The Hardest Part of Losing Weight? Keeping It Off

05/27/2011 08:15 am ET | Updated Jul 27, 2011

In light of "The Biggest Loser" finale this week and Olivia's victory, I decided to share some of my thoughts about how difficult it is not only to change unhealthy eating patterns and lose weight, but how it is equally, if not harder, to keep weight off.

I know this from firsthand experience -- I've been maintaining a 50-pound weight-loss for more than 30 years. It's been difficult but not impossible, and here's my story.

For more than a third of my life, I overate and my weight fluctuated dramatically. Overeating numbed my feelings and kept me from experiencing life to the fullest. And that's the way it was as a child, during my teens and for a good part of my young adult life.

When I was in my early 20s, my best friend was killed in a car accident. I was at a very low point then and gaining weight that was harder than ever to shed. I tried a series of fad diets. I knew no limits. Then I decided to visit a diet doctor, paying $40 a week for a "magic potion," that I took before bed and was meant to reduce my appetite. Instead of diminishing my appetite, the drops made me an insomniac.

During a vacation in Puerto Rico -- I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a glass door and realized that my thighs were enormous. That was a turning point for me. I knew I had a problem. When I got home, I joined a support group. I was ready to listen to other people who seemed to have had some success with their food problem. I learned that I wasn't a "weak-willed glutton," but a person who needed help. I couldn't keep the weight off by myself.

With the help of others, I learned how to eat sensibly, explored reasons behind my overeating, and began to understand my obsession with food. I had swallowed my fear, anger and sadness along with all those brownies. Members of the group listened and I began to identify with them. Although my fellow overeaters were from all walks of life, we shared a common bond, and we helped each other as we helped ourselves.

It was scary finding out about my real self. Although I felt better about my looks, I still had a lot of emotional growing to do. When I encountered normal everyday stress, I was able to deal with it without resorting to overeating. I learned to face my fears and get closer to people, develop intimate relationships, and be successful at my job. When the timing was right, I left my sales position and started my own company.

I've learned a way of eating that is right for me. My "food plan," which I developed with someone who had been maintaining her weight loss for a while, gives me a sense of freedom rather than restriction. I wish I could say it's a perfect formula for everyone, but food triggers are personal. I know the foods that stimulate binges for me (ice cream, candy and cake) and, although I love them, I haven't eaten them in years because I love life more.

Whenever I'm tempted to overeat I remind myself of this deep realization: I'm not hungry for food -- I'm hungry to connect with other people. If I'm having a hard time, I call someone who can listen to what it is I'm going through. Overeating is not the answer to my problems anymore. If I were to begin binging again it would destroy my enthusiasm for life.

Today, I can go anywhere and do anything because of the boundaries I have set for myself. Although the names and faces of people who helped me have changed through the years, the guideline of "staying away from the first bite of something that will trigger me," has not. I actively help other overeaters not hurt themselves by sharing my story with them.

Here are some thoughts for overeaters trying to gain back their lives and their self-esteem:

If you've endured the pain of overeating and you're ready to find a different way of coping, try to find new ways of rewarding yourself, ways that DON'T involve food.

Reach out for support. There are many different types of groups that are available. Although you may feel shame for not being able to do it on your own, don't do it alone.

Do something especially nice for yourself each day. Stroke yourself more. Splurge. Take time with a friend; buy yourself something special -- it doesn't have to be expensive.

Make a list at the end of the day of the things you've done right! I'm sure you know what you've done wrong, but did you acknowledge yourself for what you did right?

Dress your best whatever weight you're at. Take pride in yourself. Try to keep a positive outlook. Act as if the weight will fall off, and it will!

Start simplifying your life. Clean out your fridge of unhealthy foods. Simplify your day by avoiding excessive busyness. Remember: what you truly hunger for is love and connection with other people -- not food.

Become aware of the "I will never be able to (fill in the blank)." Don't allow yourself to go there. I never thought I could be where I am now!