I’ve been stuck in a dreaded weight plateau for four months and I can’t get out of it. So, after losing just over three stone, with a goal of two stone more to go, I’ve been the same weight for 120 days, or 2,880 hours if I’m being specific. I’ve also calculated the minutes, but you get the point – yes, I’m frustrated.
It has been a true test of this new patience I’m trying to teach myself. The temptation to jump into a fad diet to get that excited feeling of the big weight loss in the first couple of weeks is strong, but I resist. I know that will lead me to a back to the all-or-nothing approach, which will only cause me to return to binge eating, feelings of self-loathing and failure. That is staying in the past.
It is my natural inclination to be hard on myself, but I remind myself it is important to recognise what I’ve done so far, and there are other progress measurements to focus on besides the weighing scales.
I like to feel like I’m making progress, no matter how small, so I turn my attention to exercise. I know I can’t out-exercise a “bad diet”, which I classify as one with a lot more calories than I need and food without much nutrition, as I have previously tried and failed. But for me exercise puts my mindset in a good place. No matter how tired and unmotivated I’m feeling, even just 20 minutes of movement makes me feel better, more focused and determined.
I’m still very sporadic with my gym class attendance, but I up my walks to hikes and focus on getting at least 10,000 steps a day. It is difficult to get a proper routine with shift work, but my goal is making at least 20 minutes of exercise a normal, everyday habit.
They say it takes 21 days to create a new habit, but for me I’ve noticed at around six weeks I normally try and sabotage myself. Since I’ve become aware of some of my destructive behaviours it has become much easier to move past the times I would have returned to my bad habits before.
I haven’t counted calories during the four months, but I still write a few words here and there in my journal trying to figure out how my body and mind reacts to different food and exercises. Also, writing it down helps with my frustrations about my weight staying much the same. I make a new rule to write down one thing I’m grateful for each day so stop myself returning a negative mindset. I fluctuate a few pounds up and down from week to week but without making any big effort to do anything different, and I return to the same weight.
I’ve been very conscious of the often-cited statistics about how the majority of people who go on diets and lose weight regain it all again and often more. When I’ve gone on holidays or life has just got hectic during these months, the fear of failure has raised its ugly head with thoughts that the weight I’ve lost will all pile back on if I’m not making a lot of effort to be healthier.
But when I look back at the page where I’ve recorded much the same weight over the weeks I realise that I appear to have found a new “default weight”. I was complaining about this, but I should have been happy. My default weight is now three stone lighter than I was. Many of my new habits have become automatic, I don’t think about them any more.
New comfort zone
My feelings change from being annoyed at my lack of progress to relief. I take a step back to recognise how well my body has coped with the punishment of the previous erratic eating I had put it through. If my body wants to stay the same weight for a while, I need to respect that, stop worrying and relax.
But I do recognise I’m in a new comfort zone and it is now time for me to push myself out of it. I have used being unhappy with my body as an excuse not to try different activities and exercises in the past. I like having goals and feeling like I’m making progress so over the next few months, my mission is push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. I will learn what I can from experts and people who’ve had successes in areas that worked for them, try them and see what works for me. I’ll keep an open mind and all suggestions are welcome.
There’s no more hiding behind any shame related to my eating. I have a lot more work to do retrain my mind in how I look at food and my body, but I will no longer use my weight as an excuse. I won’t be perfect, but it won’t matter. What are perfect eating and working-out habits anyway? Life is too short to waste and this may sound cliched, but I’m finding a bit of self-compassion goes a long way.
Rachel Flaherty's column is about getting fitter and healthier.
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
Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
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- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!