The Lifecycle of a Yo-Yo Dieter #FullDisclosure

Even when you think you’ve got the healthy eating thing nailed, it can all still go horribly wrong. Again and again. And again.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll be familiar with my excited posts (for example, here and here) about the massive benefits and gains I’ve enjoyed as I shed the pounds throughout 2016. And you may have noticed that I’ve gone a bit quiet about the weight-loss situation in the last year.

Well… here’s why.  When it comes to managing my weight, I’m a habitual Yo-Yo.  And what goes down…

Downhill all the way – except when it’s uphill

As far as I can remember, including my lately renewed efforts, there have been ten sustained periods of weight-loss in my life, beginning at the tender age of 21.

1981:  Loss of 2 st / 28 lbs / 12.7 kilo

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Aged 21 and weighing-in at 11 st 5 lbs / 159 lbs / 72.1 kilo at the outset, that 28 lbs qualified as mega. It earned me Lifetime Membership of WeightWatchers. Today I would kill to be the weight I started at back then, again, let alone the slender form I achieved after a few months of modest self-control. It didn’t seem hard – at least, I don’t recall the hardship. I do recall eating a lot of beansprouts in tomato puree on dry toast though. Little did I realise what was to come in the years that followed.

1989:  Loss of 4 st / 56 lbs / 25.4 kilo

This time the work started around 14 st 7 lbs / 203 lbs / 92 kilo. My life disrupted by divorce and then career-change, a swirling cocktail of negative and positive influences served to transform my approach to food in ways I still don’t fully understand; for a while, at least.  I did it all by myself this time; skipping meals, developing a single-track approach to lunches (smoked mackerel and undressed salad, every day – yes, every day), shunning alcohol, and falling for a trainer at my local gym (great motivation to hit the treadmill). For a while, I drew energy from the way I could see both me and my life transforming. For a while.

2002:  Loss of 3 st 8 lbs / 50 lbs / 22.7 kilo

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I kept a lid on my weight for a while but eventually it nudged steadily upward again. In 2002 I’d just been made redundant and come out of a very toxic relationship, so my life was again disrupted and unsettling. I’d decided to go self-employed – which was simultaneously invigorating and downright scary.  I needed to feel stronger, more together, more in-control of myself – not unlike I’d needed to feel back in 1989. Flexing that Lifetime Membership card for the first time, I went back to WeightWatchers, and the stars aligned. My membership card for that period, which I have never discarded, tells me that I started out at 16 st / 224 lbs / 101.6 kilo. I thought that was the worst I would ever let it get. But I was wrong.  When the weight-loss stalled for a few weeks, I lost the plot. Every single pound I’d dropped went back on in the 18 months that followed. It’s hard to describe the sense of helplessness I felt.

But there was more to come:

2004:  From 244 to 219 lbs…

2005:  From 234 to 218 lbs…

2006:  From 246 to 235 lbs…

2007: From 246 to 242 lbs…

By the time of that pathetic attempt in 2007, I had all but given up hope of losing weight permanently.  I could see that every time I lost weight, I put it back on, and more besides.  I became afraid to try again.  So I didn’t, until…

2013:   Loss of 1 st 8 lbs / 22 lbs / 9.9 kilo

By now I was back up again, at an unbearable and lumbering 18 st 13 lbs / 265 lbs / 120.2 kilo.  I kept my food intake under control for around six months and lost weight slowly, before it all fell apart… again.  And at the age of 53, those surplus pounds felt like a permanent fixture, a metaphorical if not literal millstone around my waist. I was resigned to almost always being the largest person in the room; to worrying if picnic chairs would hold me; to getting out-of-breath when faced with more than a single flight of stairs; to seeing good people, with the best of intentions, begin to treat me as if I were… disabled.

And you can see why they did, can’t you?

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Then, it seemed, the universe threw me a lifeline:

2015/16:  Loss of 5 st / 70 lbs / 31.8 kilo

And quite the lifeline it was. At my heaviest ever, I was introduced through business networking, to a healthy lifestyle coach. I weighed 19 st 4 lbs / 270 lbs / 122.5 kilo. The most powerful impact that working with my coach had was to help change my mindset. For the first time I focused on a holistic healthy lifestyle rather than weight-loss for the sake of it.  I locked into powerful visualisations, focused on what I wanted to gain rather than what I wanted to lose – and what sort of a person I wanted to be. And it worked. In 12 months, I lost 70 lbs, and it felt (and I felt) … amazing.

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Even when the weight-loss stalled, I didn’t actually gain anything, bouncing along in a plateau state for several months. For the first time ever, I believed I had gained some mastery over my capricious fat cells and my chaotic eating habits.

Everything goes well, until it doesn’t

But if the universe had thrown me a lifeline, it seemed it was still possible to drown.

In early 2016 my mother fell ill, dramatically, unexpectedly, and terminally. In the two months during which I cared for her, I lived on healthy snacks, grabbed whenever I could find a moment to myself. I was grateful for the Marks & Spencer Food Shop at the hospital, where I picked up a super-green salad and mini packet of kofte kebabs almost every day. (Yes, there’s a pattern here… when I find a meal that works, I stick to it!) When she came home for her last few weeks, the deli shelves at the M&S store my local filling station became my daily pit-stop.  Whilst everything else seemed to be spinning out-of-kilter, I kept the whole healthy lifestyle business under control (to be fair, sometimes I could barely eat for distress). I even managed a decent walk on days when kind souls offered an hour or two of their time to be with my mother.

Until, that is, she died.

Since that day in May 2017, I’ve managed to undo about half the stellar weight-loss job I did on myself.  In total, between then and March 2018, I regained no less than 37 of those 70 pounds.

Don’t be too hard on yourself,’ everyone has very kindly said. And I was grateful for their empathy and understanding. Emotionally exhausted, weary and sad to my bones, I started out on the process of deconstructing her life and disposing of her things. This has proved to be time-consuming and energy-sapping, and more often than not, very, very hard. I’ve blogged occasionally about it (see here). Whilst it’s been an enormous relief to have my brother working alongside me throughout much of this clear-out, it has been an intensely difficult personal journey too, for many reasons.

I’ve stayed away from sugar though. That was my one consolation as the weight crept back on. I never went back on the sugar. But I let other things back in; if very occasional take-aways weren’t that much of a problem, the 3-for-2 bumper-sized bags of crisps (potato chips) were. Where I didn’t succumb to biscuits and cakes, I did to increasingly more generous and more frequent slabs of cheese and ever larger blobs of butter. My portion sizes grew and my daily walks fell away, always with the excuse that I was ‘too tired’ or that I had ‘too much to do’.  And one by one, the pounds returned – and I returned to my carefully stored bag of big-clothes.

But the universe had one more trick up its sleeve.

In March, I ended up in hospital as a result of what turned out to be an attack of cholecystitis (that’s a big, evil and unbearably painful gallstones problem).  I blogged about it here.

As I wait now to have my gallbladder removed, the guidelines as to what I should and shouldn’t eat, to stave off any potential future attacks, are varied. But whichever way you look at it, they do boil down to an incredibly healthy diet.  From low-fat to no-dairy to small portions; from avoid fatty meat and stay away from fried anything to eat plenty of vegetables – you just can’t argue with it. As spicy foods may have been a trigger for me, I’m avoiding those too.  Add my avoidance of added sugar into the mix and my diet has become, well… a bit dull. However, I’m not complaining, as this dull, healthy diet that has been enforced upon me on pain, literally, of… pain, is helping me to shed those pounds again.  So far, of those 37 lbs I regained, I’ve lost 17 since March. There’s another 20 to go, but that feels within my grasp, now that I’ve recaptured my mojo, and my enthusiasm for health over comfort-eating. And when I’ve re-lost those remaining 20 lbs, I feel positive about staying on-track and chipping away at what remains, which is easily another 30 lbs.

Positive, but not complacent. Not with my track-record.

Onward and upward… or downward

I feel stronger again though. Strangely, with the threat of another crampy gallstones attack hanging over me, it’s not that hard to eat cautiously and modestly. And with the weight-loss – and perhaps too, some distance from my mother’s death – has come a re-gaining of lost energy and the impetus to continue with the exciting process of physical and mental transformation which was taking place two years ago.  I’m taking more care to exercise regularly too.

But I’m under no illusion; I’m a Yo-Yo dieter and that’s my physical and psychological ‘cross-eyed bear’, for life. As soon as my attention goes elsewhere, or I feel the pull of the comfort-food, the weight soars back on. But at my age, I can no longer expect to get away with it. Serious health problems will – for sure – surface, if I don’t keep a lid on my impulses. I must stay the course this time. But to do this, I need to re-connect, vigorously, with the positive healthy lifestyle choices I was making a little over a year ago – and with those massive gains in which I was revelling for those few wonderful months.

I just hope I get a clear run at it now. No more killer blows to the emotional solar-plexus please, for a while at least.

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Yo-Yo is a No-No #yoyo #diet

weigh-689873_1920I’ve been a yo-yo dieter all my life – here’s my story of the ups and downs.  Every time I lost weight, I put more back on.  This perpetual state of failure took me to the point of total despair. I decided a few years ago that I wouldn’t try to diet any more, as I always ended up worse off.  I actually came to fear weight-loss, because of the inevitability of the weight-gain which would follow.  I’m not alone – a survey in 2014 found that 60% of yo-yo dieters will try up to 20 diets in their lifetime.

What changed for me in September 2015, was that I found a way to alter my mental attitudes towards food and health, to make a holistic change to the way I live.  This has underpinned not a successful diet, but a total change of lifestyle which happens to have led to weight-loss; one which I ultimately believe is sustainable in the long-term; and one which carries with it the promise of not regaining that weight, but instead successfully breaking that yo-yo cycle.

So, I read with some interest a few of the articles which have been appearing in the press recently, about a study presented last week at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, which is bad news for the yo-yo dieter.

Yo-yo dieting has long been associated with a range of health issues, including hormone imbalances, arthritis and osteoporosis.  But from this study it appears that yo-yo dieting is harmful in a potentially much more serious way – it harms your heart.

What goes down, comes back up – faster

When you diet, your body thinks it’s being starved.  It will protect itself, as anyone staying on a weight-loss programme for any length of time will tell you, by holding on to those pounds for all it’s worth.  Eventually though, you will lose weight, and your body will get used to functioning at a lower metabolic level. But when the diet ends and normal eating resumes, with this new slower metabolism, you will gain weight rapidly. It’s happened to me, again and again. The last time, I put on a pound a week for over 18 months – I just couldn’t seem to stop it.

Yo-yo dieting is more harmful to the heart than obesity

The AHA study analysed data from over 158,000 women over the age of 50. It found that over 11 years, women of normal weight who confessed to yo-yo dieting more than 4 times in their lives, were 3.5 times more likely to die from a heart attack than women whose weight stayed stable, even if they were obese.

Losing weight, it appears, is all very well, but it’s the regaining weight – which has that yo-yo inevitability about it – that stresses the body, increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure and elevating blood sugar levels. The problems accumulate, as these elevated levels do not fall back down during the next yo-yo cycle, leading to worsening health and elevated risk over time.

And that’s not all…

The articles about this study cover other issues too, including problems with bone density, fertility, skin elasticity, hair condition, gum disease… and possible correlation to some cancers. If you’re a yo-yo dieter, even if you’re not obese, it’s not a pretty picture.

I wasn’t just a yo-yo dieter, I was obese too.  I still am, according to the BMI charts. I came to fear dieting, for the yo-yo factor – and many others will understand that fear. The way to break the cycle is not through the food you eat, or the exercise you do.  Well, it is, but it doesn’t begin there.  Those are just the tactics. The way to break the cycle begins in the mind.

Success starts in your head – that’s where you can learn to tap into your motivation, positivity and resourcefulness.  It’s where you can flick the switches that mean it’s not all about willpower – which eventually fails – but about designing a different view of yourself, and creating a different and compelling vision for your future; one which puts the wind beneath your wings.

I’ll be writing quite a bit more about this in the coming weeks.

Ten Great New Weight Loss Rewards #motivation

swan-293157_1920Milestones come and go. I’ve just said a not-so-fond farewell to another ‘stone’ marker, and I’m heading for a couple more significant milestones in the next few weeks.  But healthy weight-loss rewards in many different ways, not just on the scales.

A short post today, with a few reflections on the things I’ve noticed lately.  Whether you’ve lost a lot of weight or not, I wonder if you identify with the joy I’m getting from any of these.

  • I can cross my legs again
  • I can rest a tray on my lap – yes, my lap has reappeared!
  • I jogged for a total of 9 minutes on my treadmill today – 3 lots of 3 minutes, within an intense hour-long session with my Personal Trainer. It might not seem like much, but it’s 9 minutes longer than I could jog two weeks ago. Along with the rest of the session, it nearly killed me, but even that felt good
  • I can talk about confectionary, desserts, sweet-treats and biscuits without even the slightest hint of longing entering my mind
  • My knees look and feel slimmer – great blobs of fat around them are melting away
  • Bits of my midriff are starting to pull inward – is that actual abs beginning to appear? Wishful thinking, possibly
  • A dozen pretty items of lingerie I haven’t worn for twenty years, yet never had the heart to discard, fit me again. Happily, I had stored them with care
  • I am stronger, physically speaking, than I realised
  • My neckline has totally altered – flatter décolletage, narrower shoulders, fat melting away from my neck, making necklaces hang lower, sit flatter, and look prettier
  • I’m breaking-in a new pair of very tall shoes at home today – it’s lovely feeling and walking taller again, now that my feet and knees can tolerate a few elevated hours.

Once things slow down a little in terms of weekly weight loss, it’s great to be able to draw motivation for continuing the journey, away from the bathroom scales. I know I still have a long way to go, but it’s so, so wonderful to put clothes on, look at yourself in the mirror, and actually feel good about what you see. Having got used to “that’ll do”, I’d forgotten how great it feels to like your reflection – and more than that, appreciate the ways it’s changing.

I know others might look at the same figure and feel disgusted, but it’s all relative, isn’t it?

A Bumpy Ride #weightloss

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I’ve made it to my latest mini-milestone – I finally got to 60 pounds’ weight loss.  But that last four pounds has been very slow to shift. And tough too; a real bumpy ride.

I got to my last mini-milestone (56 pounds/four stone loss) on 1st May.  Thrilled, I re-set my Fitbit goal to the next marker, just four pounds further down the scales, and that enticing round number – 60 pounds. I figured it would take me maybe three weeks, four at the outside, to crush those little babies.

2016-06-17 06.58.08But I’ve been thrown about since then – up a bit, down a bit; tantalisingly close one minute (ten whole days ago!) and then, like a wartime bouncing bomb, soaring back up the scales, out of reach and frustrated beyond all reason. You can see, can’t you?

But yesterday I had reason to break all my usual habits. I had to go into Central London very early to attend a client event. I missed my morning walk.  I missed my usual breakfast. Instead I teetered (high heels, friends) into a branch of Pure in Moorgate and treated myself to a tub of scrambled egg and mushrooms, accompanied by an astoundingly good smoothie made from kale, spinach, avocado, orange, apple and mint. Lunch was laid on – but fifteen platters of sandwiches, rolls and wraps offered scant choice for little low-carb me, so I necked an obscene amount of black coffee instead and breathed through the hunger.  It subsided soon enough. When I got home, I made a giant fresh salad, topped with prawns and chorizo sautéed in coconut oil and garlic.  Happy days.   All this, it seems, was just enough to make that last stubborn pound surrender, and this morning… my scales gave me the best news.

Seven weeks it’s taken. SEVEN. Gah!

Oh, I know. I’ll probably have bounced right back up again after today. But I’m going to bask in my latest success for a few hours longer. I’ve already recalibrated my Fitbit app to the next mini-milestone, just six pounds away (the 30 kilo weight-loss mark, for those of you who work in new money).

I wrote about mini-milestones a while back, and they continue to inspire my progress.  Most of them are between five and ten pounds apart, which means that with a following wind, I get to celebrate (in a non-food kind of a way) every few weeks. When you have a BIG weight-loss goal, in three figures, (mine is somewhere between 100-130 pounds, depending on how I feel when I get a little closer), those mini-milestones are precious indeed.

Tick-tock Tick-tock

doctor-1149150_1920I’m a generally positive person, so when I began my healthier lifestyle journey six months ago, I attached to it a number of positive motivations – like seeing myself slender, in stylish clothes, healthy, active and energetic, being noticed by the sort of man I might like to be noticed by – that sort of stuff.

But the thing that’s most compellingly underpinned my currently successful (so far) attempt at adopting a healthier lifestyle (after so very many failed attempts over the years), is not a positive, but a negative motivation.

Not something I want… but something I don’t want.

I’m in my mid-50’s and people – too many, I fear – within my circle of family, friends and acquaintances, are beginning to succumb to what are known as the diseases of middle age; that’s chronic conditions like high blood pressure, blood clots, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancers, auto-immune conditions, and so on.  (Notice I’m leaving out high cholesterol – that’s because I personally don’t believe that high cholesterol is a disease, or something that needs to be cured.) As somebody in the lower reaches of morbid obesity (BMI over 40), I was in the high risk category for all the above.

I was getting away with it though. I didn’t have any signs of any of those conditions.

Yet.

But the anxiety was growing in me – the time-bomb was ticking ever louder. Eventually (mainly due to episodes which it isn’t necessary to relate here) my anxiety reached the point last summer when I could no longer ignore it. My palpable fear was that I would one day in the not-too-distant future find myself in the doctor’s surgery, being given bad news about one of those diseases of middle age, and realising that I might have avoided said bad news if only I had adopted a healthier lifestyle and taken control of my weight.

Now I’m not stupid. I know I can be greatly reduced in weight and greatly healthier and more active, and any of those diseases could still strike me. But it’s about minimising my risk. And even now, just around one-third of the way to my ultimate goal (no longer morbidly, just plain old obese), my fear has begun to recede. And I know that once I get my weight into the correct zone and my body consistently more active and in better condition, I’ll be able to stop feeling guilty of the simple sin of failing to take proper care of myself.

 

Giant Weight Loss Goals Need Many Mini Milestones

Endless road

My BIG total weight loss goal is a somewhat overwhelming 123lbs, or 55.8 kilo. It’s not even alright if you say it fast. But it is what it is. I may get there. If I get even half way, I’ll be putting out the bunting. (In truth, having waved a not-so-fond farewell to 40 lbs since September I’m almost at the one-third mark and there is already cause for celebration.)

At the moment though, I’m psyched up and going for the whole nine yards.

But with so much weight to lose, that end goal is a long way away. Whilst it demands to be acknowledged, it’s hard, after a lifetime of yoyo dieting, to cheerily own it, as if all I have to do is visualise myself in that spray-on party dress, micro-bikini (bikinis at 55 – maybe not) or oh-so-chic tailoring, and it will be so. I’m all for positive thinking but I’ve fought this fight a few times already and I know it’s going to need more than that.

With the big goal so… big… what I need to keep me going is a set of interim goals or mini milestones which give me regular opportunities to acknowledge my progress and honour my success-to-date.

And I’ve become an expert at finding those mini milestones.

So… if you’re looking for interim markers along the way to a big weight-loss goal, let me suggest a few.

  1. Whether you weigh yourself in stones and pounds or pounds alone, or kilos, all three options are entirely legitimate when you’re looking for those weight-loss milestones. (For my USA readers, a stone is 14lbs.) So for starters you can look for nice round weight-loss numbers in all three units of measurement, for example:

First 10 lbs lost… and all subsequent 10 lbs… 20, 30, 40, etc…

First 10 kilos lost… and all subsequent 10 kilo markers… 20, 30, etc…

First stone lost… and (you guessed it) every subsequent stone… (For those of us in the UK who measure in stones, waving goodbye to a stone is A Big Thing.)

  1. Next, you can calculate your current weight in all three units of measurement, and you have a whole new set of ‘big’ round numbers for your milestones list:

Achieving (or passing through) a stones marker… 17, 16, 15 stone, etc…

Achieving (or passing through) a big round pounds marker… 240, 230, 220 lbs, etc…

Achieving (or passing through), yes, a big round kilos marker… 120, 110, 100 kilos, etc…

  1. If you know where you started, you then have another set of really great mini milestones – the percentage of your original weight that you’ve lost. Much has been written about the many health benefits of losing 10% of your body weight, from wherever you begin – so that’s a great one to celebrate.  But on a big weight-loss journey why not mark 15%, or 20% too?
  1. Lastly there’s BMI (Body Mass Index). The big markers are 40 (above which the medics and insurance companies label you morbidly obese), 30 (above which you’re plain obese), then 25 (above which you’re still overweight but at least no longer that dreadful word… obese). Once you get to below 25 you are, joy of joys, a normal/healthy weight – a cause for much insane (but please, self-controlled) celebration. Though it has its shortcomings, BMI is a generally useful measure, reflecting both your height and weight, although not (which is more relevant to a body builder or a rugby player than an overweight middle-aged woman) muscle mass. If you want to work out your BMI, and you’re not a body builder or a rugby player, search for a ‘BMI Calculator’ on Google.

Here’s a segment of my well-populated list of milestones, to give you an idea of the almost limitless possibilities:

Starting weight:                      270 lbs / 19 st 4 lbs / 122.47 kilo

Farewell to 19 stone:             265 lbs / 18 st 13 lbs / 120.20 kilo

Under 120 kilo:                       264 lbs / 18 st 12 lbs / 119.75 kilo

260 lbs / 10 lbs lost:               260 lbs / 18 st 8 lbs / 117.93 kilo

1 stone lost:                            256 lbs / 18 st 4 lbs / 116.12 kilo

Farewell to 18 stone:             251 lbs / 17 st 13 lbs / 113.85 kilo

250 lbs / 20 lbs lost:               250 lbs / 17 st 12 lbs / 113.40 kilo

10 kilo lost:                             248 lbs / 17 st 10 lbs / 112.47 kilo

10% loss (27 lbs):                   243 lbs / 17 st 5 lbs / 110.22 kilo

Under 110 kilo:                       242 lbs / 17 st 4 lbs / 109.77 kilo

2 stone lost:                            242 lbs / 17 st 4 lbs / 109.77 kilo

240 lbs / 30 lbs lost:               240 lbs / 17 st 2 lbs / 108.86 kilo

Farewell to 17 stone:             237 lbs / 16 st 13 lbs / 107.50 kilo

BMI Below 40:                        232 lbs / 16 st 8 lbs / 105.23 kilo

230 lbs / 40 lbs lost:               230 lbs / 16 st 8 lbs / 105.23 kilo

15% loss (41 lbs):                   229 lbs / 16 st 5 lbs / 103.87 kilo

3 stone lost:                            228 lbs / 16 st 4 lbs / 103.41 kilo

20 kilo lost:                             226 lbs / 16 st 2 lbs / 102.47 kilo

Farewell to 16 stone:             223 lbs / 15 st 13 lbs / 101.15 kilo

Under 100 kilo:                       220 lbs / 15 st 10 lbs / 99.79 kilo

220 lbs / 50 lbs lost:               220 lbs / 15 st 10 lbs / 99.79 kilo…

And so on… you get the picture.

I’m quite visual about these things, and I think it’s great to have your mini milestones printed out and put up somewhere, perhaps in your own private space. It’s a good feeling to score a line through another, and another, on your journey downwards.

I don’t make a big song-and-dance about every single mini milestone on my list and in any case you’ll have noticed that here and there, one milestone sits right on top of another. I’m hopeless with kilos too – I’m a stones and pounds girl – but I think even I will acknowledge slipping below 100 kilos. The key milestones for me have been the stones lost, the round pounds lost, the 10% and then 15% weight loss (I’m teetering on the edge of that one right now), and, best of all, falling beneath that morbid BMI 40 marker. I’m also seriously focused on the big round 50 lbs loss figure (which sits right on top of the equally significant under 100 kilo milestone for me) – mainly because I’ve never managed to lose more than 49 lbs in any past weight management campaign, even though I’ve needed to.

These mini milestones are quantitative and weight related. There are many other more qualitative ways to acknowledge progress towards a healthier weight. I might share some of mine in another post sometime. Meantime, I’d love to hear if you have any special mini milestones, weight related or otherwise.