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Healthy Men

Weight Loss, Part III
Maintenance: the Final Frontier

By Johnny Lucas

Thinking Thinner Man The hardest part is keeping it off. I knew this Weight Loss I, Making the Commitment when I started, and I say it again now. The enthusiasm that fires the beginning of a weight loss programme is fleeting. It is the same zeal which, with a head full of champagne, swears New Year's Resolutions. And the long term success rate, sadly, is about the same.

A few years ago, I spent a week at Mountain Trek, a spa in a beautiful place--Ainsworth, B.C., high in the mountains overlooking Kootenay Lake. We ate lean food, had yoga classes before breakfast and then hiked in the mountains all day. It was marvellous. I felt great, slept the sleep of the innocent every night, lost weight and gained strength. I vowed to maintain the momentum when I returned home. I didn't.

This week I asked the owner of that spa, Wendy Pope, about her clients who have managed to sustain the good habits they gained at Mountain Trek. "The highest success rate is among those who had a specific health problem that was related to their weight." We're talking about a range of ailments: heart troubles, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, diabetes, and "structural problems" such as weak knees and sore joints.

Wendy identified two habits that mark successful "maintainers." They sound a lot like the words of wisdom--exercise more and eat less--that my own doctor gave me. "People who have the best success are the ones who have increased their aerobic exercise programme," she notes. However much or however little they did before, the key word here is "increase."

And there's the fat you eat. Wendy talks about clients who, while at her spa, analyzed their everyday diets and found that they were regularly consuming 400 or 500 grams of fat per day, while just 65 grams per day would be ample to maintain a healthy weight. A fast food burger has about 38 grams of fat, a single pizza slice about 50. Egg nog weighs in at about 19 grams per glass. In contrast, a glass of skim milk only has a trace of fat, a glass of 2 per cent has 5, whole milk, 8. Guess which Wendy serves?

"You've got to hold to the commitment to lower the fat in your diet. It sounds simple, and it's really hard," she says. However, to make it easier, she adds, you don't have to count the grams of fat in your diet, but if you eat one thing that's high in fat, then the rest of what you eat that day has to have none, or almost none. Low fat contenders include: most vegetables and fruit; carbohydrates like rice and bread (in moderation, of course), beans, fish and fowl.

There is a contingent of recidivists who come back to Mountain Trek year after year. Some of the regulars prepare for their get-fit holiday by boosting their usual fitness programme--they sound a bit like the people who tidy their houses before the cleaning staff arrive.

The push for holiday fitness does not apply only to spas. I have another incarnation as a travel writer, and I have observed that the desire to be the right size for cruisewear or biking shorts is a very major motivation.

If you've lost weight in an organized programme such as Weight Watchers or at the Y, there's usually a maintenance group option for graduates. On the Net, there are webberly equivalents of these support groups for the thinning and the thinned.

There are also groups for people who have taken the very legitimate option of deciding that it's OK to stay heavy and just want to have a little help in feeling better about that choice in this "thin is beautiful" world.

And what about my own weight loss programme which I began five weeks ago? It's going fine, thanks. I have not achieved the drastic results touted by the fad diets, but I have remained true to the "regime of moderation" and I have eaten less and exercised more.

And it's working. I'm down six pounds and still falling. In the New Year I will be back at travel writing, and although the health reasons that motivated me to make the commitment to lose some weight remain paramount, I admit that other considerations are my ability to fit into my old biking shorts when I'm biking in France and the size of the sarong I'm going to wear in Bali.

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Johnny Lucas is a Toronto writer of diminishing size who hardly ever wears sarongs in Canada, in winter.

illustration by Scot Ritchie
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