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

2018-05-09 17.11.06

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

2018-05-09 17.12.28

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?

Screenshot 2016-03-28 11.22.46 copy

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.

2016-11-23-09-31-45.jpg

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 2017 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.

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.

The Ups and Downs of a YoYo Dieter #yo-yo

potato-chips-448737_1920You might be wondering how it’s possible for a woman – educated, intelligent and with a healthy understanding of the tenets of good nutrition – to get to 270lb (that’s a fulsome 19 stone, UK). Indeed, I wonder myself sometimes. I watch those programmes on TV featuring overweight people trying to lose the pounds, and invariably they’re shown gorging on triple servings of hamburgers, kebabs and curries, or piles of donuts and chocolate, indulging in midnight fridge raids or slurping gallons of full-fat cola or beer. And that’s just not me. At least, I don’t think it is.

So how did it happen?

As a child I was not without what they politely used to call puppy fat, though it probably wouldn’t even be remarked upon today.  Even then I had a weakness for savouries, and would buy two or three bags of crisps (that would be potato chips for Stateside readers) each day from the school tuck-shop and chomp the lot at break-time. But I got lots of exercise to mitigate this greed. I would walk 1½ miles a day on my journey to school. I enjoyed ice skating and swimming at the weekends, and judo, rounders and netball within school hours; I tolerated tennis in the summer but I hated hockey in the winter as my chubby thighs would chafe in coarse woollen shorts.  But if a little podgy here and there, I was nonetheless fit and in robust health.

The puppy fat fell away when I discovered… boys. Now, that’s motivation.  My first serious boyfriend was a skinny youth and call me precious, but I didn’t think a girl should weigh more than her boyfriend.  The year I spent with this guy was a constant struggle to stay below 126lb (9 stone). I’ve not been close to that magic figure in the 38 years since then.

A few years later, happily engaged to be married, my weight had crept up to 154lb (11 stone) – a by-product of Friday and Saturday evening drinking, cheap takeaways on-the-run and having acquired a motorcycle, which swiftly overtook my legs as the preferred mode of transportation. I took myself off to Weightwatchers and shook off 22lb in preparation for the Big Day, earning myself a Lifetime membership in the process. Weightwatchers clearly knew something I didn’t yet realise about the life of a yo-yo dieter. I’d reached 132lb (around 9½ stone).  At that weight today I’d be beyond triumphant, but back then it felt like defeat, that I couldn’t make it all the way to 9 stone. And even that didn’t last; looking back at the pictures, I was probably was already close to 140lb (10 stone) by the time I walked down the aisle.

Over the next few contented married years, the weight went back on, and a quite a bit more besides. I passed through 168lb (12 stone). I remember going on a holiday to Devon, booking on a pony trekking day and wondering if the horse would have the strength to carry me. Back in the mid-1980’s, 12 stone felt… massive.  But I still managed to put on at least another 28lb over the next three years – I think I got to 14 stone and something. I was cooking hearty entry-level supper meals for both of us, but consuming much the same in portion size as my husband. He was in a very physically active job and though I still swam at weekends and walked a little, I was desk-bound for work. That’s a recipe for laying down the fat, but I hardly even realised what I was doing. Relaxed and secure, I had let down my guard – and the climb through the pounds and stones was steady but relentless.

By 1988 things had changed. With divorce looming and my soon to be ex-husband and I sharing our house yet trying to live considerate separate lives whilst it sold, the weight once again fell away. Not wanting to spend time at home, for several months I rarely ate a decent sit-down meal; I filled time swimming and playing squash. Afraid that I would drink too much in this unsettling period, I gave up alcohol altogether for a while. Stress aggravated my digestive system too. This was all the silver lining to the cloud of marital breakdown. Unintended it may have been, all told, I lost 56lb (4 stone). I remember watching the faces of the men at work change, and enjoying their attention, as my body changed shape. As I emerged from my marriage, it was as if I were shedding a skin. At 28 years old, I looked the best I’d ever looked and it was an exciting time as a result. I joined a gym for something to fill my single-girl spare-time, and spent several evenings a week maintaining my new shape – even dating my personal trainer for a while. I bought a bicycle and tested myself on the London to Brighton Bike Ride. I’d done no training but I took it slowly and made it in one piece.

Christmas 1987
Christmas 1987. Dressed, I think, in tin-foil
What a difference a year makes: Christmas 1988
What a difference a year makes: Christmas 1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But it didn’t last. Over the next decade or so, my weight crept slowly, slowly upward again. Work and career became more intense and evenings at the gym more intermittent as a result. For the first time in years, I didn’t have a regular squash partner, and a succession of short-lived relationships had left me jaded. I don’t remember much about this time, except that it was tense, unsettling and not particularly happy. Work was challenging and stressful and I suffered panic attacks. I would drive for hours to visit clients, snacking on a passenger-seat full of crisps, chocolate bars and shrink-wrapped sandwiches. I developed a MacDonald’s breakfast habit and a KFC lunch habit. That was all bad, and I cannot hide from it.

But the truth is, even without those bad habits, you don’t have to eat that much over and above your daily requirement for the excess pounds to show up, slowly and steadily, and latch on tight.  This time it took the whole decade, but I reached 225lb (16 stone).

In 2001 the double-whammy of a seriously toxic relationship and a second redundancy put me in a shit-or-bust frame of mind. I wanted to start working for myself, and I was determined not to be caught out by another low-life. Bearing my gold Lifetime Membership card, I reintroduced myself to Weightwatchers. Things fell into place with the Points system and over 6 months, I lost 50lb (3½ stone). I joined the gym again, showing up three mornings a week at 6:30am and twice at the weekends. This time it was not happy accident but relentless determination – and it paid off.

But… but… but… as soon as I took my eye off the ball, the weight surged back on again. And just like every time before, more went on than had come off. This time, already in my 40’s, it seemed to happen so fast. I shed a stone or so following a Jason Vale Juicing Retreat in 2006, but I couldn’t sustain the success. By 2007 I was doing battle with the menopause too. It was like slamming into a brick wall. Fatigued, I struggled to motivate myself to do any exercise at all. My eating patterns became lazy – Chinese take-aways, poke-and-ping meals, quick-fix junk food and stuff-on-toast – for months on end. The result was predictable; despite a few feeble attempts at weight loss with Atkins, juicing and raw food, a too rapid climb to my highest ever weight – 270lb (19 stone).

To be honest, I thought it would be worse. I’d expected 20 stone when I finally braved the scales. I hadn’t weighed myself for a year and the last time I’d jumped on the scales I’d seen that same figure. That it hadn’t risen in 12 months was, bizarrely, excellent news!

That’s how I got to 270lb. On the way, I’ve lost close to 200lb and put on probably half as much again. I actually got scared of dieting, because each time, I put more weight back on. I cannot afford for that to happen again this time. Already in morbid obesity territory at 270lb, any more than that would surely be tantamount to suicide.

So this time, I’m taking a different approach. This time it’s all about healthy lifestyle, not dieting. I don’t know if it will work, but I’ve been at it for a few months now and with 35lb already shifted, I think it stands a good chance of being sustainable. I am actually enjoying the changes rather than suffering them. Maybe… just maybe this different mind-set will see me through.