Maybe its just me, but there is one buzz word that is so overplayed in my world. It may have something to do with the fact I work in an Environmental field, but seriously, each time I hear the word sustainability, I want to puke. This word has become so popular, it's made its way into everything, including describing how one eats and/or weightloss. The problem I have is the colloquial use of the word has drifted far from the true meaning of the word.
Immediately upon hearing grand stories of weightloss, or new diet fads the first question we ask others (or ourselves) is "is it SUSTAINABLE?!" Part of this is just due to the sheer nature of statistics with how many people lose a lot of weight, only to gain it back. Another part is hearing some exercise or eating pattern that sounds difficult and instead of just accepting that certain things work for certain people and move on, we need to tear it down. By reading many blogs and comments, there seems to be this undercurrent of sustainablility questioning anytime someone has success using methods that take us out of our comfort zone, or announces a new plan for themselves.
Let's bust out the definitions again (thanks Webster):
1) pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse.
2) able to be maintained or kept going, as an action or process.
3) able to be confirmed or upheld.
4) able to be supported as with the basic necessities or sufficient funds.
Losing weight is not meant to be sustainable. I'm talking about the specific measures one takes to and during weight loss- eating less/moving more, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Atkins, Slim-Fast, lap-band, HCG, paleo, Medifast, DASH, etc. Any weight loss measure HAS to be temporary because if you keep losing weight forever, you will die. What someone is attempting to create with these tools is a system that maintains its own viability by using TECHNIQUES (WW, SB, Atkins...etc.) that allow for continual reuse. So, when someone gets done with the losing phase, they need to be able to rely on the techniques they learned during weight loss phase to keep them where they want to be. IF the tools/techniques work (even with many times of reuse), and someone can maintain a weight that they are happy at, sustainability is acheived. In my experience, the problem lies in the "many times of reuse" part. Until I went "paleo" I never had a way of losing weight that I actually liked (or one that continued to work over and over). I would try something, quit the rules of that said something, gain a bunch of weight back, and repeat. THAT was not sustainable since I kept selecting techniques that I could not repeat.
Maintenance of a weight loss is what everyone wants to be sustainable. Maintaining a weight loss requires action or some process to keep up. I know that when I get done losing, there will be an acceptable range in which I will feel comfortable. I have no idea what this range is yet, because I haven't got there yet. I do not have some arbitrary scale number in my head dictated by some calculation of my height and weight. So as I practice my losing techniques, I've learned that in order to maintain, I need to eat about 80% paleo. To lose, I need to be 95% or better, and obviously, less than 80% is a gain.
The only thing that can really confirm true sustainability (remaining in maintenance) is time. Ironically, the amount of time one spends practicing a technique is determined by its colloquial sustainability. I'll explain below.
Lastly, my possibly favorite, the idea of sustenance. Meeting the basic necessities of life. Every technique mentioned above requires some form of restriction. I think the colloquial sustainability comes from the restriction aspect of chosing a losing technique. Changing your patterns is hard, and hard = not sustainable? But, if we look at the definition of meeting basic necessities- whether or not something is hard has nothing to do with one staying alive and healthy doing whatever it is that is 'hard.'
If I chose to eat nothing but broccoli, chicken breast, avocados, and yams every single day, I will complain that it is hard but I will sustain just fine- physically. Emotionally, I'll feel restricted, see my friends eating all sorts of stuff and get mad/annoyed or something. The reason why I won't eat the same thing over and over everyday has much less to do with true sustainability, and much more to do with me simply not being forced to as a life or death measure. My dog eats the same thing over and over everyday. He has been alive for 6 years. He doesn't complain, and I bet he knows that if he doesn't eat what I give him, he will die.
The question isn't so much "is what you are doing sustainable?" It's more of "have you found a technique that you can apply over and over that is helping you to acheive your goal of maintaining a weight loss?"