How the hell does an overweight person lose weight without trying over Christmas?

Giving myself a break, letting go of the shame and guilt contributed to my weight-loss

Rachel Flaherty: “Christmas was the one time of the year I told my mind to stop tormenting myself over my failure with good eating habits.”

Rachel Flaherty: “Christmas was the one time of the year I told my mind to stop tormenting myself over my failure with good eating habits.”

 

It’s Christmas, and at this time of the year most of us accept that weight-gain over the festive season is inevitable.

Statistics, studies and reports coming at us from all directions tell us so. A Safefood Ireland spokeswoman was recently quoted as saying the average Irish adult will gain about half a stone over the Christmas period, while the calories in a Christmas Day dinner can reach up to 6,000.

But does it really matter?

It’s a brief spell of celebrations and we’ll all be back to our normal routine in no time.

I was remembering back through recent years when I was more than four and five stone (25-32kg) overweight. Christmas was actually the one time of the year I lost weight. It happened each year without any conscientious effort to do so.

Even at my most overweight, I lost weight over Christmas. On average, I lost about two to four pounds (1-2kg) and by the end of each January or February, after I embarked on my most ambitious diets, planning and strict “health” regimes, I had gained weight. Looking back through the years, I gained an average of half a stone (3kg).

Was I an enigma? How the hell does a substantially overweight person lose weight without trying over Christmas?

Rachel and Sheba.
Rachel and Sheba.

It confused me why I was going against the trend. But reflecting on what I’ve learned from losing more than 3½ stone (22kg) over the last year and four months, I can now think of some reasons why it happened.

Christmas was the one time of the year I told my mind to stop tormenting myself over my “failure” with good eating habits. I gave myself a “free pass” of sorts to not think about it, to let go of the shame and guilt around binge-eating following attempts at “clean-eating” and to stop thinking of exercise as a punishment to undo my overeating.

I had hated a part of myself that I saw as a failure when it came to weight. I hated that I gave it so much thought when there were much bigger problems in the world and people facing hardships out of their control. But Christmas was the one time I took the pressure off myself and allowed myself to feel free. I looked forward to having some time off, meeting up with family and friends, and relaxing. I was grateful for what I had in my life while being very aware it’s a very tough time of the year for many people, often with much sadness, struggles with different issues and illness.

I ate all the usual Christmas food and treats, but for those few days I didn’t listen to my negative inner talk or become overwhelmed with guilt.

I stepped out of my normal routine, which was then full of unhealthy behaviours and habits, and even though I was no different to others in taking part in overindulging over the festive period, my body reacted positively to the break.

Exercise was more instinctive and enjoyable. I wanted to move, and to get out and about. It was still an effort to go for a walk or go to a gym session, and I had told myself it was fine not to do anything, but I always wanted to do some bit of exercise as my days off wore on. I also must give credit to my mother’s very persuasive border collie, who would drop her paw on my knee and stare into my face with her big brown eyes while wagging her tail – convincing me it was a great idea to go for a walk whether it was hail, rain or snow outside. No matter how lazy I was feeling, I couldn’t say no.

Rachel.
Rachel.

Sleep

Sleep is another reason I credit for my unusual timing of weight-loss. I slept much more than I normally would, often until I naturally woke up.

Overall, I feel temporarily changing my mindset, stepping away from my unhealthy behaviours with food, catching up with sleep, not stressing about my weight for those few days and enjoying what was going on around me as it was happening all led to my weight-loss. If I over-ate, I wasn’t questioning my willpower all the next day, instead I was kinder to myself and my harsh inner critic was quietened.

And then came January 1st, when I had all sorts of plans for food and working out ready to go. It was exciting thinking of the drastic changes I was going to make. I would feel hugely motivated and dedicated to “finally sorting my weight out”, not recognising for a second that my Christmas mindset was more beneficial to me than any strict fad diet or detox. I loved readings articles like “Top tips for shedding the Christmas calories” and convincing myself I’d embrace all of them.

I remember in the first week of January 2016, the year of my worst weight gain, I had lost six pounds after the first week of the month only to have gained nine pounds to my starting weight by the beginning of February. I started the year as I would continue, trapped in an unhealthy eating and exercise cycle.

But this year I’m looking at the beginning of the new year differently. Step by step, I’m learning new habits, many small, but they are making a lasting difference. They are as easy to do as not to do, and I’m reminding myself how much better I feel when I keep them up. My relationship with food and exercise had become much healthier and enjoyable. I look forward to each time I push myself out of my comfort zone and become a bit more confident in what my body can achieve. My mindset is constantly learning and improving.

I recognise too I have mindset issues to tackle. One is that I still have a wardrobe of many clothes that are too big for me that I haven’t got rid of since losing weight. I used to have a wardrobe full of clothes that barely fit or I didn’t fit into. This is a better problem, but I know I need to tackle why I’m reluctant to throw them out, even though I’m confident my weight-loss is permanent. I have always loved clothes, but those clothes were painstakingly picked out for practical reasons and not for my love of their style, fabric, cut, colour or fashion trend.

My heart sinks when I pick them up and look at them, and yet I keep them and exactly why I have, I haven’t figured out yet. But that’ll be one of the many challenges I look forward to overcoming in 2019.

For now, it is time to have a very happy Christmas.

Rachel Flaherty's column is about getting fitter and healthier.
Contact Rachel on Twitter @rachelfl or email rflaherty@irishtimes.com


Part 1: I lost three stone and I'm stronger now
Part 2: I’m stuck in the weight loss plateau
Part 3: A friend called my fitness holiday a fat camp
Part 4: My plan is driving me up the walls
Part 5: It is slow and fluctuates but it has stayed off
Part 6: Why are we doing this? This is terrifying
Part 7: I want to form new habits
Part 8: I gained 4lb. My fear of failure returned
Part 9: It’s time to face my nemesis – running
Part 10: Losing weight without trying
Part 11: Letting go of the shame and guilt helped

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Best of luck!

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