Anatomy of a #Plateau #weightloss #frustration

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I’ve lost 38 pounds in the last four months… Don’t get too excited for me though – because it’s been the same three pounds over, and over, and over… and over, and over again.

I made it to 70-pound/5-stone weight-loss whilst I was away at D-Toxd in Spain in September. But I’ve been bouncing up and down through three maddeningly obstinate pounds ever since then. As a word, frustration doesn’t even begin to cover it.

There are a few reasons why this may be happening – and all except one of these are totally or largely within my control:

Eyes off the Ball

2016-07-14 19.11.30I’ve been working on my health/wellbeing and food habits since September 2015.  Healthy is how I eat now.  I’ve given up 99% of added sugar and simple carbs (I have an occasional small portion of potato, the odd piece of bread in a restaurant, a microgram of sweet here and there when it sneaks into a sauce, but no cakes or cookies, donuts or desserts, ever).  I don’t eat ready meals any more, or takeaways, or fast-food, or chocolate – or any confectionary. From where I was, these are all massive changes and I’m sticking with them, because they’ve made me feel healthier and more energised than I’ve felt in two decades. But… … I think I’ve let too many exceptions creep in.

By exceptions, I mean things like:

  • Too much fruit (I know fruit is healthy, but it’s also full of natural sugar and when you’re trying to minimise sugar, there is such a thing as too much fruit);
  • Too much… cheese.  I love cheese. Enough said.
  • Dips, such as hummus, taramasalata and tsatsiki (again, I know these aren’t essentially bad, but they are the kind of foods which you dip, and dip, and dip, and if you’re me, you spread them on crackers too – and that does not a healthy meal make);
  • A few savoury snacks here and there (baked not fried, but these are processed and they are criminally moreish).

Stress and Anxiety

eye-catcher-74182-pixabayStress, anxiety and the associated sleep-loss problems all inhibit weight-loss in a number of ways. Firstly, in times of stress, we turn to food for comfort (and whilst I’m better at not doing this, I still have moments). Then, on a chemical level, physiological and hormonal responses lead to us storing or holding on to fat.  Stress fuels the release of adrenaline (for a fight or flight response), and cortisol, which instructs the body to replenish energy (ie, fat) stores, even though they may not actually have been used for a fight or a flight.  Weary after a night of interrupted or disturbed sleep, it’s all too easy to excuse yourself from early morning exercise. And with lethargy comes the temptation to snack.

I don’t lead a stressful life these days. However, there is something stressing me at present, causing anxiety and disturbed sleep that I could do without, and it’s possible this is impacting my ability to shift from the plateau. It might just be an excuse, but then again… the stressor surfaced in late summer, and that’s exactly when my plateau problem began.

Portion Control

2016-04-03 12.18.36I’ve mentioned this before, that I’m eating a little more, here and there, than I know I should. Still healthy food, but I’ve let a bigger serving, one more spoonful, an extra slice… creep in. I can even see myself doing it, and then I do it anyway. I rein it in, and it creeps back up again – nothing outlandish, but enough to turn a downward sloping graph into a horizontal line, for too long.

Weigh Less, Eat Less

the-suitcase-811122_1920I weigh 70 pounds less than when I started. Yes, that’s great, really, really great. It’s the equivalent of two full-sized holiday suitcases jam-packed with clothes, shoes, accessories and jollops. It stands to reason, I need – in very simple terms – fewer calories of energy, to drag my reduced frame around. So I should be eating less than I was eating when I weighed two suitcases more.  Or…

Move More

… I need to exercise more.  For a while, I’ve been trying to give my gentle exercise regimen a kick up the proverbial, without it taking up too much more time. (I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really in my natural space with exercise – it’s still a chore.) In reality though, with the arrival of winter weather, I’ve probably been doing less, not more, exercise. I know exercise, per se, doesn’t make that much of a dent in matters, but moving more boosts your metabolism and pumps those feel-good endorphins around, which fuels positivity and deepens motivation.  And I could do with a serious injection of motivation just now.

That Extra-Sticky Mid-Life Midriff

We’re told how much harder it becomes to lose weight once those mid-life hormones erect their defences. Men get the beer gut and women just lay on padding all over. My weight has long been high, but it was steady until I hit the menopause and put on a disastrous 20 pounds from one year to the next. I’ve dropped back now to a weight I last carried for any length of time in the last century. But what’s left of the surplus (at least another 30 pounds, perhaps more), seems determined to stick around.

I’m not giving in to the plateau, but I can’t deny, it’s frustrating in extremis, to see the scales bobbing up and down through just THREE stubborn pounds.

The good news is that I’m not on a diet; this is how I eat these days. I just need to tweak the edges, eat off smaller plates, refocus, up the exercise quotient, sleep better, not sweat the small stuff, inject a little positivity and keep things moving, don’t I? Simple.

Darn, but it’s proving harder than I’d like.

Ideas anyone? Any tips and tricks? What do you do to overcome a plateau and kick-start your weight-loss? How do you regain lost motivation or re-boot your exercise regime? 

The Invisible Woman

As if women in their forties and fifties aren’t invisible enough, pieces covering the menopause and promoting wider use of HRT on all three main news programmes this morning – BBC, Sky and ITV – somehow managed to focus on women in their twenties and thirties.

face-73401_1920The menopause isn’t fun. I remember (yes, for I still have a memory – and a mind) blogging about its impact on me in 2011 here. For me, it began slowly in my late forties around, I believe, 2008. It was mid-2014 before I could look back and confidently assess that I was through all the (not very) funny business and out the other side.  (That time period, 5 years or so, is fairly typical.) In 2015 I’m at last getting my vitality back and beginning to shift the excess poundage layered on during those energy-sapping years.

The light-heartedness of that early blog post aside, I found the menopause the most physically challenging and emotionally draining time of my life. I suffered many of the usual symptoms – the ones that people are most familiar with, such as hot flushes (that’s flashes to my American friends), night-sweats and sleep disruption as well as itchy-scratchy allergies, an excess of anxiety and sometimes debilitating lack of energy. The occasional glass of wine would send my temperature spiralling out of control and once that starts to happen, it’s hard to enjoy those nights out with the girls the way you used to. I thought I’d escaped the mood swings until I boasted of the same to my mother, and she properly put me straight.

By far my worst symptom though, and the one which manifested itself early, was heart palpitations. This is less common, and is something which can be associated with all sorts of serious complaints. My hormonal anxiety ran amok. I was in and out of my GP’s surgery, pleading for help. But though I didn’t realise it at the time, my hormones were driving the problem and as a result I was a bit like a car with an intermittent fault. I would make the appointment when I had been suffering hours and hours on end of blippy, ectopic beats which both exhausted and frightened me and seemed to have no obvious trigger. Yet by the time the appointment came round, my internal engine was turning over as it should.  Long story short: I got checked out. I’m fine.  When my hormones settled down, so did my heartbeat.

Women in their forties and fifties en masse face years of hormonal chaos and the random arrival of a whole host of physiological and psychological nasties. When they get used to one symptom, another will emerge, their bodily chemistry playing them up, just for the hell of it. Partners and families too, must adjust to the shape-shifting monster in their midst.

Natural menopause comes upon women at a time when so much else is changing too. In their forties and fifties, if they’ve had families, they may be dealing with the empty nest; if they haven’t, they face the final curtain on their fertility, the certainty that it’s not going to happen for them. There are other things too at that time of life; careers plateau, marriages may stumble, health issues surface, wrinkles deepen, hair thins and … oh, you know, shit happens.

And, unless you look like Julianne More or Halle Berry, you become… invisible.

I certainly don’t mean to undermine in any way the experience of going through an early menopause. Particularly for those women who hoped to have children, it must be utterly devastating. However, when news programmes feature an article specifically about the menopause and every single one of them finds a pretty young woman in their twenties or thirties to interview, it makes my fifty-something post-menopausal blood boil.

There.

 

 

Countdown to Chocolate

Hotel Chocolat salted caramelsI don’t usually eat chocolate. But…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not allergic. Nor am I some kind of weirdo, the only girl in the world who doesn’t like chocolate. I adore chocolate, far more than is good for me. But without some self-imposed boundaries, I could easily eat too much of it. There was always a big bar of Galaxy in my kitchen cupboard and if I got a bit peckish I would chomp the lot and hardly notice – no thinking, no savouring. I couldn’t open a box of Milk Tray without eating every chocolate in sight (except the squishy strawberry one), or go to the supermarket without loading my trolley with great bricks of the stuff; and I couldn’t buy petrol without picking up a Twix.

You’ve noted the past tense, yes?

So to the self-imposed boundary. Back in 2010 I decided to put myself on a Chocolate Fast. I’d done it once before and lasted five years before a weak moment (and not wanting to offend a friend) brought my first Chocolate Fast to a premature end. But I went five years. Five. Years. I was surprised how easy I found it once I got over the first trip to a petrol station, the first trawl around the supermarket and so on. I pretty much forgot about chocolate. I very occasionally picked up a substitute fruit-based sweet when the need for sugar overran me. Skittles were quite good for those moments, but they’re not addictive like chocolate, so it wasn’t as if I was replacing one bad habit with another.

This time around there was no difference, even though in 2010 I was deep in the throes of the mid-life hormonal tsunami that is the menopause. It was easy again. Once chocolate goes out of your head – and out of your cupboard – it’s gone.

Once you stop buying chocolate it’s not there to tempt you, or distract you, or comfort you… or taunt you. It’s obvious; the decision, and the temptation, is in the buying. Once the buying is done the decision to eat has already been made.

For my current Chocolate Fast, instead of going the full cold turkey, I gave myself two amnesty periods each year – the months of December and April. That takes in Christmas (gluttony overload), Easter (eggs!) and… my birthday. And so far, it’s gone well. This is my fourth Chocolate Fast year under the current arrangement.

Come next month I will do chocolate in style – no greasy cocoa-lite mass-market choco-crap for me. The fun starts on 1st December, never early, and I look forward to my Chocolate Advent. This year I’ve ordered up a few of my favourite Selectors from yummy chocolate people, Hotel Chocolat. I bought chocolatey Christmas gifts for others too, but these mini-treats are purely for my own personal, private and undeniably naughty indulgence.

I have to tell you, the Hotel Chocolat box is here already – it arrived over a week ago and it’s sitting not three feet from my desk. Inside there’s a bar of 50% milk chocolate (pure bliss); there’s a little bag of liquid salted caramel chocolates (dribbly, sticky liquid caramel, so, so good); there’s a tub of rum soaked sultanas (imagine, a plump bubble of sultana soaked in rum, bursting from smooth, melty chocolate); and last but definitely not least, there’s a crinkly cellophane bag of butterscotch chocolate puddles.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to December.

The weird thing is, where I give myself a month of chocaholism, don’t tend to last the course. I know how this sounds, but I actually get to the point where I’ve had enough chocolate. My taste is satisfied – and I’m done. Last Christmas that meant I put a couple of my little Selectors in the fridge. I didn’t get them out again until my April Chocolate Fast amnesty.

You probably think I’m strange. Well, there you go. We all have a little weird about us, I suppose. I honestly don’t know how I go all those months of the year not being tempted. All I know is, come December, I don’t think there’ll be anyone in the world looking forward to a bite of chocolate quite as much as I am.

What a difference a decade makes

Time passesOne of my blogging buddies, the often bemused but sublime Dylan Hearn, blogged on Suffolk Scribblings recently about a friend reaching their 40-year milestone.  I wrote about a similar experience not so long ago, on my now defunct first-pass at a blog (yes, if at first you fail…). Dylan’s blog made me think my age-related musings might be worth a re-airing.  I admit, it’s a bit off-topic but you let me get away with my rant about the colour pink the other day, so perhaps you will indulge me again:

A friend who turned 40 wrote to me: First day of 40, so far so good; nothing fallen off, changed colour or shrunk and no additional wrinkles.

I thought she might like to know what she has to look forward to:

By the time she hits her next Big One, things will be different. There will be crevices appearing, several of them – to call them wrinkles would be to do them a disservice. Valleys of doom, perhaps, canyons of dismay…. not simple wrinkles.

As to colour – her hair will begin to go monochrome in parts – she should not lose heart though, as she’ll be able to pull out the dull ones for a while. But she must remember to stop once the ratio of monochrome to colour turns against her. Where her hair loses, her skin will gain. Her once peach-like flesh will acquire a varied tonality, ranging from pale and pasty to florid, through rashy and spotty, to blotchy. It will flare from time to time in approximate response to something she ate or more likely drank, or when some thoughtless younger person turns up the thermostat.

A moment more on hair… there will be a day, one day, when she encounters a firm, unyielding protrusion on her chin. She will prefer to think of it as a hair but it will in fact be her first whisker. Others will follow.  It is an immutable law of nature.

As to shrinkage – my only experience is of the polar opposite, a waistline exploding outwards, a pair of chins blowing up like helium balloons and a cup size heading towards the middle of the alphabet (though this is not going entirely unappreciated). If anything shrinks – anything at all – she must praise the gods.

My friend’s birthday gathering took place at a cool and quirky restaurant – the sort of venue designed to make 50-somethings like me feel properly ancient. A gaggle of women of all ages, the mood enhanced by repeated selections from the cocktail menu, and conversation ranged widely.  Yes, we ladies know how to get to the nub of things, Loose Women stylie; and there’s nothing like a tray of Long Island Iced Teas with champagne chasers to drive the tone of the conversation along ever more intimate highways.

Age played a part in the talkabout, of course it did: the twenty-somethings still expected to meet the man of their dreams (aaah…); the thirty-somethings still hoped to have a family, one day, but not yet, please not yet; the forty-somethings were either experts in GCSE revision topics, or had become the fount of all knowledge on matters concerning the preservation of what remained of their fertile state. Advice abounded, from performing upside-down gymnastics after sex, through womb-level acupuncture to acquiring loose cotton underwear for ‘the boys’.   The fifty-somethings, befuddled on a tiny fraction of what we used to be able to drink, blotchy-necked and sweating from every pore, exchanged tips on the ins and outs of HRT and the best eye cream to ward off the crows-feet.

But it was a riot, yes, it was good – as nights-out go, it was one of the better ones. And you know the best thing? It was lovely to see the many facets of my wonderful friend, our friendship now of some 25 years standing, reflected in this spirited and affectionate gathering.

In praise of Costa

My coffeeI had some retail therapy to attend to, so I headed into Uxbridge early this morning. I fancied kicking off the day in my local Costa Coffee, loading up with caffeine before attacking the shops. I took my writing practice notepad since mornings are my time for this new habit. Fifteen minutes on ‘a jewel’ and I was done – not one of my more inspired mornings, I admit.

At 08:30 and before the shops open, Costa Coffee is a haven, comfortable and subdued; a few early customers like myself, but none of the hectic crush that a busy shopping Saturday will later bring. The counter service was cheery, my Americano strong and delicious, my toastie crisp yet gooey and brought to my table. Seal’s Kiss from a Rose was the first track on the playlist I noticed and it was followed by a swell of Central Perk style mid-market soft rock. All very nice and right up my street.

The minutes nudged towards 09:00 and the business of beverage was well underway. Coffee machines whizzed, clanked and hissed, plates and cups clattered, the fridge displays rattled and the air conditioning hummed – all composing a vibrant mechanical backing track that was not at all unpleasant. Conversations ebbed and flowed – regulars acknowledging each other, friends meeting up, two guys behind newspapers sharing occasional observations, someone debating the climate of gun crime in South Africa; several accents in English, a chatter of Polish I think, perhaps from behind the counter.

A blast of chill air funnelled round from the door every time someone entered – I don’t mind this either since I’m at that age when I seem perpetually to feel too warm. A man came in, wrapped in a donkey jacket and woolly hat, a young girl grabbing a take-out cup, another swaddled in fake fur; a young mother struggling with a push-chair adorned with colourful toys, a teen in skinny jeans and giant headphones that looked like earmuffs.

What is it about the aroma of fresh coffee and toast? It takes me to a place of comfort and warmth, of pleasure in small things, of calm contentment. Of all the myriad coffee shops where I live – and there are too many – Costa is my favourite. I love the cosy burgundy/brown decor, the fact that there’s always somewhere to sit, upstairs if not downstairs – if you can survive the giant spiral staircase without decanting your beverage on to unsuspecting customers below. I’m not somebody who shows up every day, only every once in a while, but when I do, Costa rewards me with a heartening half-hour.

Hot flushes of inspiration

I’m in my early 50s (best to be honest about it) and lately, menopause has hit me like a blow to the solar-plexus, followed by a punch on the nose and a kick in the shins. I lie wide awake at stupid o’clock drenched in rivers of perspiration; my nights are spent whipping the duvet off, then on, then off, then on again – windows open, windows closed.  Throughout the day, in a dumb stupor through lack of sleep, I flush at inopportune moments, heartbeat galloping out of my chest.  I’ve acquired itchy-scratchy, eye-watering allergies for the first time in my life.

My waistline has exploded outwards and I’ve waved a fond farewell to my once cuddly hourglass.  My chins (two at the last count) have blown up like helium balloons, much like my ankles on a warm day, and I boast a cup size which is heading towards the middle of the alphabet (well maybe that’s not such a bad thing).

Befuddled on a tiny fraction of what I used to be able to drink, blotchy-necked and sweating from every pore, I spend nights out with the girls exchanging tips on the ins and outs of HRT and the best eye cream to ward off crows-feet.

Worst of all, my head is full of cotton-wool; I forget names and faces and I can’t locate words that I’ve known for ever; my fingers find all the right keys, but all in the wrong order.  If I don’t write it down, it’s gone for good.

But for all this mid-life fun-and-games there’s an upside, and it’s this – a conviction that now is my time.  And as the cliché goes, if not now, then when?  So I’m fighting mental meltdown, myriad distractions and my sticky, blurry eyes to give free rein to the would-be novelist inside me – just to see if I can.

So far I have 45,000 words laid down and a clear outline for the 45,000 or so more needed to complete the first draft by Easter 2012.  Beyond that point, there’s everything to play for.