I always used to think that being stuck in the middle of a long diet road was the worst place I could possibly be. I was restricted on what I could eat, but I was also still overweight. I figured that if I wasn’t dieting, I was fat, but I could eat whatever I wanted. If I had lost all the weight I wanted to lose, that was the big “Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner” moment! I could eat whatever I wanted plus I looked great! What could be better?
Obviously, there were a lot of bad assumptions in all that reasoning. I might have been able to eat whatever I wanted if I wasn’t dieting, but I felt terrible doing it, and I was likely sneaking what I wanted to eat so no one would think the worse of me. On the other end of things, if I was eating whatever I wanted once I attained my weight goal—well, we all know I wasn’t going to stay at that lovely weight for any time at all.
I defined the “middle” by its two end-points, and that was a big mistake. The bigger mistake was not realizing that I wasn’t really in the “middle” of anything. If I truly wanted to lose weight and keep it off, I had just taken the first few steps of a lifelong journey.
Still, I would be the last to deny that limiting your intake and following an exercise regime gets pretty old—especially when you aren’t getting a lot of reinforcing “attagirls” from folks around you. Marc was aware of the work I was doing and was really supportive, but it didn’t hit the radar screen of a lot of my family and friends for quite a while. I had lost over half of the 150 pounds I needed to lose before people started to notice all on their own. That’s a lot of commitment to go unrecognized by the world at large!
Why is that, do you suppose? I’ve thought about it a lot. Some of it was certainly because I simply had so much to lose that what was already gone was (in the words of my beloved father when he spoke of his own dieting efforts) a slice off an elephant. I did have some friends who told me that they simply didn’t notice my weight. I was just “Margie” in their eyes and they didn’t think about my physical appearance until it became a too in-your-face difference for them to not notice. I’m sure some of it was also a little bit of discomfort. Asking someone if they’ve lost weight is a bit of a loose hand grenade, isn’t it? By asking, the implication is that the person wants to lose weight, i.e., if you’re losing weight, that is a good thing. Potentially offensive, right? If the person hasn’t lost weight, you have the potential to make them feel badly as well. I think it is socially just easier for others to let anything they notice remain unsaid.
So, there you are, working really, really hard to watch what you eat, to think about food and lifestyle differently, to look on yourself differently, to work on exercise. This is something that is taking extraordinary effort, and a lot of mental and physical time out of your day. It is a big, big part of your daily life…and no one notices.
In the midst of that, you hit one of those proverbial plateaus where the scale seemingly is incapable of showing any progress no matter what you do. Plateaus, for anyone who hasn’t experienced them, last forever. You aren’t seeing any progress, no one around you is noticing, and you’re wondering if you have started slipping into doing something wrong. Whatever you were doing isn’t working anymore. Those doubts start invading your thoughts and robbing you of your newfound self-confidence.
There it is, the ugliest, worst part of “the middle.” It is a long, hard slog, no matter which way you look at it, and it is unbelievably easy to start making “little changes” to make yourself feel better. Of course, those little changes are usually the comforting addition of treats you no longer count, or portion sizes you no longer measure, or “exercise holidays.”
How do you keep going on that path to wellness when the middle is so hard?
I have advocated before about getting friends and family on board with what you are trying to do. Helping you out when you’re in the middle is one reason why. Have a few people with whom you can talk about your journey, your self-discovery, the barriers you are encountering and the things you are achieving. What does it matter if they don’t notice your weight loss all on their own? Isn’t it more important to be able to share that part of you with someone who loves you? If the secret voice inside you is telling you that the more people you tell, the more you will be embarrassed if you fail—just don’t listen. You are much more likely to be successful if you share this with others. It is so much easier to be surrounded with encouragement than with silence.
As for plateaus, I found a few things helpful. First, when in doubt, go back to your roots. If I thought what I was doing was no longer effective, I started writing down everything I was eating again, just like I did when I first started. I made sure my portion sizes hadn’t slowly super-sized themselves. I went through my checklist of successful strategies to make sure I was still following everything.
That helped a lot. Knowing that I was doing what I needed to do let me worry a lot less about those plateaus. The other thing I did that was incredibly helpful to me was to track my monthly weight progress. I weigh myself daily. I know there are all sorts of smart people who say you shouldn’t do that because your weight fluctuates. The thing is, if I don’t weigh myself daily, I worry about it, and that worry can get really, really big in my head. So, I weigh myself daily but I also track my weight every month on the first day, and write that down. The monthly weight smooths out the daily fluctuations—and also, amazingly, smooths out those plateaus. In spite of the seemingly endless plateaus, my monthly weight loss total remained pretty remarkably consistent: roughly four to six pounds per month.
Finally, continue to discover the little wins. I remember taking out a load of laundry from our front-loading washing machine. I was wondering why it seemed easier for me to do until I realized that I was bending my knees to get everything out. For years, I could only bend from the waist, and I would have to take things out a little bit at a time, standing up between each handful to take some breaths. No more! I could hunker down with the best of them! Right in the middle, right in the slog—I discovered my little miracle, and I was on top of the world. Such a little thing, right? Yet, it meant the world to me.
What are the things you are achieving that mean the world? You might be in the middle, but you are still making progress that is your own road to transformation. I hope you will share those wins with me, and with the people who love you best! No miracles too small!