My weight loss is slow and fluc­tu­ates but it has stayed off

It was just over a year ago I weighed my­self and I was five stone over­weight

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health / Fitness - Rachel Fla­herty Rachel Fla­herty is writ­ing a reg­u­lar col­umn about get­ting fit­ter and health­ier.

My jour­nal high­lighted binge eat­ing and overeat­ing at night was a prob­lem for me, so I cut out the spe­cific foods that trig­gered me to do that

The ques­tion I’ve been asked most since los­ing 3½ stone is: “How did you do it?” I have taken ad­vice from peo­ple with dif­fer­ent back­grounds in health, fit­ness, nu­tri­tion and body goals, and since writ­ing my first col­umn about my eat­ing is­sues, read­ers’ feed­back has been both in­spi­ra­tional and mo­ti­vat­ing. Some ad­vice has worked for me, some hasn’t, but I’ve en­joyed learn­ing as I progress.

It was just over a year ago I weighed my­self and I was 5st (32kg) over­weight.

My heart sank as I stared at the weigh­ing scales. It was like some­one had punched me in my stom­ach as I re­alised this was the big­gest I’d ever been. I was an­gry at my­self and deeply ashamed. But I de­cided I would take a pos­i­tive out­look on this mis­er­able mo­ment and use this as the sign I’d been wait­ing for that now it was the right time to lose weight. I started off the day feel­ing mo­ti­vated, eat­ing a small break­fast, not eat­ing much dur­ing the day (fu­elled by guilt and re­gret about overeat­ing) and then ar­riv­ing home that night starv­ing.

My willpower soon gave way and I was binge eat­ing as much sug­ary and junk foods my body could fit in. I ended the day dis­gusted with my­self once again.

As I went to bed with a bloated and painful stom­ach, and pal­pi­ta­tions from all the sugar, I con­soled my­self I would make that fresh start to­mor­row. But the cy­cle con­tin­ued and about 10 days later, I’d put on al­most an­other half stone.

I was now of­fi­cially 5st 6lb (34.5kg) over­weight. (I’m mea­sur­ing what my healthy weight should be by the BMI in­dex).

‘Shocked and em­bar­rassed’

I’d writ­ten on my phone cal­en­dar “I’m shocked and em­bar­rassed. This is my high­est ever weight (again). What am I do­ing to my­self?”

But this time, I didn’t even start a “to­mor­row plan” of ex­treme clean eat­ing or ex­er­cise – I felt de­feated.

It was a cou­ple of days later when I strug­gled to breathe prop­erly go­ing up a flight of stairs I re­alised I felt trapped by the ex­cess fat in my own body and I needed to make a change. My weight was not stay­ing the same, my eat­ing habits were wors­en­ing and my crav­ings for sugar were grow­ing more in­sa­tiable. Ex­er­cis­ing was also get­ting harder.

I knew I needed to change my un­healthy eat­ing and ex­er­cise habits, but my big­gest is­sue I needed to tackle was my mind­set and that was go­ing to take time.

Look­ing back, I would have never ex­pected that it would be at my heav­i­est weight that I would make peace with my body and ap­pre­ci­ate it for its re­silience in the pun­ish­ments I had put it through. It was time for me to face how un­happy I was with how I was treat­ing my body and my habits, and be bru­tally hon­est with my­self about what ac­tions had brought me to this weight and how I could do things dif­fer­ently in the fu­ture.

The temp­ta­tion to re­turn to my pre­vi­ous “all or noth­ing ap­proach” type diet was al­ways there, but I re­minded my­self my pre­vi­ous end re­sults were feel­ings of fail­ure. This time it had to be per­ma­nent and I needed to fig­ure out the right eat­ing plan and fit­ness regimes that would work for me, so they be­come my new “nor­mal” habits.

Lis­ten to my body

I want to em­pha­sise I am not a nu­tri­tion­ist or ex­pert in food or ex­er­cise – my goal was to find was worked for me and learn to lis­ten to my body when it was telling me it was hun­gry, sat­is­fied, to rest and to move. That might sound like a ridicu­lous thing to say but I had got to a point where my stom­ach would be bloat­ing and aching with full­ness, but my mind was telling me “you’ve blown it al­ready, one more bar of choco­late won’t make a dif­fer­ence”. I felt very dis­as­so­ci­ated with my own body.

Each time I thought about the to­tal amount of weight I wanted to lose it was over­whelm­ing, as was the huge choice of in­for­ma­tion on nu­tri­tion avail­able, which was some­times con­flict­ing. So I de­cided to make my plan as sim­ple as pos­si­ble to start and build on it step by step. There was a lot of trial and er­ror, much er­ror, but I made the ef­fort to recog­nise each small bit of progress. It was dif­fi­cult at times, but it got eas­ier, and even en­joy­able. I be­gan to re­alise small choices mat­tered over time

I recorded the calo­ries I ate for a few weeks. I’m not an ad­vo­cate of con­sis­tently do­ing this but it was use­ful for me at the start to un­der­stand how many or few calo­ries I was eat­ing. Some­times break­fast was only 100 calo­ries and evening meal more than 2,000 calo­ries. One take­away meal I used to eat, which I thought wasn’t too un­healthy be­cause it was chicken, was 1,550 calo­ries. Know­ing this made mak­ing al­ter­na­tive choices eas­ier. I didn’t want to ob­sess about ev­ery bite of food I took but writ­ing it down helped me look at what I was do­ing ob­jec­tively and search for so­lu­tions that may work for me.

Binge eat­ing

My jour­nal high­lighted binge eat­ing and overeat­ing at night was a prob­lem for me, so I cut out the spe­cific foods that trig­gered me to do that. I didn’t ban any food cat­e­gories, be­cause that’s what I be­lieve con­trib­uted to my un­healthy eat­ing habits in the first place, but I did re­duce the quan­tity. For the first cou­ple of months I didn’t fo­cus too much on food qual­ity, more on the over­all re­duc­tion of calo­ries for the day. I did my best to choose foods as whole­some and as close to their nat­u­ral state as pos­si­ble. So, for ex­am­ple in­stead of a stuffed breaded chicken, I had a chicken fil­let with some sort of sea­son­ing on the out­side or oven-baked sal­mon in­stead of fish cakes. I in­creased my veg­etable in­take where I could. My favourite break­fasts be­came eggs and toast or por­ridge and ba­nana. For par­tic­u­larly busy weeks I would try bulk-cook food on a day off like casse­role that was ready to heat up.

I found eat­ing smaller meals ev­ery three to four hours worked bet­ter for me. It stopped me from feel­ing starv­ing and grab­bing some­thing sug­ary. I’ve al­ways drank a lot of wa­ter, but I cut fizzy drinks and I started to drink more herbal teas. Most of these things, which I changed grad­u­ally, I didn’t like the taste of in the be­gin­ning, but my taste buds changed over time. I didn’t think I’d find my­self look­ing for­ward to green and mint tea with dark choco­late dur­ing my break, but I do. The ini­tial headaches and ir­ri­tabil­ity I had when I made changes went away and I felt more en­er­getic. I no­ticed I tended to try and self-sab­o­tage ev­ery so of­ten but be­ing aware of that made it eas­ier to deal with. Weeks that in­volved a load of Tup­per­ware to wash nor­mally meant a good weight loss week.

Neg­a­tive self-talk

I avoided us­ing the word diet as it in­stantly makes me feel de­prived. This was be­cause af­ter my first “strict diet” was when I started cat­e­goris­ing food into “good” and “bad”.

My neg­a­tive self-talk and lack of pa­tience with my­self was dif­fi­cult prob­lem to con­front. Ex­er­cise was the key for me in tack­ling this. Any­thing from a short walk, a weights ses­sion or move­ment of any kind al­ways made me feel bet­ter.

I’ve also started mea­sur­ing my progress a few dif­fer­ent ways, in­clud­ing ex­er­cise goals, so I didn’t get too dis­heart­ened if the scales were not mov­ing.

Over the months it be­came eas­ier to recog­nise the dif­fer­ence be­tween crav­ings and gen­uine hunger. I gained con­fi­dence in lis­ten­ing to my own body. Not all my new choices have been healthy, but they are bet­ter than what they used to be. My weight loss is slow and fluc­tu­ates but it has stayed off and I’m ex­cited about chal­leng­ing my­self fur­ther and learn­ing even bet­ter habits.

Rachel Fla­herty at­tend­ing a wed­ding re­cently. “Over the months it be­came eas­ier to recog­nise the dif­fer­ence be­tween crav­ings and gen­uine hunger. I gained con­fi­dence in lis­ten­ing to my own body.”

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