‘My habits, whether good or bad, have ultimately led to my weight loss’

Rachel Flaherty: You don’t need the perfect plan to lose weight – you just need to keep going

Rachel Flaherty on a run

Rachel Flaherty on a run


January is all about making new year resolutions but this year I wanted to do things differently.

January is Health Month in The Irish Times. You can find articles, columns, advice and tips at irishtimes.com/health, as well as in print every Tuesday in the Health & Family Supplement.

I have lost more than 3½ stone (22kg) and am slowly gaining confidence in exercise and challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone, where I had hidden away during my weight gain and overweight years.

Yes, I want to use this month to give my health and fitness a boost, but I know from previous years my motivation is normally temporary and my results don’t last. By the end of January or February, I would usually have gained from half a stone to 12lb (3kg-5.5kg) from my original starting weight, despite typically losing a significant amount of weight at the start of my plan.

Extreme regime

I loved meticulously detailing whatever extreme regime I was about to embark on, not settling for the recommended weight loss goals of 1lb to 2lb a week. I would set my goals to double or even triple that. I had told myself I needed to do my plan perfectly to lose weight or else I had failed. And inevitably, as time passed, it wasn’t sustainable for me and I’d give up until the “next Monday”.

But I have since realised you do not need to do anything perfectly to lose weight and keep it off – you just need to keep going. Motivation might not last but habits do.

In the last year and four months, I have realised that my habits, whether good or bad, have ultimately led to my weight loss and gain. My actions, which were a consequence of my mindset, resulted in me being more than five stone overweight and now, losing more than 3½ stone.

Last November, I decided to prioritise three habits ahead of festive celebrations and my traditional January success and failure story. I wanted these habits to become part of my normal daily routine before Christmas and see if they made any difference to my wellness and weight. I didn’t choose anything particularly difficult that needed a lot of focus to achieve but I was surprised how much difference they made to my life. All three healthier behaviours centred around sleep, exercise and food.

I had listed my goal of reaching between six to eight hours’ sleep a night last when I wrote the original article but it’s being bumped up to first place. I had underestimated the power of sleep and how much it impacted on my weight loss and fitness goals. I was surprised by the difference of just a half hour of extra sleep (by going to bed earlier) could make to my following day. I can survive and function fine with less sleep but with my full quota of sleep, I noticed my mindset is more positive, I physically feel stronger, I eat better, make better decisions and generally enjoy the day more.

Sleep deprived

But yet, I’ve prioritised almost everything over sleep in the past and I chose to have less sleep, so I could do other activities. I am conscious of the people who have no choice but to be sleep deprived like parents of young children, shift workers and those with health issues, but I had often chosen to be sleep deprived. I’d also read many articles about how many successful people sleep less with examples of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher only needing four hours’ sleep and reports of top business leaders like Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer only needing similar amounts. It made me wonder am I a lazy underachiever by wanting seven hours’ sleep? From the last few weeks of prioritising sleep, I’ve found for me the opposite is true.

I reached my sleep goal only about 60 per cent of the time but because I was paying attention to it, I noticed how much difference it made the following days. One week I got about seven hours every night, didn’t change anything else in my routine, and lost 1½lb that week, which is a significant amount for me. I can’t say it was definitely the result of sleep, but I felt really good that week.

I don’t have any aspirations to join the “sleepless elite” club anytime soon, now preferring to wear a badge of honour for getting at least six hours’ sleep. It has only been a few weeks but I’ve a new-found respect for the importance of sleep.

My second habit was to exercise at least one hour a day three times a week, which was only three hours out of a 168-hour week. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’ve struggled with consistency with exercise.

At the start of implementing this goal, I was 100 per cent effective, but then as the weeks wore on, the temptation to put it off until “tomorrow” grew stronger. I received good advice from a man to mark my exercise times into my diary as I would my work times or a dentist appointment to make them a priority. I did, and it has helped me grow in confidence with my fitness by achieving this step of doing the workouts I said I would.

Making appointments for the gym, arranging to meet others to exercise, and being part of an exercise group helped me keep it up. I was self-conscious exercising as part of a group before, and still am at times, but reminding myself this is what I need to do to reach my goal keeps me going forward. I can’t say I was great at every workout, I definitely wasn’t and didn’t feel like going to many of the workouts, but I always felt better after doing it.

The third healthy habit I wanted to focus on was to stop eating two hours before going to bed. I initially gained most of my weight by eating sugar and junk food at night until my stomach hurt. I’d moved on from those destructive habits but noticed I sometimes ate “normal” food not long before going to sleep. This was normally because I was unorganised with my eating for the day and then was hungry late in the evening. In making this habit a priority it forced to me plan to eat more during the day and organise my food better.

I found it a lot of effort for the first few weeks, but it got easier. As I was tracking my sleep and exercise, I noticed not eating two hours before bed was usually followed by a better-quality night’s sleep.

I used to think complex plans and goals were needed to make a difference to my weight and health. These goals were simple but made a significant difference within a few weeks. They did take effort and some planning, and the temptation to let them slide was often strong but implementing them did not take over my daily life.

So, for January getting back to my normal routine that keeps me at this weight is my goal. But I’m looking forward to pushing myself out of my comfort zone and making new goals in weight loss and fitness to keep me on track for the five stone weight loss that will bring me into a healthy BMI (body mass index) range in 2019.

Rachel Flaherty's column is about getting fitter and healthier.

Contact Rachel on Twitter @rachelflInstagram 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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