The Squiggly Line Effect

March 26, 2013

This is a post I wrote for Breathe Magazine in 2009. I love this concept and wanted to share it on KERF too. I still believe in the squiggly line as the ultimate way to balance fun parties and boring weeknights to equal a long-term happy weight.

My approach to weight maintenance is a method of “a little loss, a little gain,” named by me as the “Squiggly Line Effect.” I believe that one of the biggest reasons why people gain back weight they have lost is because once they reach goal, they decide to eat more – maintenance level – and when special events or overeating occur, weight is gained. We all have occasions when we eat past fullness or just eat too many calorie dense foods, and if these occasions aren’t balanced by lighter days, we store the excess. Therefore, I believe that so long as you overeat on occasion, you have to under eat on occasion too in order to balance out the gain. (I realize this is taking numbers to an extreme and there are likely other factors involved, but it is necessary to overanalyze in order to explain the concept, which I really follow very loosely).

Here is a visual of an ideal squiggly line of weight maintenance:

SquiggleNormal

The Squiggly Line Effect probably happens naturally for a lot of people. I often want to eat less after a weekend of overeating, so I do think the body has a tendency to balance itself. But sometimes we get carried away or the special events come at us too frequently, and our bodies don’t chance to catch up. Suddenly we’ve put on a few pounds.

I was able to maintain my weight within a few pounds for years without counting calories thanks to the Squiggly Line. Assuming I ate under 1800-ish healthy calories per day during the mundane workweek, which combined with daily exercise would lead to a really slow cumulative loss, and assuming I ate whatever I wanted on a Saturday night, that 1000+ calories on Saturday would balance with the -1000 I “lost” during the week and I’d come out even at the end of the week.

But this spring, special events popped up here, there and everywhere. During my weight loss I paid attention to my eating at special events to prevent a weekend gain, but once in maintenance, I was able to truly eat whatever I wanted because the gain would be countered with a loss. I slowly forgot the tricks to keep splurges to a minimum, like turning down a second roll at dinner or sharing a dessert. While it wasn’t a big deal to eat a lot once a month, I was overeating more than once a week, and soon enough I tried on pair of last summer’s shorts and they did not fit! I had myself a few pounds of good old fashioned weight gain.

Here is a visual of all of the fun I had. Note the orange line as maintenance calories and the dips below it weeks when I didn’t have an event and lost a bit (and hypothetically, of course). But also note how high the peaks are compared to the valleys!

SquiggleCoaster

So the lesson learned is this: The Squiggly Line Effect only works if the overs are the same magnitude as the unders. If the events are coming one after another, I have to pay more attention to what I’m putting in my mouth in order to minimize the gain. While I’d like to say I am a pro at maintenance, clearly I need a bit more practice in balance. But overall, this is definitely a method I can use for life. Here’s to a life full of tall mountains and lush valleys!

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{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ashley @ Coffee Cake and Cardio March 26, 2013 at 9:47 am

Great post Kath!! I look forward to being on maintenance one day. I’ve got to stop maintaining my current weight…. I’m pretty good at that.

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2 Deb @ Dietitian Debbie Dishes March 26, 2013 at 9:59 am

“The squiggly line effect” – I love that! It’s true that healthy eating really is all about balance. We all have days where we splurge or perhaps indulge too much sometimes! You just have to remember to balance it out with healthy eating.

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3 Lindsay March 26, 2013 at 10:04 am

This is so interesting – a really great way to break it all down. Makes me feel like I just shouldn’t stress about an “indulgent” day here and there.

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4 Sally March 26, 2013 at 10:13 am

Kath, I love this concept. I’ve found that this method really works for me as well, and truly promotes in the “lifestyle change” that is weight loss. It is so freeing to realize that you can get to your ideal weight, while still indulging in your favorites every once in awhile. Great post!

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5 Melissa March 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

That is so neat!

I’ve starting the Biggest Winner (vs. Loser) at work, and am determined to make this a lifestyle change, vs. a ‘diet.’ I’ve said it time and time again, but I’m finally ready, physically and mentally (I’m more mature now at almost 30 *eek!* than I was in my early 20’s). I’m not having any of the major cravings or ‘down’ thoughts that I’ve had with yo-yo dieting in the past, and the choices are getting easier.

I want to lose weight for a plethora of reasons, and I’ve finally learned that I can have a ‘cheat’ day but they do need to balance, so my line isn’t as squiggly as it used to be! :D You can go off track, just don’t fall off the wagon!

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6 Jennifer@knackfornutrition March 26, 2013 at 10:18 am

This is a great post! I agree that fluctuations are normal and that everything will even out in the end. It’s best to just make good choices most of the time and not worry about the occasional indulgence.

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7 Jola March 26, 2013 at 10:24 am

Yay, that’s my way to do it, too! It works really well, but you have to pay attention when holidays or birthdays are around. ;)

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8 Carly @ Snack Therapy March 26, 2013 at 10:38 am

Fabulous perspective! I seriously love this. I’ve been having lots of peaks lately, and not many dips… Looks like I need to get on that!

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9 Nina @ Too Hottie For That Body March 26, 2013 at 11:16 am

It’s funny that you posted this because I just got done lamenting over staying at the same weight for the exact same reason. This would be great if I were trying to maintain. However, I’m still in the weight loss phase. This is a great example of the balance it takes to be able to maintain your weight once you’ve reached your goal. I’ll definitely be keeping this as a resource for future reference.

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10 Kelly K March 26, 2013 at 11:22 am

I love this concept. After many years of issues with weight and food, I finally started keeping a food diary a little over a year ago. It helped me realize this – making up for a splurge by cutting back – is the key to successful weight maintenance and, for me, a healthy relationship with food. It was very helpful, and I’m glad I tried it. Only problem was I kind of became addicted to keeping a food diary! I guess I was scared if I didn’t record everything I would lose track of what I was eating and gain weight. [Note: My husband and I are also TTC, and I have been tracking my BBT and CM and every little cramp or twinge for the last few months, too. This is no way for a person to live!] Thanks to your posts (and the posts of Sarah at The Smart Kitchen), I am no longer counting calories, and I no longer weigh myself. This is huge – I mean, I’ve been weighing myself regularly since I was in 5th grade! I feel so free! I hope to move forward eating more intuitively, keeping the squiggly line in mind, and watching my weight only by how my clothes fit.

Thank you for sharing, Kath! I admire your healthy approach, and it is helpful to me to read about your tricks!

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11 Lucy March 26, 2013 at 11:23 am

Cool!

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12 Clare @ Fitting It All In March 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Love this approach, kath. Makes total sense and allows for real life.

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13 Elizabeth @ My Neon Running Shoes March 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Love this! I think you hit on the key point… overall balance is what’s necessary!

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14 Jennifer March 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm

If your “peaks” are so high compared to your “valleys,” wouldn’t that still constitute weight gain? Wouldn’t the highs and lows have to be equal to maintain results of the SLE?

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15 KathEats March 26, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Yes, that’s why at the time I wrote this post I was trying to be more in the valley mode : )

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16 Susan H @ The Food Allergy Chronicles March 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Balance is key…when I feel my pants getting a little snugger…I reasses my food intake and energy output. :)

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17 Karen March 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Kath, I fully agree with this method, although I call it the “zig zag” method ;)

My last baby is 10 years old and I’ve maintained my weight for 9 years within 5 pounds – after I lost my baby weight by the time he was 1. On days I workout more I eat more, on days I don’t workout I eat less, or if I’m planning for a night out of drinking beers and eating I’ll eat less the day before and the day after, and like you said it has a way of balancing itself out! I believe being fit and in shape isn’t rocket science and isn’t one size fits all, it takes balance!

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18 Sara @ fitcupcaker March 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm

balance is so important…this is a great post

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19 lindsay @ fuel my family March 26, 2013 at 1:26 pm

I often use this reasoning as far as parties and occasions go. If I go to a party around dinner time i seem to eat the same amount if im starving or not. I’ve experimented and found its really true. I dont know why, social eating? i pick without noticing?. So i always have a lighter breakfast and lunch beforehand to even it out. That way I am not beating myself up or starving myself the next day to make up for it because i accounted for it before it even happened.

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20 Karen March 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Right on, Kath…I totally subscribe to the same principle you’ve been advocating for years. I definitely have my share of indulgences, but I do also listen to my body’s signals for moderate eating days. Though I am always mindful of ballpark calorie figures, mostly so I’m sure I’m eating enough at meals given my energy needs, I never stress or “count” precisely – for me, that just feels obsessive, brings back bad memories, and takes the joy out of eating. It’s actually easy for me to maintain my “happy” weight also b/c I don’t strive to be unnaturally thin. (BTW, I’ve noticed in your more recent photos, you are clearly getting your squiggly line mojo back ;) )

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21 Jovita March 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Hi Kath,
Great post! as always! :)
…a question: I still remember that cute cradle chair you bought for the nursery. I’m debating buying it. Do you use it? Is it any comfy?
thank you!

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22 KathEats March 26, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Yes and yes! It’s perfect for reading a story or rocking a little to calm down before bed

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23 Mom March 26, 2013 at 4:48 pm

I like it because when I’ve been there, we’ve even brought it out into the living room. Very light weight.

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24 jovita March 26, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Thank you ladies!

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25 hillary | nutrition nut on the run March 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Did you go to Africa!? I’m thinking this is an example? :)

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26 KathEats March 26, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I did!! Check out my travel page!

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27 Farah March 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Interesting. I’ve never heard of this concept before but it does make a lot of sense. The other day I ate way too much of a home-cooked Mexican meal I had with friends, but the next day I ate much less than I normally do.

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28 Dana @ Conscious Kitchen Blog March 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Love this concept. I’m such a visual person, so being able to put moderation and balance into a visual works wonders for me. I feel like the squiggly line is an image I can keep in my head and refer to as I go about daily life, whether it’s a dinner cooked at home or a special event.

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29 Shel@PeachyPalate March 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Great concept and approach Kath! Avoid the extremes and we’ll all be alright, just about finding that balance :)

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30 Laura March 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Don’t forget that you DID have a baby!!!

I DO love this concept though. =)

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31 Sandra March 27, 2013 at 2:38 am

Kath states in the beginning it was an article she wrote in 2009, not as of today

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32 Laura March 27, 2013 at 6:54 am

Just realized this. Oops!!

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33 Samantha Hall March 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Hey! I’ve been to Africa on a few different occasions! The people there are so sweet :).

There is so much truth to this post. I feel as though I’ve been up and down with my weight my whole life (which as you said, is fine as long as you keep it together). Although I haven’t been keeping up with the maintenance too well *cough*..

This is interesting though. I’m obsessive when it comes to stats and analysis. Maybe I’ll go ahead and make my own charts to track my weight loss!

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34 Erin @ The Elliptical Chronicles March 26, 2013 at 5:39 pm

I love this concept and completely agree. I love even more how you verbalized and even visualized it for us :)

Excellent send-off too “Here’s to a life full of tall mountains and lush valleys!” :D

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35 Alicia March 26, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Thank you for writing this! As much as I think that this is naturally what we should be doing, it is sometimes so hard to realize that you need to compensate for indulgence. I know that I at least feel that I should have a right to always indulge. For me, the trick is to make sure that the lighter days feel indulgent in other ways — something non-food related, or having foods that seem indulgent (because they’re delicious), though not caloric. It’s always a work in progress. Thanks for this great perspective!

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36 Christina March 26, 2013 at 6:47 pm

I love the graph, Kath! It’s such a great visual of what I assume a lot of people do to maintain. I also have my boring weekday meals and peaks on the weekend. Love your blog and insight :)

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37 Jane @ Not Plain So Jane March 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Great visual! I think the “Squiggly Line” effect can definitely help maintain a weight loss over time with some mindfulness.

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38 BroccoliHut March 26, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Love this! Definitely a new way of thinking about moderation. Thanks for another insightful post!

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39 Sandal March 26, 2013 at 8:07 pm

The idea of the squiggly line effect makes absolute sense in terms of weight management. As a mathematician I have to ask, however, what variable is on the vertical axis of your graphs? Initially I assumed calories, but that makes no sense given that the horizontal “maintenance” line intersects with a negative number (which would indicate that your maintenance intake is negative calories–unlikely).

Clarify?

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40 KathEats March 27, 2013 at 6:08 am

It’s calories over or under maintenance level. So under would be a negative number. Does that make it work?

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41 Annie March 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I believe what Kath is trying to say, is that the vertical line is the number assigned to her personally for the daily caloric intake necessary to maintain a specific weight. For example, say she needs 1300 calories to maintain her weight- the vertical line would be at 1300. The sine wave function, or “squiggly line” as Kath referred to it would be plotted at the calorie amounts where she was either over or under her goal of 1300 cals/day. The goal is to have the graph oscillate evenly above (more than 1300 cals) and under (less than 1300) with the net effect being you are always within reach of your maintenance weight.

I don’t think she means “negative number”, but rather under her caloric goal for the day.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, Kath.

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42 KathEats March 27, 2013 at 1:41 pm

You are right Annie! “sine wave function” <—- takes me back to high school -ahhh!

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43 Joanna March 26, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Love this. I am very close to my goal weight and this is sooo helpful. I like that you realize people indulge on holidays, eating out etc. but it is possible to maintain by balancing!

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44 Kylie @ immaeatthat March 26, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Loved this post! I’m recently engaged and getting married this December!! With so much happiness going on I kind of fell off the weight maintenance wagon…I was eating healthy stuff (mostly) but just TOO much healthy stuff. I got on the scale for the first time in a couple months and realized I had gained ~10 pounds…whoops. So now I’m trying to get back to a maintenance weight by May and then just utilize The Squiggly Line Effect until December:))

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45 RunEatRepeat March 26, 2013 at 10:35 pm

I will never forget when I first read that post on Breathe! Loved it then, love the reminder now. Thanks :)

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46 Sara @my less serious life March 27, 2013 at 5:38 am

love this post! so true and a great reminder of BALANCE!

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47 Joanne March 27, 2013 at 5:45 am

I like the squiggly line effect concept. I have quite a hectic lifestyle and find it hard to stay balanced. I think this concept shows that you can have peaks as long as there’s some valleys too :)

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48 Sarah (The Simple Dietitian) March 27, 2013 at 5:47 am

Great post! I love this concept but never really thought about putting it into words (and visualization!) I tend to follow this without really thinking about it, although this winter I definitely had more peaks than valleys (ahem…weight gain!) This seems to happen to me each winter but then the summer rolls around and my valleys and peaks level off once again. Now that I have this picture in my head, maybe I can make it work for me throughout the winter months too. ;)

Thanks for yet another great post, Kath! :D

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49 Bruna @ morgbu.com March 27, 2013 at 6:38 am

I pretty much do this without planning… I try to eat lean and healthy as much as I can, so when events occur it’s ok to splurge ;)

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50 Molly @ RDexposed March 27, 2013 at 7:18 am

Nice concept!

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51 Katie March 27, 2013 at 7:52 am

Great post! As a child/young adult studying ballet, it was all about calorie restriction. It took me a long time to work on this same method you described. But, when one can learn to go with the squiggly line, It’s so freeing. There’s so much flexibility. It’s really a gentle approach to weight management.

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52 Parita @ myinnershakti March 27, 2013 at 8:04 am

This is pretty much how I operate as well, except I call it “give and take!” Squiggly line sounds more fun though!

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53 Sone Kotze March 27, 2013 at 8:06 am

Hi, I am actually from Africa. Hello there :P

Anyway, this would only work assuming you are relatively mentally strong as this is the way they say binge eating disorders start. You binge, you feel guilty and starve yourself to “make up for it”, but feel so deprived after a while that you find yourself binging again… They always say the key is NOT to starve yourself the next day or over-exercise.

I think there’s a very fine line to be drawn here, I also feel you do need to compensate for it somehow, so whenever I over-indulge I always make sure not to fall into that cycle by eating less calories that are clean (like a detox) but still GOOD so I don’t feel deprived.

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54 Kate (@SweetsandSweats) March 27, 2013 at 8:17 am

I LOVE this theory! And thanks for the visual representation, it makes it so clear. I think this is so true and works, if you just apply it. I could be better at this theory but I’m definitely working on it ..

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55 Amie March 27, 2013 at 8:40 am

Really great post; I have been trying to live like this myself. Thank you!

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56 Alyssa March 27, 2013 at 8:54 am

I think this falls right in line with intuitive eating and mindfulness. When you’re having fun and there is good food available, you just want to enjoy it! But, like you said, during the week, I try to only eat when hungry, prepare my meals in advance to help with healthy choices and portion control, and stop eating past a certain point at night. I also try to really stay in tune with my body and I think that is the biggest thing. If I’m hungry, have a small snack or a glass of water, wait 30 min and if still hungry, a slightly larger snack :-)

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57 Mommypage March 27, 2013 at 11:04 am

This is a fantastic post! It is definitely true that people’s weight fluctuates, especially before or after a first pregnancy. It looks like you’ve been doing great after giving birth to Mazen. We hope you are enjoying motherhood!

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58 Ellie@Fit for the Soul March 27, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Hmmm this is a pretty cool concept because I think many of us, including myself, tend to naturally go up and down with our intake of food depending on how our week goes. It’s almost intuitive because like you said, your body just doesn’t WANT to eat too much after over indulging the day before, so it’s pretty cool how you broke it down. :)

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59 Sam March 27, 2013 at 3:19 pm

This is a great post Kath!

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60 Sara March 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Hi Kath, have you started planning for your vegetable garden yet? Will you grow from seed or small plants? I absolutely cannot wait to get out there and feel some sunshine and dirt between my fingernails. Btw I can’t believe I am going to say this but…I ate sardines the other day because of you….and I LOVED ‘EM! I am very adventuresome when it comes to trying food, but sardines scared me. But about a year ago, after reading your blog for quite some time I decided to buy some. Well, they sat in my pantry for almost a year before I worked up the nerve. Per your recomendation, I didn’t look at them much, mixed ‘em and they were great! No doubt without your encouragement I never would have tried them. Thank you!!!

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61 Jane March 27, 2013 at 5:01 pm

This is a great concept and a fantastic post. I like that it encourages mindfullness with eating and a natural and healthy balance in weight management. I’ll have to remember your reference to it as the squiggly line effect : ) I think that illustrates so clearly the concept of balance.

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62 Sara March 27, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Kath, I would love to see more videos!

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63 Sara March 27, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Do you have skincare/makeup post?

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64 KathEats March 27, 2013 at 8:04 pm

I don’t, but I’ve been thinking about doing one since it’s a FAQ : )

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65 Lauren @ Fun, Fit and Fabulous! March 27, 2013 at 8:30 pm

What a fantastic way to explain finding balance in life! I love this! I am definitely going to use this with clients! Thanks!

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66 Catherine March 28, 2013 at 2:41 am

Great post as always, Kath! And pretty cool concept, too.Thanks!

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67 Robyn @thereallife_RD March 28, 2013 at 11:40 am

I often quote you with the Squiggly Line Effect because it is such a great illustration of how to ENJOY food and still be happy and healthy! Its so much for fun to enjoy good food with other people in a fun atmosphere [like and event] than sitting at home on your couch on a Monday night. Have a great week!

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68 alice c March 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Hi Kath! Really love this idea. Think it’s a very healthy way to look at diet. I was just wondering how you worked out that 1800 was the right caloric number to maintain for you as i’m finding it hard to work out how much i should eat to maintain my weight? alice x

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69 KathEats March 29, 2013 at 5:31 am

I really just had to estimate and go by trial and error

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70 Hannah March 29, 2013 at 9:00 am

I love this post! I’m in need of a few lush valleys, personally :)

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71 Kris March 29, 2013 at 10:25 am

I’ve tried to follow this plan in the past for maintenance and it worked well, but as I’ve hit middle age and am near menopause, it becomes a graph of many more valleys than peaks since I have to work much harder to lose at this point. And being relatively short (5’4) with an extremely small frame, five pounds shows up really fast. For me it means following a diet w/ little variation, and passing up almost all treats. Pretty boring and sometimes frustrating, but it’s worth it for my health.

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72 Neil Butterfield May 3, 2013 at 12:31 am

Great post Kath. While I have never reduced this to a graph, I have always shared this belief. Everything balances out in the end if you play the game.

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73 Melissa June 10, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I have recently started using an app to track my calories, and have noticed that I have a squiggly line!!! :) I don’t know if you’ve answered this before, but if you do track anything anymore, do you use an app? If so, what?

I use Lose It and LOVE it!

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74 KathEats June 10, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I don’t at this point

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