As I've written on my site, there are five stages that one goes through when making any healthy lifestyle change:
I had been resting comfortably in the maintenance phase for the past several years, holding steady on my weight loss with mindful attention to my food intake and activity level but indulging on occasion with no effect on my weight and health.
Recently, I went on vacation and did a little experiment. My idea was that I was going to be "nice" to myself by taking a break from everything, including attention to food and activity. I was just going to let myself eat whatever sounded good in the moment, be active when I felt like it and mostly just lay around and indulge.
This is certainly not my normal routine on vacation. I have even written blogs about tips on how to maintain weight on vacation, so I know how to do it effectively.
What a mistake I made! After this vacation, I came home feeling yucky! My jeans were tight, I felt rolls around my middle that hadn’t been there in years, and I felt the dread of having to reduce my calories and increase my activity to get the weight off. I truly regret this experiment in vacation indulgence.
The experiment reminded me of how I felt years ago when I first lost the weight and the stages of change I went through then and now have to go through again. I was reminded how difficult it can be to progress through the stages. It also left me with a sense of gratitude for having gotten to the maintenance phase, grateful for the freedom and joy that phase brings to life.
In precontemplation, it's normal to deny change is needed or feel overwhelmed by having to make changes. I know I've felt that way before. It’s a lot easier to tell myself that everything is fine, that the statistics around weight or activity level or tobacco use don’t apply to me. One week into my recent vacation experiment, I knew what I was doing wasn’t going to have a happy ending, but I let myself deny it.
In the contemplation and preparation phases, I start to recognize I truly need to do something different to achieve a different result. When I was sitting on the beach in my loose dress and swimsuit, it was easy to tell myself my body wasn’t changing, but once I was home and put on my favorite pair of jeans, I could no longer deny the extra weight. So I prepared to dust off MyFitnessPal, a calorie counter I haven’t had to use in years, set aside extra time for working out and make a pact with myself to lose the weight I gained in two weeks.
I am currently in the action phase, actively counting calories and working out more. I really don’t like this phase. I hate having to micromanage my calorie intake. Who wants to sit around plugging everything they eat into a calorie counter? Boring — but it’s the best way I know of losing the pounds, so I’ll do it. My two weeks of indulgence will take a month, at least, to work off.
I have so much more respect for the maintenance phase and the daily work that I do to maintain a healthy body. In the maintenance phase, I don’t count calories or work out intensely. It's a beautiful place to live, eating healthy foods every day in amounts that are satisfying, being active daily but with less intensity more enjoyment and having a special treat from time to time without worry.
For now, I will try to embrace the action phase, and when I get back to maintenance, I will never take it for granted again.
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