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Should You Maintain Your Weight Before You Lose?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
"Weight loss is really hard---but maintaining that weight loss is even harder!"  If anyone out there agrees with this statement; please raise your hand. 
That’s what I thought. There are lots of hands held high.  It seems that most people struggle with the yo-yo syndrome: lose the weight, gain the weight, lose the weight, gain the weight.  But, what’s a dieter to do?  Perhaps it is time to put the cart before the horse.
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine recently conducted a "switcharoo" when it came to weight loss and weight maintenance.  They took 267 overweight and obese females and divided them into two groups.  The control group went through a traditional 20-week weight-loss program followed by an eight-week maintenance phase. 

The test group went through the eight-week maintenance phase first, and then focused on weight loss for 20 weeks.  The results were surprising to say the least, and significant.  While each group lost about the same amount of weight--17 pounds or 9% of their initial body weight--the "maintenance-first" group only gained back three pounds at their one-year follow-up but the "weight loss first" group had gained back seven pounds, on average. 
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it!  But guess what?  Those women who first spent eight weeks mastering the tools, techniques and skills for weight maintenance were better equipped mentally and physically to handle the day-in, day-out struggle of their toxic food environment after the 28-week program was completed.  Are you itching to discover how?  
  • These maintenance-first women took the first eight weeks to learn how their body weight fluctuates from day to day and week to week in relationship to sodium intake, fluid intake, hormonal changes, etc. 
  • They experienced less pressure, stress and worry regarding the number reported by the scale each week.   Feeling like a failure when there was an increase in weight was not a part of their vocabulary. They no longer needed to constantly question what they were doing wrong or right.  They had learned to trust the process.
  • These ladies took the time to search for low-fat and low-calorie foods that were satisfying options for higher calorie foods.  They could then use the discoveries for a full 20 weeks when they entered the weight loss phase.  The feeling of dieting-deprivation was much less.
  • The women discovered food options and recipes for their meals and celebrations.
Weight loss requires constant attention to detail 24/7. There is weighing, measuring, food tracking, meal planning, grocery shopping, and finding time to fit in fitness.  Every minute of every day seems to be about weight loss. It can be exhausting.  However, during maintenance, you want to "stay on your plan" but without the overwhelming amount of work 24/7.  And that is exactly what these first eight weeks of maintenance-first allowed these women to discover. Once these skills and strategies were incorporated and a part of their daily life, maintaining the weight loss following the program was much easier to accomplish and resulted in greater success.
Of course these researchers want to take this preliminary study to the next level. They want to test a larger group with greater diversity and follow their progress for longer than one year out. 
Anyone ready to volunteer? 
Would you be willing to begin your weight loss adventure with weight maintenance first?

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This might work for people who eat a lot of junk foods and would have a hard time eliminating them. But, it's discouraging enough when you lose slowly because of health issues, I would not want to work to maintain my current weight before trying to lose it. To me, it's just a way to procrastinate. Report
Heck no, I don't think you should maintain first! I've done both with success- Lose AND maintain, and let me tell you, maintaining is MUCH harder! Do the easier part (losing) first, and save the hard part (maintaining) for last.

Added benefit? You get the joy of seeing the scale go down in the loss phase, and the joy of being at your goal size in the harder, maintenance phase. Who wants to work their butts off to keep a body they don't want? Report
Yes I am sure that is what I need to do to get better results! Report
I sure would -- this is a big habit for me. Report
This is a great concept, but like so many good ideas, it will work for some people some of the time, not all people all of the time. I mastered maintenance back in the 1970s and 1980s after losing about 25 pounds with the Behavior Modification Program at the University of Pennsylvania. I maintained my weight for nearly 20 years, and then started slowly gaining. Over a ten year period I gained 50+ pounds. In 2004 I started Weight Watchers. I lost slowly, and paused about every 6 months to do 3 months of maintenance (my idea not theirs). Finally in 2008 I reached my goal of 155 pounds, and I "maintained" within 5 lbs. for two years. Since then I have regained nearly 25 pounds. I don't want to discourage anyone, but simply learning how to maintain and doing it for a period of time is NOT enough to establish lifetime habits of healthy eating and exercise. So here I am, at age 72, once again committed to removing 25 pounds from my body and establishing healthy habits of eating and exercise. I believe that for me the "secret" is to eat at the lower end of the recommended range and to exercise 30-60 minutes every single day. All that said, I think the study is a good one, and the results make sense. I'd just like to caution that knowing what to do, and actually doing it, are two different things! Report
Seems like such a simple idea, but something that would never have occurred to me! It would definitely be helpful to incorporate some maintenance strategies while working on losing weight. Report
Would love to, I have actually gained back a few Lbs,so it is time for me to loose it again. Report
I would love to be in this study; but in the meantime, I had already decided to work at "getting rid of" only 10 pounds at a time and then stabilizing that loss before moving on to "getting rid of" the next 10 pounds. Report
Since January I've been active in Sparks. I'm becoming more aware of my previous lack of physical activity and am experimenting to find what I like. Am walk/running a 5K April 20. I am discovering what foods I like that are loaded with calories (potatoes - unfair!) and pickles are calorie free!. This process has kept me from totally obsessing about my weight and to gradually build my confidence that I can truly can my life after all this time (50's). This article was very affirming. Thanks. Report
Since I am actually at my goal weight, but would like to loose about 5-10 pounds more, maintenance for awhile would probably help me to finally get to my ultimate goal. Report
As someone who's literally lost and regained hundreds of pounds over the course of my life before finally beginning to figure out how to keep it off for good (13 months of maintenance and counting!), I'd absolutely agree that it's essential to think about maintenance LONG before you get to goal. The more the habits you need to successfully maintain are already in place once you reach goal, the easier it will be for you to stay there. Having a realistic and sustainable plan when you're in weight loss mode is a big help because you will need to keep just about all of those habits up once you reach goal--the effort does not stop when you see a number that you like on the scale. All of those catch phrases that you hear about weight loss, such as "lifestyle change", are really put to the test when you're maintaining. Maintenance is not the end, but a new beginning of how you need to keep up those changes and live the rest of your life to be as healthy as you possibly can. Being able to stay there involves planning, patience, persistence, experimentation and a good deal of effort. The more you're prepared to deal with those things in advance, the greater your chances of success will be! Report
I would love to try this approach. I just joined Spark Coach to keep me grounded. I joined about 2 months ago and didn't lose any weight so went back to the way I usually ate and stayed the same. Then my emotions kicked in and felt like I'm never go to be able to lose this weight. Then I read article on the site talking about not focusing on the scale of you'll be defeated. So I'm not watching the scale now that I'm back on here. It's difficult for me to exercise due to injuries I sustained in a car accident years ago but still need procedures done to get some relief. My discouragement came before Spark People and I was doing well physically. So I joined a Zumba class lost 7 pounds hurt my neck and gained back that and 5 more to go with it, I was discouraged then just gave up had a pity party. Then I came across Spark People. Haven't lost one pound in the 2 months was here before but 'gained 3 after I left. Now I'm back and I'm not looking at the scale. It just demotivates me. So it would be a good time to try the maintance now. Let me if I'm able to give this a try. I think it's an excellent.idea. I know i've stayed at the magic number for not losing for 2 months. I guess I'm good at keeping it on but if I lose wouldn't it be better to have the tools now so I don't go through the yo you thing again. Report
Before I decided to go on my weight loss journey, I had been recording my weight for years. I knew what my weight was, so I jumped into my diet, and lost 24 pounds, which 10 months later, I've managed to keep off. I did go up 4 pounds at Christmas, but took it off again. You really do have to change your whole way of eating, and make it a life time thing. You can't diet, to take weight off, and then go back to the same old mistakes, you were making. I'm on a Gluten free diet, which works great. Report
I learned the principles of maintenance about 10 months into my 12 months of weight loss, and I have to say maintenance hasn't felt hard to me. It takes effort, sure, but I never wonder if it's worth it because this is my body we're talking about. It's like a marriage or a friendship. I do credit my shift in thinking to working carefully through Coach Dean's Mind over Body series. A few days after I finished that, I realized my scale is just a tool, like a whisk or an oven. No one has ever quit because their oven made them mad. Report
This was the first thing that ever worked for me! I gave myself time to see how I could maintain and start loosing weight on my own without going straight to a weight loss goal. My maintenance period was 7 months because I couldn't loose much without gaining back, but I eventually found what worked for me and in a couple months I am now down 10 pounds. I think it is a great strategy and thanks for sharing!

Only do what you are willing to do for the rest of your life, otherwise you will eventually gain it back! Report
It makes a lot of sense that being conscious on what you have to do for the long haul would result in more successful maintainers. People start diets and look at it like going through mid terms. A little tough but it will be over if I concentrate. They don't have concrete plans how to keep it off.

I always said, what you are doing to get the weight off you better feel comfortable with it because that will be your new lifestyle for the rest of your life if you want to keep it off. Report
That's all I've done for the last 3 years is maintain. So, I guess I'm doing something right. I really would like to start losing! Report
I have been on the weight LOSS program here for months and not lost weight, so guess you could say that I have been successful with maintenance. But here is my issue, if I can't lose weight on a 1300+or minus diet, along with exercise, what's next?
On the positive, my FBS and A1c #'s are on target. Report
I would love to try this switch-a-roo....I have learned over my lifetime that I can lose the weight, but maintaining has always been an issue.....what a great study Report
In a word - yes! Report
After years of yo-yo-ing, I successfully maintained an unhealthy weight for 2 years, just to get off that yo-yo. This time, I'm fully committed for the long haul. I'm pretty confident that by dieting, exercising, and tracking here at SparkPeople, that I'm becoming well aware of how my body is reacting to sodium, hormones, etc., and I think once I've reached the maintenance stage I'll do a lot better at keeping from yo-yo-ing by staying with the Program by TRACKING. For those of us who are here for the long haul, commitment to the Program is essential (any program, for that matter). Report
This sounds so interesting. After losing some 40# and then gaining it all back and then some it would be nice to learn how to maintain before losing. Report
I feel like that's actually what I've done, but instead of maintaining first, I lost about 70 pounds within a year and a half, then I maintained that new weight for about a year and a half mainly because I was just so excited to have lost so much and I wanted to step back and 'enjoy the view'. I'm now beginning the process of losing the rest of my weight. Though unintentional, that's what happened, and to be honest, I'm glad it worked out that way. I've shown myself that I know how to maintain my weight. I know that once I reach my goal weight, I'm not just going to go back to my old unhealthy habits. Report
Yes I would be willing to do this. I struggle so much with loosing weight, and listening to people say "you must do this or that", that I never know what my body does or does not need. Report
It would take a lot of pressure off - we want to see "instant" results - this would help keep the emphasis OFF the scale and on making good choices instead.
This makes perfect sense. I would gladly do sonething like this. Learn what you need to know and maybe the whole process would be less aggravating. Report
I've had yo-yo weight all my life. I would certainly give this a try... but maybe I am giving it a try now doing the Fast Break in SP... just on a smaller, 2-week scale. Report
This makes sense on some level, but then again, once I've lost my weight I plan to follow the same strategy as before - tracking my food, moving as much as possible. Hopefully that will make the scale stick to where it ends up.
It would be interesting to give this a try. Report
Until recently I had been inadvertently doing this for years! I was actually trying to lose weight and get fit, but all I was doing was staying the same :( Report
I have maintained my weight now for over 2 years and altho it is a constant commitment, I have never once gained any more then a few pounds that comes right back off (after vacations etc).
I find this concept a bit odd...but that is only me, I could see the yo yo dieters needing to figure out how to maintain first.
It's like the concept of losing weight before you get pregnant. I think that is important too. Report
I would be interested in participating in the study. I'm one of the slowest losers. But what it has meant is that I lost weight, and I have been able to maintain that lower weight. Now I wish to lose the rest and maintain that. Report
I have used this technique for several years now. While I still have some weight to lose I am mostly focused on maintaining my weight. Report
wow I like it, my over wieght was stand on 88 kg for many years I guess that count :)
What a sound idea, but never would have guessed! Report
Will definitely want to give it a shot.... Report
I would love to be in this study. This is what I am focusing on right now!! Report
I would love to sign up for the research. I've been watching my waistline and stomach grow little by little, and have always wondered how to maintain after weight loss. Report
what i do is i think of weightloss in terms of 10 sets then i maintain within two pounds for a week letting my skin snap back in to place for example say i weigh140 ill lose 10 pounds and then stay within 2 pounds 132 and for a week ill maintain that weight ill do lots of workouts that tighten my skin Report
I lost 50# and I have maintained the loss for several years. Now, I am going to try and push a little harder and get some additional weight loss. I won't say it has been easy but I am glad that I didn't regain, so I will take it! Report
Food for thought Report
It's a great idea to consolidate what we've learned before moving on to the next phase. In my case, un-learning the habits of past diets is part of maintaining my present weight. Report
Maintenance is so difficult because people don't to change their ways permanently. They think of losing weight as a temporary change in their habits instead of a lifelong change in their lifestyle. That is the only way to be successful. Losing weight is so difficult, maintaining instead of having to lose it all over again is worth it. Report
Where do I sign up? :) Report
I definitely believe learning to maintain first is an important step for success! I would love to volunteer for this study! Report
I think the reasons maintenance can be so hard is that people adopt habits to lose that they don't really intend to keep. They often do too much too soon and the body and mind's desire for equilibrium fights the new habits. Brian Wansink of "Mindless Eating" fame says the best diet is the one you don't know you're on. I can't claim my plan is that casual, but I don't believe in doing much different just to lose weight. I believe in learning to feed myself joyfully without consistent overeating. I adopted a lifestyle (The No S Diet) nearly three years ago and the principles are still working after 16% weight loss in stages. I never counted calories, fat grams or anything else except how many meals I had a day. It's not hard maintaining because the skills are the same and it's enjoyable living this way. It's possible I'm maintaining before another loss but it won't be because I start a new diet. Report
Good to know! I lost six lbs and have pretty much maintained that loss (without losing further) since July. I'm OK concerning being slow and steady though. I don't do anything particular to maintain is the interesting thing (I'm working on intuitive eating so I only track exercise and I was already exercising before SP). Report
I gained back 10 of the 20 pounds that I had lost, but have maintained that loss for several months now. So I guess I didn't realized exactly what I was doing. I'm striving to maintain the 10 pound loss over the holidays, then lose the 10 that I gained. Report
I definitely feel like this is what I've started with. Giving myself grace to re-learn what I had mastered, not focusing on the numbers instead focusing on what it takes to get me full and the nutrition aspect. It's made everything else easier to manage, but I'm still working on it. Report
I would be in! Anyone can lose weight, it is keeping it off that is the hardest! Report
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