Keeping weight off after dieting is the real challenge!

Let’s face it: Summer at the beach means being surrounded by food. Whatever your pleasure—frozen custard, juicy burgers, hot crispy pizza or outstanding seafood—it’s all right here. How can you possibly lose weight, or even maintain your weight, under such circumstances?(By the way, if you already have a GQ/Cosmo body, and–now, raise your right hand–you are never tempted, then, as much as it pains me to do so, I advise you to stop reading and proceed immediately to the Tofu, Lettuce & Sit-up page.)

Now, back to the rest of us. My experience as a psychotherapist has shown that a restrictive diet, full of rules and regulations, is not the way to lose and maintain weight. Why? Because, in and of itself, it’s a contradiction. Dieting means following a temporary formula to achieve a permanent goal. In other words, you suffer for a period of time in order to lose weight. But then what?

Like the school child anxiously awaiting the 3pm bell, most dieters courageously endure the latest fad diet, and then, when they just can’t take it any longer—it’s back to the goodies again. Despite all the ‘scientific’ hype over fat, no fat, carbs, no carbs, protein, no protein’you name it, Americans are getting fatter in record numbers. Something isn’t working!

The problem with dieting is that it’s short-term. Well-intentioned dieters don’t think beyond the initial, temporary sacrifice. But as more overeaters are discovering, losing weight isn’t nearly as hard as keeping it off. In fact, maintaining your new-found weight ends up being a lot more difficult than losing, because the positive reinforcement (‘Wow! Don’t you look great!’), and the fun of buying smaller clothes (and what, exactly, does ‘portly’ really mean?), slowly fade as dieters approach their goal.

Though it’s deceptively basic, the solution is simply to eat whatever amount is required to get your body weight to where you want it to be—and to keep it there. Experiment by monitoring your weight, or waist size, as you eat smaller amounts over time. Control the portions and the weight will follow. Get moral support through family and friends; groups such as Weight Watchers or Curves; or spend some time talking to a good counselor or therapist.

Is it hard? Yes! Eating is necessary to life, and imparts powerful, pleasurable sensations. My clients tell me that the sense of loss and craving can often mimic withdrawal from certain drugs. For the ‘horizontally challenged,’ strolling the Ocean City boardwalk, driving up Garfield Parkway, or walking down Rehoboth Avenue can be a distressing, saliva-generating experience. Why do you think they call it ‘comfort food!’

Dieting, with motivation, often does work in the short run. In the long run, though, it can never be a replacement for feeding your body no more fuel than what it needs to operate. There’s no short cut. You can’t starve yourself of carbs or fat, for example, and then, once you can’t stand it any longer, revert to your old ways. If anything, you’ll blow up bigger than before. There are people (of whom I stand in awe), who can starve themselves indefinitely, but the credit doesn’t go to the diet; it goes to their singular determination to establish a permanent lifestyle change.

In response to my online column, a reader emailed, ‘As a fitness training professional, one of the first things I teach my clients is that one cannot ‘starve’ fat off of the body. It must be burned off through increased exercise and a slight decrease in food intake. Far too often I see people who starve themselves on a diet and get absolutely nowhere. Their metabolic rate slows down, and, because they neglect exercise, they end up either not being able to lose any more weight or actually begin to put it back on.’ So, moderate exercise is crucial. You live (or vacation) in an exercise paradise. So go to it!

Both psychologically and nutritionally, it’s best to continue eating the kinds of food that you currently like. Just reduce the portions. It’s not easy, but you can still enjoy life by eating well in smaller amounts. Ask yourself, ‘Do I want to experience life to its fullest, or perhaps live a shorter life with more health problems?’ I see clients who overeat because, deep down, they’re not so sure they care about life. This is an emotional issue that requires examination, which no diet can solve.

The old adage, ‘the dose makes the poison’ is true. It’s not food that kills you. It’s too much food. You, and your love of life—not the latest diet du jour—can work to achieve your target weight, once and for all.