Within the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be starting a new project. For years, I've wanted to develop a maintainer's group that would look very different from the standard weight loss meetings. To do this effectively, I'd love to have your help.
My office practice has given up on groups. Over the years, we've found that patients who must pay out-of-pocket for treatment prefer the convenience and privacy of individual visits. When we've tried to start groups so that we could offer a low-cost alternative, they have fizzled.
But I've remained convinced that a group setting can work---and in fact might be more effective---for maintainers. One of the principle obstacles to maintenance is the fact that it must be done alone. Few maintainers know anyone else who has achieved what they have or who is living their life. After the oil spill in the Gulf, I started using this analogy:
Our food culture is like the oily water of the Gulf. There you are, swimming away, in what looks like chocolate. Everyone is splashing around in there telling you how much fun it is. One by one, though, you notice that people are starting to struggle or are even disappearing. You are determined to be different. You clearly see the danger. In the distance is an island. With enormous effort, you swim to the island, pull yourself up on unpolluted ground and clean off all the oil that clings to you. As the sun dries your skin, you feel an incredible rejoicing. But when you turn around, you find that the island is deserted. You are going to be living there by yourself, and a lonely future awaits you.
In truth, we are not alone, but are part of a growing community of maintainers. It's just that our numbers are still small enough that we still have trouble locating each other. We are spread out over that island, but rest assured: we are there. This is exactly why I believe a group is so important. At least once a month, it's helpful to have contact with our peers. We need to know that other people are living the maintenance life successfully and that we are not the cultural equivalents of Bigfoot, living an odd, solitary existence while crouched over a bowl of nuts and berries.
Maintenance is an evolving enterprise. There is no information about it. The field is wide open. That's both frustrating and great. We find ourselves in a dark room unsure of what dangers await or how to move. On the other hand, there are no preconceived notions to get rid of. This fun house is ours and ours alone, so let's have a good time with it.
In an earlier post I wrote about my starting points for the new group. Here is the charter I envision:
1. The group is for those who have undergone a life conversion or for those who seek to achieve that goal. In other words, you must not only have lost weight, but support serious changes in your life to be part of this enterprise. The changes you've made do not reflect the fact that you were weak, lazy or misguided in the past. They reflect the fact that your eyes were opened to the dangers of our food environment and physical culture and that you've now realized that you must live on a kind of island to avoid them.
2. We want to build the population of our maintenance island. As working maintainers, we commit to spending some time each month working on community initiatives that will allow us to share what we've learned and help throw a life preserver to those who are going under.
3. We want to develop something. Our mission is to teach others how to maintain while we teach ourselves. The group will remain creative, open to new ideas, and willing to experiment. We will generate materials for other maintainers from those elements that succeed.
Ultimately, I am hoping that our experiences in this group can lead to a workbook for new maintainers or to other tools that might be used by those who want to set up similar groups.
As readers of this blog, you are all part of our extended family. Your input is vital and I hope you will be interested in helping to create the direction of this project. Here is how you can help:
Consider these questions:
1. When you were just beginning the maintenance phase, what were the things that you had to figure out for yourself? In other words, what were the basic principles of maintenance that you discovered? If you could pass these on to someone else who was just starting out, what would they be?
2. Are there any readings or resources that have helped you?
3. Are there any daily practices that you would recommend? For example, does keeping a food record help you? Do you journal your maintenance experiences? Do you keep formal track of your exercise? Do you wear any tracking devices (pedometers, calorie monitors, etc..) and if so, can you recommend ones that have proved reliable and helpful?
4. What have you found to be an effective amount of exercise to keep weight stable? If any of you are limited physically, I'd like to know if you can maintain with less strenuous forms of exercise like walking, basic yoga, tai chi, and so on.
5. If you could have been in a maintenance group (or if you are already in an effective group) what would you have liked the group to offer?
The answers to any or all of these questions would help me greatly. Pick the one that most interests you or make your own comments. I thank you for any input you can provide!