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Posts Tagged ‘weight-loss plateau’

I’m in the middle of all of my feelings about weight-loss, and I don’t have a clear sense of direction anymore. For a long time, I was very strict with my food consumption and exercise, and it worked very well. It is doable, but also challenging to be so rigid. It was especially hard to live in an environment where everyone else was not attempting the same transformation. It took constant vigilance and massive shifts in how I lived. I did it for a long time, and then I got fatigued. Or maybe I just got engaged. But about 15 months into the process, I started losing steam. And another 15 months later, I haven’t picked it up again.

I have written before about how I am gaining and losing the same two pounds. So I have figured out how to maintain a certain weight, which is great. Except that my weight is still higher than I want it to be, higher than is healthy. I am not done yet. But I am having such a hard time finding the motivation to get done that which is left for me to do.

I like being closer to normal – being able to have a drink every so often (we’re talking once every 2-3 weeks here) or just a bite of someone’s dessert. Not freaking out if I end up in a situation where the food is less than stellar – just making the best choice I can and letting it go. Even having a couple of days (cough…Thanksgiving) where I just ate what I wanted. It feels good to not hold on to myself SO tightly all the time. I had this iron grip on myself for a really long time, and releasing that grip a little, giving myself some space to breathe is such a welcome change, such a relief that I don’t want to give it up.

But I still want to lose weight. So now I am trying to feel my way towards a different – or at least, altered – method. I haven’t figured it out yet. I know it involves all the same habits that have made me successful in the past: eating real food and avoiding processed foods, focusing on vegetables, fruit and lean protein, cutting out sugar and refined carbs (because my body just can’t handle them), exercising. I’m hoping that it can also mean being gentler with myself in this process, and finding more ways to have fun with it.

I’m working on it.

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The owner of the gym my trainer uses (where I train with her) is a muscle bound man – the kind who used to do muscle building competitions. He is intimidating, although he has always been kind to me. He doesn’t seem like he’s paying attention to us, but apparently he is because he mentioned me to my trainer the other day, saying how incredibly hard I worked out. He said I was so fit and I worked out so hard that I should have the best body in the whole gym. So he wanted to ask my trainer, what was going on?

Indeed. What is going on? I am sliding into the fourth month of the second year of oscillating in the same five-pound range without losing any actual weight. Why?

Well, for one thing, because I eat what I feel like a lot more than I used to. And while what I feel like eating is very different than it used to be, it is still not as clean as it could be, as it needs to be. For example, while I no longer eat cupcakes or similar sweets, I feel free to eat treats made without sugar, flour or butter (aka with maple syrup, coconut flour and coconut butter). It’s better for me, yes. But it’s still a treat. So when I have say, five muffins, because I’ve made them for a party so I tested one and then I got to the party and just lost all semblance of reasonableness, it’s no longer good for me. In fact, it’s a return to my old habits of compulsive eating. And clearly, that does not help with weight loss.

So why do I do this? I am acting like I don’t think I can lose the weight or like I don’t want to. And there is truth in both of these statements. Because I really can’t lose the weight if I don’t want to – I’ll just keep sabotaging myself – and some part of me must not – does not want to.

Truthfully, I can’t imagine being truly, like, flat-stomach thin. I don’t know what it would be like to move in the world that way, how I would feel. I have a long history of being afraid of change and the unknown. Often, I avoid them both (even though I am also drawn to them both). So it makes sense that I would get to a point of losing weight and then not feel comfortable losing more.

I am not content to stay as I am though. There are still lessons for me to learn about my relationship with food. If it were truly healthy, I would not eat five muffins at a party. I would be better able to recognize when I’m hungry and when I’m full. And then there’s the health element: it’s not healthy for me to carry this weight around my middle, and I don’t want to. Also, I don’t want to stop here. I started this thing, and I want to see it through. To prove to myself I can.

So now I just have to take a hard look at what it will take and what I’m willing to do to get there. Knowing that someone else – especially someone I’m not close to – has noticed this too is motivating. I think because it gives me fresh eyes on something I know but have been pretending not to see.

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I am in a place of great frustration. I am not losing weight, even though I am working hard to do so.

After months of being unfocused, I have gotten back down to business: I am working out hard; I am eating well. I have cut out the little delicious cheats that sustained my food addictive ways for so long. No more dark chocolate, no more macaroons made only of coconut and cacao, no more Lara and Kind bars as just for fun snacks, no more cheating and pretending I’m not. And it’s really hard for me.

So I am also doing the work of considering why it’s so difficult for me to stop snacking for fun. I am looking at the compulsions behind my eating habits. For the first time in my life, I’m really understanding how little my eating has to do with when I am or am not hungry. I like to eat so much that I do it whenever I can. In the past two years, I’ve switched to healthier, real food, and it has made a massive difference in my life. But it has not changed the fact that I most often eat because I feel like being comforted, distracted, and entertained. Now it’s just that apples or (until recently) dark chocolate distract me. I am finally starting to pay attention to my hunger level, and if I’m not hungry, stopping long enough to question why I want to eat something.

In the meantime, I am working out so hard. My trainer has redoubled her and my efforts, and once again, my workouts leave me covered in lakes of sweat, often feeling nauseous from the levels of exertion. I am strong, and now I am breaking through to get stronger.

I am doing everything the way I should, and every day it is work. Every day, I am choosing not to eat the desserts that are presented, to join my friends for Mexican food and not drink the margaritas or eat the chips or anything else not healthy, to buy as much produce from the farmer’s market as I have cash for and to cook and eat it (or eat it when my husband has cooked it), to work out daily, hard.

And nothing’s changing. It has been three weeks. Three weeks since I stepped on the scale and saw that my little slips and lax ways had caused my weight to jump up a couple more pounds, making me 10 pounds heavier than my lowest weight. Enough to rattle me into action. In three weeks, I should have lost between 4-6 pounds. Instead I have lost 1. It was 1.5, but I stepped on the scale this morning, and for reasons I can’t explain, my weight went back up.

I know I just have to keep doing it. I know it will work eventually. But it frustrates me that it’s not working better despite how much work I’m putting in. Also it frustrates me to be this focused on numbers when I want to focus on a healthy life. But I don’t know how to do that without the numbers because when I stopped paying attention to them before, I stopped paying attention in a lot of other ways too. And right now, I really don’t feel like I have all the answers I once thought I did.

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It’s like I’m on a merry-go-round, although there’s not much merry about it. Every week it’s the same conversation; I have settled so firmly onto this plateau that it feels like I should be building a permanent camp. But I don’t want stay here. Obviously.

The goal is to be losing weight here. Consistently. But I’ve gotten back into the same cycle I experienced for years doing Weight Watchers and other diet plans: lose a little, gain it back, lose it, gain it back, lose it gain it back, and on and on, so that I effectively stay at the same weight over months of work. It’s very frustrating, and it’s all my doing.

I learned – finally – the solution to this problem, the way to break out of this cycle, when I started working with my trainer. And it’s this: I have to be hardcore. There is no dicking around. There’s none of this “Well just one little cupcake won’t hurt” crap. Because it does hurt. It effectively stops my weight loss. I know this truth, and I’ve been ignoring it. I’ve slid into what is more comfortable and what is easier. My eye is still on the prize, but it’s also looking around at a lot of other stuff. I am not focused. And focus is necessary.

It may seem harsh, and it may seem excessive, but the truth of losing a significant amount of weight is this: there can be no deviation from the plan.

After another weekend day of being distracted and eating things I shouldn’t, I looked at my weight again, and I looked at my history for these past months. I’m not happy with either. And only I have the power to change what’s happening and how I feel about it. I am not in an easy season of my life (cough…wedding planning) for extreme focus. But I also have a good reason to make the space for that focus and work (cough…wedding dress). So I’ve started saying it to myself: hardcore.

As I go through my day: hardcore.
As I pick my meals: hardcore.
As I exercise: hardcore.

I need this mantra. Because it’s easy to forget and to get distracted. But I care more about myself than these distractions. So I ask myself these questions: How much do I want it? What am I willing to do to get it, to care for myself? And I tell myself the answer: Hardcore.

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Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

I have asked myself this question many times in life, and while I might have had an inkling of the truth deep down inside, I buried that knowing under a lot of protestations and reasoning. For many years, I tried to lose weight and failed, and I threw my hands up in the air in despair over how it could be that all that hard work didn’t get more results.

Here’s the hard truth: It wasn’t enough hard work.

I see that now. I put in a LOT of work for my health, and currently, I maintain weight instead of losing it. I work out six days a week, and my workouts are always intensive. Two of those workouts are ass-kicking, nausea-induced-from-effort personal training sessions that, along with my cardio warm-up, take more than 1.5 hours. On top of that, I consume no sugar, red meat, fried foods, cheese, or processed foods. I consume very few refined carbohydrates, and the only dairy I eat is nonfat plain Greek yogurt. I have maybe one drink a month. And with all of this work, I can maintain the same weight. Not lose. Maintain. What I am doing right now is not enough focused effort to actually lose weight. Because I cheat a little bit – just a little. I eat more dates and prunes and nuts than I need. I have a real weakness for bread, which I will sometimes indulge in the form of half a roll or slice at a restaurant. I eat still for entertainment or to relieve stress sometimes. It’s not much, but it’s enough.

I’ve been running this experiment with myself for many months now, because I clearly needed to prove to myself that, actually, it all matters. All the little cheats and treats, they really do make a difference. And if I could go back in time, this is what I would say to my 19-33-year-old self…

This is why you’re not losing weight:

*All those little bites, they actually do count. While it’s true that “just one bite” really won’t hurt, that actually means just one bite – one time (or at least, very infrequently). Just having a bite of dessert every time it comes around, just having a taste of every cupcake that’s brought into the office, just having a few fries whenever a friend has them on her plate – that’s actually more than just one time. It adds up to a lot of times. And once you can count on more than one hand the number of times you’ve just had a bite in the past month, you are not longer doing it right.

*In the same vein, all those cheats also count. Yes, you probably can have a cheat meal once a week. But that’s one meal, once, and it can’t be an all-out gorge-fest. If your one meal is a whole pizza washed down by a bottle of wine and rounded out with a pint of ice cream, then you’re no longer indulging a little bit, you’re sabotaging. A meal should not contain more than a day’s – or several day’s – worth of calories. And one meal does mean one meal. Not one day. Not parts of three to five different meals. You should be able to easily remember the times you’ve strayed from healthy eating because you do it so infrequently. Once you start doing it frequently, you’re not going to lose weight anymore.

*Good food in large quantities is still large quantities of food. Obviously it’s healthier to eat a rice cake with some all-natural peanut butter on it than it is to eat a Reese’s peanut butter cup, but if you’re eating a whole bag of rice cakes slathered in peanut butter, you’re still eating a whole lot of food you don’t need. Giant bowls of granola and cereal, all of the trail mix, five slices of toast… all of these also count as Way Too Much of a Good Thing.

*Seriously, it all counts. All of it. Really. The margin of error is not large. That doesn’t mean you can never have chocolate again or never eat another indulgent meal, but it does mean you shouldn’t be sitting down with a whole chocolate bar ever, and those big fancy meals need to be actual special occasions (meaning: rare). Just because you say you’re on a diet and the days that it’s easier you mostly stick to that diet doesn’t mean you’re going to lose any weight. Saying it and doing it are not the same thing. You have to live it.

Which is why it should never be a diet. It has to be a way of life. It has to go down deep because how you feel and what you think will ultimately guide your success. If making a healthy change doesn’t mean more to you than eating a treat, it will never work. This isn’t something you can pay lip service too. You have to want it fundamentally, for reasons that are about yourself and your own needs. Because if it’s about pleasing someone else, or fitting a cultural ideal, then it’s not really about you. And if it’s not about you, it won’t have true meaning, and you won’t care enough. You have to care about caring for yourself more than all the noise, so that you can honor that choice in every decision, all day, every day.

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So no wheat and no corn. That’s what I’ve got going on this week.

I am beginning day 4 of it today, and it’s actually going fine so far. It’s pretty annoying not to get to eat tacos (corn tortillas), which are currently, along with hummus, probably my favorite food. But otherwise, it’s all right. I have had to really focus on my diet and also simplify it, and I’m glad for that because it’s what I’ve really needed to do.

I’ve mentioned the 6-month plateau of my own making before, and I am finally, truly tired of it. It got to the point where I was more interested in getting to have a little bite of something than I was in making sure I lost 1-2 pounds for the week. Of course, I wanted to lose the weight, but just not as much as I wanted to eat the piece of bread at dinner. I am a slow learner, so it has taken me this many months to get to the point of thinking, “Oh, you know what, that actually works exactly the way it seems like it will: I eat that, and I don’t lose weight. I don’t lose weight one week; I don’t change what I’m doing, and guess what? I still don’t lose weight the next week!” This is all very obvious information – that I have stubbornly been proving to myself the hard way.

I’m finally done with proving this point to myself.  I still have more weight I want to lose, and to get it done, I’m going to have to put my shoulder to the wheel, and really dig in.

I had dinner with a dear friend last night, who has been incredibly supportive of this journey I’m on. I was telling her about my challenges (over tofu soup – just vegetables and tofu, yo!), and she asked why I didn’t just stop. “You look fucking fabulous; you’ve done amazing work. I mean, why not just… be done?” It’s a fair question and one I’ve thought myself. I’ve lost almost 60 pounds, and I’ve embraced a much healthier lifestyle – why not just call that good enough? I’ve actually, with my six month plateau, kind of flirted with that idea.

But here the thing (and it’s what I pointed out to my friend): I’m still carrying probably 20 pounds of extra weight around my belly. And this is a terrible place to carry excess weight because it specifically increases health risks. Having belly fat puts me at greater risk for heart disease, cancer, and just generally premature death. So it has to go. Because I’m not 25 anymore, and I still want to live a really long time.

So as much as I find it annoying to only be able to eat special rice bread bought from Whole Foods or quinoa if I want carbs, it has been good for me to really get focused again. As hard as it is to do, as much as it takes my time and energy, this is something I really want. I want it for myself, for my health and for my life. Sure, I’m cool with the idea of looking really hot and being able to wear whatever awesome clothes I want, but what really matters is me, how good I feel and how healthy and strong I am.

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I don’t like sending my trainer my food logs like I am supposed to. I know it’s important to do, and I know it helps my weight-loss. But it means being fully accountable, and I don’t like that either.

I am a consummate food cheater (even though I am honest to a fault in other parts of my life). But with food, I will sneak and hide and do whatever I can to get what I want. This is why Weight Watchers, which I believe is a good program, never worked for me. They have a solid system, but it is a system I learned to game. I discovered all the low-points-value sweets there are, and I used that knowledge to continue eating more sweets than anything else. It’s easy to see how my weight-loss might stall when I was still finding a way to have three to four desserts in a day. It’s even easier to see how it would stall (in retrospect of course), when I take into account all the non-counted nibbles I snuck.

The nibbles have made their way back into my life again. After a year and change of eating in an entirely different fashion, I have fallen back into the habit of having just a bite of something. Now (as opposed to then), I really mean it when I say “just a bite”; I really don’t want more. But the truth is I’m not supposed to have any. My eating habits now have helped me lose weight successfully in part because they are so strict. There are no work-arounds, just hard truths. Someone brought cake to work? I don’t eat sugar, so I don’t have the cake. End of story. The just a bite opens up a book that should be closed.

It’s like a peek, and it’s one that’s easy to take because it has a draw towards inclusion. It is annoying and tiring to constantly be left out of ways of eating. Of course, I know it is not productive to think of it as being left out, and when I’m doing well, I am able to see it as making choices that are better for me. But some days it just feels like I don’t get to eat the really yummy food everyone else is eating. Actually, it feels like that a lot of days and has for awhile now. I could say that it’s only because of that special event or this exception, but that’s the fallacy of special occasions at play. The truth is I have been susceptible to the sneak bite, the peek, the slip since spring. I have been wrestling with it all this time, and enough months have accumulated now to make it very obvious that it’s not just an occasion; it’s not an exception; it’s a pattern.

I don’t know if it was fatigue (after 10 months of living differently) or the big changes happening in my life (I got engaged in that same time period) or if it was something else I’m not yet aware of, but following my chosen path became harder. And it still is. And I don’t want to look at it. So of course I don’t want to be specific and accountable. Of course, I don’t want to tell of every morsel that has entered my mouth. I know what that truth looks like: still worlds better than how I ate two years ago but also several neighborhoods away from where I need to be.

And it shows. My weight loss has stagnated in this time. I will work very hard to avoid admitting this truth, but it’s there and plain to see: In over 5 months, I have lost just about 5 pounds. On a good day. On a bad day, that scale number starts creeping back up to where I was in May again. I can avoid this reality by focusing on what I have accomplished, how much weight I have lost: 57 pounds. It’s a lot, and it makes a huge difference that I see and enjoy. I’m resting on those laurels a bit. Coasting some. There are also all my strength and cardio gains. I may be in the best shape of my life right now; I’m certainly in the best shape I’ve been in since high school, and if I was in better shape then, it was largely by accident and the happy circumstance of youth. I continue to work hard at my fitness, and it is something I’m so proud of.

So I look at my muscles and my endurance, at the number 57, at the clothing sizes I haven’t worn since college, and I continue on my way. I exercise, and I eat mostly really well. Except in the corners. Except the little exceptions. I tell myself it’s not a big deal, but the truth is, it’s enough to grind the whole process to a halt.

I sent my trainer my food log for the past two days. They looked like this:

Monday
breakfast
pc of Ezekiel bread
pc of chicken breast
post-work out snack
about 12 almonds
second breakfast
nonfat Greek yogurt with cinnamon and an apple
black coffee
lunch
salad with chicken, black beans, lettuce, and tomato salsa
a corn tortilla
iced tea (unsweetened, obvs)
snack
another apple
supper
delicious, beautiful salmon made by Stephen (had some kind of soy-mustard glaze on it)
roasted vegetable medley including sweet potatoes, parsnips, Brussel sprouts and zucchini

Tuesday
breakfast
pc of Ezekiel bread
nonfat Greek yogurt with cinnamon and an apple
black coffee
lunch
three tofu tacos with cabbage
snack
red grapes
dinner (at book club – but much better than last time)
roasted brussel sprouts – a lot of them
roasted parsnips and carrots
some duck meat
1 spoonful of pumpkin risotto (I know! But I did not eat the dessert or the cheese or more of the risotto)
2 squash blossoms

…She zeroed right in on the risotto. Of course. And she said what is true: When I’m still in goal-achieving mode and have plateau-ed forever, I have to be strict to break the plateau. “So that means no risotto regardless of what other foods you avoided.”

And that’s the hard truth of it. It’s not that I don’t get to eat as much as it takes for me to feel full, and it’s not that I don’t get to enjoy food. But there are certain food I simply can’t have. I don’t need them either. I must eat consciously and well in the way that I know will work if I want to lose weight. And I must do it without sneaks, without little bits, without exception.

It’s really hard to do.

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