What is Transition to Maintenance?
As we weigh the inclusion of “Transition to Maintenance” as a part of our team name, I have reflected on why it is important. It is my belief that weight loss changes us from the outside in, while maintenance changes us from the inside out. Moving from the one to the other requires support, and I’ll share one model of how educational psychologists think this may happen.
Maintenance is different from weight loss in multiple respects. Fitness seems to be more important in maintenance, because if you don’t keep lean muscle mass, your metabolism drops and you will have to eat less and less to maintain the same weight. The quality of food seems to matter more, as empty calories, beget overconsumption. And the motivation for this healthy lifestyle needs to be internal rather than external, as compliments dry up or turn into pessimism, and progress is marked in years on the calendar rather than pounds on the scale.
Transition to maintenance is the process of getting from the weight loss mindset (which all of society is reinforcing) to a maintenance mindset, which it seems only a small minority of people achieve. Are these people just special in some way, or can we learn what they know? Is it possible for these lessons to begin while people are still losing weight, before they reach goal and in some cases begin to backslide? One way is to simply hang around other maintainers and model what they do and talk to them.
However, something I have found is that the perspectives of people who have been maintaining for a very long time are so different from my own, it is hard to absorb what is useful from them. Whenever I do math problems with my kids, my husband finds it enjoyable to throw them something out of left field, he says, to challenge them. The field of educational psychology looks at what level of challenge is actually helpful for people and what is too far and discouraging.
One model from this field is the Dreyfus skills acquisition model, which proposes that we move from novice to master. Hopefully in our weight loss journey, we have already understood some of these things.
The novice relies on black and white rules to guide their behavior. The first stage, recollection, involves understanding that the world doesn’t come in black and white. A lot of food (at least outside your kitchen) is not clean or dirty. There is no one ideal exercise. What motivates someone else may not work on you. We come to appreciate nuances in situation, and this situational recollection brings us to a point of competence. Recollection asks “where am I.”
The competent is working toward what solution to bring to the situation. Early in my maintenance I relied heavily on dietary consistency, after watching people struggle with binge/restrict cycles. But over time, I realized that there are answers between rigid dietary consistency (always eating the same calories even on weekends and holidays) and binge/restrict. I could eat an extra dessert one day and eat a little less for each meal the next day, and I began to think more about my hunger levels. Recognition asks “what should I do?”
The proficient is working at the level of whether it is hard to make a decision, or if we still struggle for motivation. There are some situations that even Masters know they are not up to, so in this case decision involves understanding what we may be powerless over. I happen to abstain from chocolate, something I adopted in my 12 step days, and people assume I am struggling and to be pitied, but I really don’t want it. I can be surrounded by it even and not be bothered because to me, it isn’t food. However, I sometimes will get some treat and relearn that even if I don’t eat it, it makes me miserable to have it around… like twinkies. So decision involves a broader scope of self knowledge, of knowing what you can and can’t be alone in a room with without arguing with yourself. This is the expert level.
Awareness involves attention, or flow. It is when our capacities are a match for our challenges. We no longer observe ourselves in what we are doing. Hopefully this is something you’ve experienced in other areas of life, and it can eventually come about in healthy lifestyle maintenance. At this point, the lifestyle maintains us as much as we maintain the lifestyle.
The four domains of the Dreyfus model is just one way of describing transition. Divisions of three or up to six have also been argued. However you define it, the idea is to secure development in a stepwise fashion. Even if someone is far ahead of us, they still serve as a source of inspiration. On the maintenance team, we believe that people can and do learn how to maintain.