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You’ve lost the weight, but will you beat the odds?

Carole Carson

When someone changes lifestyles, especially involving significant weight loss, the cynics always predict the improvement won’t last.

“You’ll see,” they say. “A year from now you’ll be back where you started and then some.”

Since I’ve removed 85 inches and 60 pounds (from 182 to 122) over the last eight months, you can imagine that maintenance is uppermost in my mind. Having worked hard to re-shape my body, I am determined to maintain.

The odds are against me. The cynics’ predictions are, unfortunately, statistically accurate. Dr. Albert Stunkard, University of Pennsylvania, estimates that fewer than 5 percent of people on weight-loss programs lose more than 40 pounds and keep it off.

Many people (as many as two-thirds) who enter popular commercial and self-help programs drop out within six weeks.

As Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, says, “Losing weight is difficult enough, but keeping it off ranks up there with winning the lottery and then finding a compassionate auditor from the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, most overweight people have lost and regained weight many times.”

So if it’s easy to fail, what might lead to success?

For a research study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who had taken part in a weight-loss program in a large health maintenance organization were contacted months later. The researchers wanted to find out what separated the “maintainers” from the “regainers.”

Exercise was the key factor. Of those who maintained, 92 percent exercised regularly. Of the regainers, only 34 percent exercised regularly. In addition, the maintainers kept track of calories, while the regainers stopped.

In psychological terms, Dr. Brownell describes in “The LEARN Program for Weight Management” the downward spiral beginning with a lapse (a single discrete event, such as exceeding calorie limit or failing to exercise), a relapse (a series of lapses), and then collapse (total abandonment of self-discipline).

Successfully navigating through the dangerous waters of maintenance dictates that backsliding be corrected immediately. Identifying high-risk situations is critical. One program uses the acronym, HALT, to alert its participants about the dangers of being overly Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.

Each person has to identify specific events – occasions, moods and times of day that trigger a lapse – and have strategies to cope. Of course, one can wait out the urge to have a chocolate sundae. Like a wave growing and cresting, the urge will pass. But for me, a far better alternative is to distract myself with another activity, particularly one incompatible with eating.

I disappear to my office to work on the computer ,where I am immediately so engrossed I lose track of time and forget about eating. Or I go up to the sewing room and enjoy an hour of crafts. Like a child, I put myself in a different environment with different toys.

If I’m tempted to skip my workout, I simply get in the car and drive to the gym. Once I walk through the door and see others exercising, I’m committed.

Be assured, I’ve had lapses. But I avoid blowing the event out of proportion. I simply get back on my program, eating carefully and exercising the next day. If 90 percent of the time I succeed, then the 10 percent of the time that lapses occur won’t do me in. Despite bumps in the road, I’ll find my way back and continue – despite the odds! My fitness future is in my hands. Instead of being my own worst enemy, I’m committed to being my own best coach.

Carole Carson is a fitness and nutrition advocate from Nevada City. E-mail her at

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