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:
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!
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!