After the happy ending

I wrote this guest post for Refuse To Regain as part of the Dietgirl Virtual Book Tour. I've archived it here as I know lots of people stalk their way through the archives and it's a very important entry, explaining where I'm at now in terms of my maintenance struggles adventures! Be sure to stop by at Refuse To Regain - it's a fabulous blog and resource for maintainers.

My first year of maintenance was easy. I think I cruised through on euphoria alone. Every day in my new body was an adventure – I rejoiced in my new clothes, new fitness and new ability to fit inside bathtubs.

Later that year I finished writing a book that charted my six-year, 175-pound weight loss journey. I was still giddy with excitement as I churned out the Epilogue. My body is something to savor and celebrate, I wrote. Every time I put on lipstick and high heels it feels like I'm singing to world about the joy I've found within.

The second year was a different story. Everything was messy and unpredictable. I was simultaneously renovating our apartment, starting a demanding new job and promoting my book in the UK and Ireland. I also took on big fitness challenges, such as training for kickboxing grades and a marathon walk. As the year dragged on there were personal issues and a serious financial scare, then we sold our apartment and moved house.

As a result my maintenance efforts were chaotic. I'd alternate weeks of intense exercise with weeks of nothing at all. I'd buy takeout too often then go crazy with healthy cooking to compensate. I wrestled the same ten pounds all year long, pinging up and down the scale. Instead of high heels and celebrations, it was more brooding on the couch in my sweatpants.

Meanwhile, my inbox was flooded with messages from people who'd read my book. You're such an inspiration! You're living the happy ending! You must be so proud! I didn't feel proud or inspiring. Sure I've lost a few pounds but look at me now! I'm barely holding it together! If those kind readers knew how much I struggled, they'd demand a refund! I felt like a fraud as I answered their email questions about my exercise program, instead of actually doing my exercise program. I made jokes about my woes on my blog, not wanting to alienate readers new and old with too much doom and gloom. But the negativity crept in. I spoke about maintenance with words like "struggle" and "battle" and "never-ending stinkfest".

There were times when I could have cheerfully burned my book. I bugged the heck out of myself with my optimism and irritating self acceptance. I was just plain jealous of Book Shauna, to be honest. I could barely believe that was me who'd lost all that weight and stuck at it for so many years. How did I start wanting change more than chocolate? That determined girl seemed like a stranger and I worried I'd never find her again.

The third year of maintenance was rapidly approaching and I was desperate to make it different. It was a lot like the start of my weight loss mission – I thought someone else must have the secret. I started reading blogs written by fellow maintainers, such as this one. I stalked through their archives, looking for magic solutions. But instead of magic, I read about hard work and persistence; the ability to learn from mistakes and pick yourself back up after a crappy day. Or even a crappy month or year.

I finally had my DUH moment. Maintenance was really no different from weight loss. Sometimes it is fabulous and sometimes it sucks. And that's okay.

I think part of me thought that writing THE END on my manuscript would mean The End of the struggle and The End of learning stuff. Surely after six ridiculous years of lard-busting I'd have figured out my Issues for good? But life doesn't stop when you close a book. The story plows on, the character keeps evolving. Holding on to that happy ending is hard work.

A few months on I'm starting to feel more at peace with the realities of maintenance. I'm starting to live and breathe that happy ending again, albeit without the delirium of the first year. Life is still stupidly busy, but I remembered the best thing I learned in the weight loss phase – the journey is easier when you make it enjoyable. Last year I was falling back into the arms of my old dieter's mindset – all or nothing thinking, expecting perfection, dwelling on mistakes and not savouring the good stuff. But now I want to celebrate how far I've come, instead of feeling overwhelmed by it or taking it for granted. Maintenance doesn't seem like such a drag when I take time out to find the joy in the little things. The peacefulness of a Pilates stretch. The gleeful clobbering of my kickboxing class. The wholesome smugness of a healthy day's eating. I'm ready to dust off those high heels and lipsticks.

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