It's that time of year, isn't it? When resolutions are set and forgotten, when a thousand gym memberships are launched and people set about bettering themselves.
I'm no different. I resolved to lose weight, for the millionth year in a row (actual time: sixth year). The only difference between this and all the other attempts was that I was much bigger this time. The heaviest I'd ever been in my life, and it was sad to realise that I wouldn't be able to wear any of my work dresses again. I was determined to try one more time, before I went shopping for a new wardrobe.
Myth #1: you can consume whatever you want, in moderation
On December 31st, I decided to give dry January a go. I tried this last year, but got engaged on Jan 11th and the rest of the month passed by in a haze of champagne toasts. This year, there's nothing so monumental that could interrupt my plans.
The effect has been dramatic. The number of calories in red wine, my beverage of choice, is not low. The USDA estimates about 122 calories in a 150ml glass of Merlot. I'll usually have two of those in a single sitting. That's just under 250 calories in itself! If you're serious about things, cut the booze and the sugary drinks. It helps and actually life doesn't end.
Myth #2: you should aim to realistically lose one pound a week
The maths goes like this: 3500 calories equals one pound of body weight. So, to lose one pound a week, you need to have a deficit of 3500 calories, which means that you need to eat 500 calories less per day (500 calories x 7 days = 3500 in a week). When you're looking to lose 50 pounds, that turns into a year of effort... which isn't exactly inspiring.
In the past, this caused me to start endless food diaries, spending ridiculous amounts of time adding up the calorie count of everything I ever contemplated eating and basically made me think about food so much that I was permanently hungry.
This time, I ignored the calorie counting, because I knew I'd been overeating. I brought myself down to reasonable portions of food - no more breakfasts of two poached eggs on sourdough - and upped the smoothies and set up a fruit bowl in a prominent position in my kitchen. I changed my portion sizes so the husband got more food than I did, instead of stupidly doing a 50/50 split. I didn't force myself to eat things that I didn't like and I didn't go hungry.
I lost a pound a day for the first week. Yes, I dropped six pounds in the first six days. I panicked a bit, wondering if I was going to faint suddenly despite feeling perfectly healthy. It turns out that the larger you are, the easier you lose weight. It's because I used to consume way more than I needed, so just by cutting that down to something "normal" meant that the weight flew off.
It turns out that this phenomenon occurs a lot when larger people try to lose weight. Ever seen The Biggest Loser? That's how it starts. The rapid weight loss does plateau eventually, but the first part is really the best. And this leads us to...
Myth #3: don't weigh yourself daily
Bodies fluctuate in their daily weight, so it's advised to weigh yourself on a weekly basis.
What they don't tell you is that the first few days are amazing. I would have lost a lot of momentum if I wasn't checking in regularly. I was shedding a pound a day! Seeing that on the scale every morning was hugely inspirational. I'd wake up tired and maybe a bit peckish, but once I was on those scales, it made me do yogalates instead of making toast. I went for a walk during the day instead of eating a snack (or at least, in addition to the snack). And after a week of that, those habits started to sink in.
Sure, after those first few days, it's good to let go of the scales a bit and stop obsessing. But if you have vast weight loss ahead, and the pounds are flowing away... bask in it. Use it to keep you going. Feel good about your achievements. Use those memories to push yourself to exercise more, eat better, do all the stuff you need to, to overcome the next plateau.
I'm a quarter of the way to my weight loss goal now, and I know the plateau is inevitable. But for the first time ever, I'm excited about it and determined in a different way. I might not get all the way to my target, but things feel different this time. I'm willing to see where the journey takes me.