saw before, this is no alternative at all. It has been demonstrated over and over again that Diets do not work. Weight, if lost at all, is only lost until you go off the Diet. Then it comes back, usually "with interest."

Once the facts are in place, the idea of going on a successful Journey becomes exceedingly compelling; just as does the image of a lifeboat to a sailor, who finds himself on a sinking ship. The alternatives we have are not many. The motivational factors are numerous and powerful, and when faced squarely, the negative detractors are quite weak by comparison. When you take a reasoned approach, it becomes clear that this is indeed a "reasonable Journey."

Commitment: Where the Rubber Meets the Road.

When you start your Journey, it means that your life is going to change. Not only will this change effect your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as your snacks, but it will also creep into areas that will surprise you. When you go to a movie, or on vacation, the change will be there. When you have a business lunch, or there is an office party, you find the change at your shoulder. When a friend invites you over for a get-together, or many other unexpected opportunities to “eat, drink, and be off program” jump up to surprise you, your Journey will present its change to you.

Sustaining this kind of impact upon your life is going to require dedicated effort on your part, and that means you have to be totally committed to making that effort. Your total commitment springs from your motivation, which is rooted in your burning, driving reason for going on your Journey. It expresses itself in positive action.

The Best Laid Plans. A paraphrase of a Robert Burns poetic line goes, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." Realizing this fact can be of emotional advantage to anyone who has done his level best to plan out his course, only to find that something upsets his careful design. However, it ignores the fact that most people who fail to reach their goals do so for lack of planning, more than for any other reason.

Dotti has had a magnet on our refrigerator for a long time that says, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." The bigger the job, the more you need to plan!

If you were building a house, you would not dream of just running down to the local building material store to buy up a lot of lumber, concrete, and kitchen plumbing fixtures, and then proceed to assemble the various items upon your vacant lot "on the fly." Just imagine the mess that would be created if you did that!

An architect is every bit as important as is a builder in creating a usable house. Preplanning is critical to any major undertaking. Whether it is building a house, or a birdhouse, a plan must come first. Even if the project is small, the plan still must be created, at least mentally.

When you are creating something that will change your life as much as a Journey will, you cannot do it successfully "on the fly" any more than you could build a modern house that way. You must be the architect of your Journey, in order to be able to create one that is sound, effective, and successful.

On the bright side, copying is allowed in this endeavor. You can borrow ideas and techniques to your heart's content, and I highly recommend that you do just that. Search out those who have successfully done what you are trying to do, and ask them how they did it. In future essays, I will discuss planning in much more detail, and list some of the things that I would recommend for you to add to your "architectural drawing" for your successful Journey.

By planning out what your limits are for each day, it gives you a framework to start building your meals around. You know which time of day you are the hungriest. Plan to eat most of your calories during that period. Do you prefer a large breakfast or a large dinner? Tailor your eating plan for your personal comfort. Make it fit like a well made garment.

Dotti set up her eating plan where she ate half of her calories before her evening meal, and then saved the other half for dinner and evening snacks. I also aim in my daily plan at saving some food for the evening cravings that always come to visit.

Another item that works for me is to have "standard meals" where I eat pretty much the same thing from day to day for certain meals. This can be done with daily “set meals,” or by having a rotating schedule, where various "interchangeable meals" can be eaten from day to day, each approximately equal to the others in caloric content. Once in place, delicious standard meals will require no additional planning each day, and they will "run themselves." This makes them very easy to adapt to.

When a house is being built, there are situations that occur, that the architect did not envision. The builder must respond "on the fly" to these situations, if the job is going to proceed to conclusion. Sometimes it will be a matter of "going back to the drawing board," and having the architect create a major modification in the original plans. Sometimes it is something that can be fielded on the spot and put to rest.

In your Journey you too will run into many situations where things will intrude into your well-planned day. Some of them will be able to "push your buttons" and strongly tempt you to chuck out your plan altogether and go back to your old way of doing things. Other things that you encounter will be much easier to deal with. In either case, it is your total commitment to your Journey that will direct your actions.

I will be discussing in detail how to deal with these situations in later essays, but the key element with all these situations is for you to look for The Path. It is ALWAYS there. There is always a way to remain on program in any social event, and it will come to you if you only look for it. Total commitment will keep you from rationalizing to yourself that you had no choice but to go off program. Instead, when you are committed you will vigorously search for The Path, and you will find it!

If You Are Not Having Fun. . . You Aren't Doing it Right!

Do you remember the movie Mary Poppins? In that movie Mary Poppins was a magical nanny, who had just joined a family, and one of the very first things that she did with Jane and Michael, the family's two children, was to have them clean up their room. She told the children that they were going have fun cleaning up their messy room. They said that it didn't sound like a very fun thing to do. However, before long Mary Poppins had everything magically bouncing around in the room, and they were having so much fun by the time the room was all straightened up, they didn't want to quit. The kids wanted to keep on going! As long as it is fun, you will never want to quit.

There are many naturally fun things about a successful Journey. Seeing the look on people's faces, after you have lost a lot of weight is always fun. In 1998, Dotti tried to cash a check using her driver's license, and the cashier refused to accept the card as identification because she was so thin that the lady couldn't recognize her from her "before picture." I don't think that I have ever seen Dotti smile so big. That was fun! (In case you were wondering, we did find some ID that assuaged the cashier's doubts.)

One of the fun things for me was finding out just how much food I could actually eat, and still remain within my program. Foods that are high in fiber are amazingly filling, and many of them taste really good. As I was introduced to these foods, and products like "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" spray, I was amazed at how well I was able to eat, while remaining on program.

One day at the office I brought my cooler in for lunch and the guys were ribbing me about how much food I was bringing in. One of my coworkers said, "That's the Diet that everyone is looking for, one where you get to eat more food." They all knew that I had lost over 50 pounds and had kept it off for several years.

I asked my boss if he remembered my old lunch before I started my Journey. He said, he did: two peanut butter sandwiches, no jelly, and a candy bar. (The fact that he remembered is a statement on how pitiful it really was.) I pulled out my two turkey sandwiches, a yogurt, an applesauce cup, an apple, a small can of V-8, and Diet soda. They could see that I am eating quite a bit more food today for lunch than I was before, when I weighed close to 240 pounds. I am over 50 pounds lighter, and I am enjoying my food more!

One time Dotti was approached by a fellow attendee, at a Weight Watchers' meeting, who was a little upset by seeing this thin woman eating a Tootsie Pop at the meeting. Didn't she realize that weight loss was a serious business? She had no idea that Dotti had lost 100 pounds, and had maintained that loss for several years, even though she was having fun doing it!

Enthusiasm, the Magic That Works!

Imagine a child having fun. Whether he is running under the sprinkler, or playing hide-go-seek, the one thing I guarantee is painted all over his face is enthusiasm! When you are enthusiastic, you are having fun. Fun just bubbles out of enthusiasm, like crystal clear water bubbling out of spring. The two emotions feed off one another as well. When you are enthusiastic about something, you have fun doing it. And the more fun you have doing something, the more enthusiastic you are about doing it. Like the chicken and the egg, it is difficult to figure out which one came first.

The trick is to start the process going. Generating enthusiasm for your Journey, will lead you into the fun, which will make you even more enthusiastic about your Journey.

Some things just naturally breed enthusiasm. When you are in the weight loss phase of your Journey, seeing a large drop on the scale will almost certainly make you more enthusiastic about your Journey. Having someone comment on the fact that you have lost weight will do the job as well. Slipping into smaller clothes is an enthusiasm builder too.

A Plateau is Your Goal?

But what about when you are not moving downward on the scale? What builds enthusiasm then? This is a serious problem that has plagued many people on their Journey. Holding at a steady weight is not necessarily a problem of itself. In fact that is exactly what everyone really is aiming at, although most don’t look at it that way at first.

The whole point of a Journey is to remain steadily at your goal weight. Therefore, holding steady is a very good thing when you are at goal. Even so, enthusiasm for standing still is often difficult to generate. When you are not at goal yet, and the scale stops moving downwards, it is even more difficult to be enthusiastic: difficult but NOT impossible!

Always focus on that which you can control for helping to feed your enthusiasm. Numbers on a scale are actually abstract, when compared with counting up your food intake, the amount that you exercised, and the amount of water you drank. You can change how much food you eat, and you can change how much you exercise. You can alter the number of cups of water you drink during a day. You are in control of all of these things, and if you hit your goal on the things that you can control, that is what you should be enthusiastic about—because you did it, and it can be proven that you did it. Bravo!

The scale measures indiscriminately, not caring whether it sees fat, muscle, bone, water, or anything else. All pounds are created equal to a scale. You may have lost a couple of pounds of fat, and picked up a couple of pounds of excess water, and the scale says you maintained this week, or worse, it may show a gain. If you focus only on the scale, you may be killing your enthusiasm, for no good reason. And even if you show a loss every week, on the way down to goal, once you hit goal, what are you going to do for your enthusiasm?

For far too many people, hitting goal is the start of a funeral dirge for their Journey. Sadly, when you focus too much on the scale, and too little on the Journey itself, when you hit goal, the drive to Journey is dampened. The will to continue evaporates, and instead of merely continuing on the course set by the weight loss phase, into a successful maintenance phase, everything comes apart. The scale that deliciously motivated on the way down to goal, once it has stopped moving, suddenly turns out to be as tasteless, as cardboard is to the mouth.

For a successful Journey, this must not be allowed to happen. Whether we have hit a plateau, or we are holding steady at goal, the scale must be kept in its place. It is just a tool, like a ruler, or a measuring cup. It merely measures the attraction between two physical bodies: your human body, and that of the earth’s entire globe. The pound is a unit of force, and the scale merely determines what force is being exerted on your body by the earth’s gravitational field. It doesn’t measure success, determination, or enthusiasm. Those things are up to you to measure!

The key to success in a Journey, is taking one day and doing all that you can that day to meet your daily goals. When you do that, you are doing 100% of all that you can do, and you should be very excited about that. You can’t do any better than your best, and when you hit that mark, you have something to celebrate, something to be ENTHUSIASTIC about!

When you focus on the Journey, day by day, rather than what the scale may say at any given time, you will be forming habits that will generate long-term results. It is by focusing on the process, the daily actions, whereby you will reach goal and remain there. Be excited that you ate the correct number of calories today. Be enthusiastic that you drank enough water. Enjoy the fact that you made the right choices in what kinds of foods you ate, and how much exercise you got in. This is the key to success, and you hold this key in your hands right now!

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