As challenging as it was to lose the combined 135 pounds—the equivalent of another whole person—the greater challenge the Blittersdorfs faced (and still face) is keeping the pounds from coming back on. Studies show that this “maintenance phase,” (which might better be called “the rest of your life”) holds the most booby traps.
Why? “At that point, weight loss is no longer so rewarding,” explains Harvey-Berino. “People stop complimenting you, you’re no longer moving down to smaller and smaller clothing sizes. You’re just staying the same. And yet,” she goes on, “you have to continue on with your new behaviors even without that positive feedback. That can really be tough.” Therefore, to complete the program, dieters need to come up with a “Long-Term Success Plan” that outlines in exquisite detail just what behaviors worked best for their individual weight loss—and exactly what they should do if an inevitable lapse occurs.
In fact, knowing that they will lapse—and being prepared for it—has been empowering, not frightening, for the Blittersdorfs, even as they’ve both weaned themselves off having to use their diet diaries. Through the program, they’ve mastered techniques to overcome the “all-or-nothing” thinking that so often derails a successful weight loss. They’ve learned to rewrite their internal scripts by replacing negative thoughts [say, “I can’t control myself around pizza,”] with positive counter thoughts [“I’ll have one slice with vegetable toppings and really enjoy it.”]. By thwarting negative thinking before it becomes a downward spiral, they help ensure, says Harvey-Berino, “that a lapse doesn’t become a relapse—or worse, a collapse.”
“If I gain three to five pounds, that’s when my disaster plan kicks in,” says Jan. “I’ll bring myself back to daily weighing and recording everything I eat.” Adds David, “I understand averages. If I blow a few days, but get right back on track and cut back later in the week, I can still hit my target.” What’s noticeably absent is the guilt they used to feel around eating, and the fear that they wouldn’t be able to stick with their healthy habits.
Just how far have the Blittersdorfs come, since that summer day they decided to change their lives? In his “Buddha” days, David couldn’t ride his bike for more than a mile without becoming exhausted. But last summer, his new, leaner body biked the length of the state of Vermont—a total of 230 miles. Riding with three other NRG engineers, he made it from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border in just five days, with plenty of Tour de France-style mountains in between. Included in the group was John Miller (admiringly dubbed “Lance” by his comrades), their original inspiration.
In regular postings on his blog, David reported on the group’s mileage and mishaps, the swimming holes and thunderstorms and (still versed in the language of his diet diaries) the stupefying quantities of food he needed to keep fueled. “Pigging out on peanuts, ice cream, gator-aid [sic],” he wrote from Bellows Falls, Vermont. “I ate 3,600 calories today and burned 2,300 biking.”
Later, in a reflective post that seemed to sum up much more than just the past week’s accomplishments, David wrote, “Amazing what the human body can achieve, even ones that are nearing the half-century mark.”
Then he added, “What’s next?”
Joyce Hendley is the Nutrition Editor of EatingWell and co-author of The EatingWell Diet (The Countryman Press, 2007).