The Drevitches, Week 18: Plateau Warning Ahead

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

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Goodbye, old pants. Courtesy Gary Drevitch

OK, I'll admit it: On the list of dilemmas one could have, this is a good one.

Still, as I've dropped the pounds over the last few months, the question has gnawed at me: How do you stop dieting? For that matter, do you ever stop dieting? If you never want to go back to where you were, then once you've reached your weight-loss goal, what comes next?

For some answers, I called our nutritionist, Marissa Lippert of Nourish. Without doing an in-depth analysis of my BMI charts, she estimated that for someone of my height, I might expect to reach a "plateau" after losing another six or seven pounds, which would leave me about 40 pounds below from where I started on Labor Day.

(Later, I went online to check the actual federal body mass index guidelines for my size, and found out that my "healthy" weight was probably another 12 to 15 pounds below that. Want to make yourself miserable? Try it out yourself.)

Marissa said that as I approached this plateau, I should expect slower weight loss. Check! And check! I'm down 33 pounds now, and while I'm eating the same way I have been throughout the Healthy Families Challenge, the pounds are not melting away at the pace they were, say, six weeks ago.

But that's just score-keeping. Assuming I do eventually reach that plateau, then what? Maintenance, Marissa says, and it starts with managing portion size. Becoming used to smaller portions since starting the Challenge is my "biggest secret weapon," she advised. "You probably won't be able physically to eat the quantity of food you have in the past." And, should I see my weight start to creep up, I now know what a healthy portion looks like and can lean on that knowledge to get things back under control.

Another way to avoid calorie creep is to think about quality, not just quantity. If I'm not having bagels all the time anymore, then when I do, it should not be some random dough ring shipped in for a business meeting. "If it's not the best bagel in the world," Marissa asked, "why even have it?"

While Marissa said I can certainly think about restoring to my diet some of the things that have been virtually absent for the past few months, like bagels, pasta, and ice cream, I need to be mindful (there's that word again) about how often I go to the old standbys. We didn't write out a plan -- I take pride in the fact that my weight loss has come without following any particular "program" or book -- but we talked about continuing to weigh myself and check the fit of my clothes, to make sure I haven't gotten too comfortable. Maybe my new watchword will be vigilance.

I still wanted to know something, though: So many people lose weight through a diet, but then put the pounds back on. How, after such ego-boosting success, do we go wrong?

Marissa said that ego boost is actually the problem, as dieters reach what she calls the "getting cocky period," when they become so confident in their ability to lose weight that they convince themselves that they can have that extra pancake, order of fries or piece of cake. And once someone lets that happen every day, they're in trouble.

Maybe, I think, when you've had success losing weight over a long period of time, you can forget the mental effort it took to start. I put off losing weight for years, to paraphrase JFK, not because dieting was easy, but because it was hard. Who would want to go through that grueling mindset change again if it could be avoided?

The reality is that hunger is part of life, and, as Marissa says, "you should be hungry at mealtimes." But when you get hungry between meals and grab something, you need to think about what you're grabbing for. If it's a handful of peanuts or a glass of low-fat milk, fine. If it's four handfuls of peanuts, or a pint of ice cream, you've got a problem.

So, what do you do when you've lost weight and you want to keep it off? Remember what got you there. "A healthy foundation allowed you to lose the weight," Marissa said, "and that's what will allow you to keep it off."

In other words, I can't let the old normal ever become the new normal again. In the weeks ahead, it's all about vigilance.

Who's the rest of the competition? Check out all the challengers' latest updates here.

How is the Drevitch family doing? Check in on their progress!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.