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? 

On getting away with it

diabetes-528678_1920Several people in my circle and my general age-bracket, are in a poor or deteriorating state of health at present. There’s cancer, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, a stomach ulcer, the after effects of blood clots, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart disease. I don’t have an enormous circle of friends and acquaintances, and that’s a lot of un-wellness; a combination of the diseases of middle-age, auto-immune conditions and the impact – physical, psychological and emotional – of modern living.

And that means… stress.

Stress brings with it a heavy payload of physical and psychological symptoms (just Google ‘stress symptoms’ and check out some of the lists). But chronic stress also opens the door for some far more serious conditions and diseases to enter. Who knows whether it actually causes them, but it certainly makes you more vulnerable.

Stress is about helplessness and feeling out of control.  It’s not, as some people assume, about having too much to do.  It’s far more about the feeling that, for whatever reason, you can’t cope with what you have to do or deal with. It’s about feeling ineffective, pushed around by others, powerless to influence your circumstances, or spiralling into some kind of a hole that you don’t feel able to climb out of.

Stress… actually weighs you down

Interestingly, stress is also an inhibitor to weight loss, as cortisol, the hormone produced in circumstances of stress, causes the body to hold on to its fat stores. The more chronic your stress, the harder it becomes to lose weight. And of course, the harder it is to lose weight, the more out of control the overweight person will feel. It’s one of those cruel vicious circles of life.

A contributor, for sure, to my yo-yo-ing weight and its gradual upward trajectory over the years, was the level of stress I lived with, mostly through the sort of work I used to do (which was wrong for me in many ways, but well-paid, so I pushed myself onward), and occasionally in bad relationships and their fallout too.  Divorce, financial pressures, unsatisfactory living arrangements, poor relationship decisions, work related anxiety including two redundancies and striking out as a solo-preneur, a problematic menopause, and a constant, gnawing sense of being not quite good enough at everything I tried to do. All these things contributed to a fluctuating but ever-present level of stress throughout my thirties and forties and right through until a couple of years ago. And all the while the weight piled on.

Until such point as it was no longer a product of stress, but one of its causes.

Fat stresses

Yes, fat itself became the stressor.  Here’s how it gets you: You stress about what people are really thinking of you. You see a bucket chair in a cosy coffee bar or gastro pub and wonder if you’ll be able to squeeze into it.  You see a different kind of chair in a school assembly hall, at the end-of-year stage production starring your young nephews, and wonder whether it will hold your weight for a whole two hours.  You worry about getting too hot or sweaty when you go out somewhere, to meet clients or be social. Wherever you go, you worry you’ll be the fattest person in the room.  You stress about being out of control, about your excess weight being so overwhelming that you’ll never feel normal again. You stress about never having something comfortable or stylish to wear for an important event. You become acutely aware of heaving yourself about, hoping others will not notice the effort.  When your well-meaning friends ask kindly if you’re OK to walk a few steps, or climb to the second or third floor, and you realise they think you’re almost disabled, you stress about it. You stress about weight limits on fitness equipment and spa facilities, because you exceed them.  And that’s just where it starts…

Health anxiety

This is the next layer of fat-stress. Health anxiety, or hypochondria, is a fearful thing.  Health anxiety surfaced for me as the menopause kicked in, and a confusion of symptoms became very unsettling. Beneath my intellectual appreciation that I was immersed in the time-of-life experience, lay an occasionally paralysing fear – because I was fat – that there was somehow something far more serious going on, that I had brought upon myself by being overweight. The sense of impending doom I would eventually learn to manage as I tried to calm my palpitating heart in the wee small hours, was frequently overwhelming. I called an ambulance on two occasions (and nearly called them on a dozen more) and once spent the whole night in A&E wired up to heart monitors as stress and anxiety exacerbated those all-natural hormonal misbehaviours.

Statistically speaking

And health anxiety isn’t just an internal thing – it’s fed by the media, in their pursuit of emotionally-charged headlines. The voices of statistical authority would have me believe that my excess weight (well over 100 surplus pounds when I started this healthy lifestyle thing last September) made – still makes – me a candidate for all manner of disease, including most of the conditions my circle of friends and acquaintances are suffering.  Obesity, so say the statistics, puts me at significantly elevated risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer of numerous kinds, high blood pressure, high cholesterol (whatever the implications of this are supposed to be) and diabetes – and that’s just for starters.  Add osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and asthma, gout, gallstones and fatty liver disease. Oh, and anxiety and depression too.

All in all, it’s a misery-laden feast, particularly if you’re inclined to let scary headlines get under your skin.

A matter of time

But despite those 100 or more excess pounds, I’m one of the fortunate overweighties not eating at this misery-laden table.  I wasn’t at 270 pounds, and I’m still not at 207 pounds either. In fact, notwithstanding the 50 pounds or so of excess weight I still have to get rid of, and the anxieties related to my state-of-weight that I carried for years, my health is very good. I’m through the menopause (hurrah!) so I’m even feeling like an actual human being again, no longer screaming at the universe whilst sweating from every pore.  As I shed my surplus tonnage, I’m getting fitter and healthier by the day.

Believe me when I say I’m not in the least bit smug about my current state of health and wellness. And things could always change, I know this; I’m only 56 years old after all. But at the moment I suffer none of the ailments that should, if the statistics are to be believed, be my misfortune.

I changed my lifestyle last September because I finally acknowledged I was getting away with it.  The slew of disabling and depressing ailments within my circle of friends and acquaintances had made me realise this, and want – at long last – to do whatever I could to avoid these conditions becoming part of my lot in life.

I know no amount of healthy living can guarantee this, but common sense tells me that it must help, to manage my weight better, eat more healthily, improve the state of my heart, lungs and circulation, and exercise regularly.  I just finally got to the point where the push to do something was greater than the pull of the sofa, the packets of crisps and the ready-meals.

Now my stress level has dropped to a record low. I’m handling work better as my brain is more alert and I no longer suffer the 3pm slump. I am calmer, more relaxed, less easily provoked to irritation. I have energy to enjoy more social activities. I have self-respect again. What little disquiet as I may occasionally feel, as anyone does, is counterbalanced by a growing sense of confidence and wellbeing which has come from looking better and feeling healthier and knowing that at long last, I’m doing right by myself.