a knot in next week's rope
"Oh, it can't happen to me," I said. "My trouble's eating enough calories to sustain my workouts, not paring down my calorie intake enough to make my exercise actually mean something."
Well, if I've learned nothing else from the month of May, I've learned that those statements are full of crap.
Anyone who has ever attempted a major weight loss will tell you about the soul-sucking hell that is a plateau. It's a period of time in which your body metaphorically throws up its hands and says, "No way, bud, you've gotten enough out of me already. I'm not budging any more." You do the same exercises you've been doing, eat the same food you've been eating, but the scale stops cooperating. Nothing works.
Like a lot of things in life, you can look at it from the outside and think, Oh, I'll know when it happens to me, and I'll know how to deal with it. This, also, is full of crap. At first, you'll assume it's something you ate. Perhaps you were already feeling guilty because you knew you'd eaten a bit more than maybe you should've that day. You brush it off, except that two days later, the weight's still there. Well, you think, maybe I took in too much salt, and my body's holding on to water because of that.
A couple of days later, it's still there.
If you're female, you count back the days to your last menstrual period, hoping like hell it's just water retention.
(Aside: the first time I got my period after I started tracking my weight in a spreadsheet, I wanted to just bawl when I realized I'd gained four pounds in forty-eight hours. I was convinced I was a complete and utter failure at this weight-loss thing, and that my only recourse was to take up a professional taster's job for Ben & Jerry's, and blame my job for my compulsive consumption of chocolate and subsequent 200-lb. weight gain.)
Then you realize it's not hormonal, either. You double-check everything: calories taken in, calories expended in exercise, and eventually you come to the sinking realization that it's nothing you've done, or not done. You're just stuck. If you're lucky, you're capable of retooling things a bit, in the hopes of nudging your body back into weight loss: cutting your calories by a little bit more, increasing your exercise, or just changing your exercise routine around.
For me, my options are limited. Even though my body still tells me I'm eating far too much, far too often, there's the realistic portion of my brain that understands that I can't drop below 1200 calories per day without running the risk of having major blood sugar crashes on weight training days.
(Don't believe me? Ask the blue-eyed Marital Voice Of Reason, who had to baby me through a sugar crash a couple of weeks ago, in which I spent several hours incapable of accomplishing subject-verb agreement. Synchronized drooling was about my intellectual level.)
I also know I am pushing the upper exercise limits of this body:
- Six days per week: 45 minutes per day on the elliptical trainer
- Three days per week: weightlifting
- Three non-weightlifting days per week: lap swimming (though right now, my endurance is crap and it barely counts as exercise)
My option is just to jigger things around. Push myself a little harder on the weight training, make absolutely certain that I'm getting as many of my calories from good sources, admit that I really don't need that treat chocolate once a week, and just hang the hell on and hope there's a knot in next week's rope for me to hang on to.
In the soul-sucking hell that is Plateau Land, yesterday was one of the worst. I've been toughing this plateau out since (excuse me while I look at my spreadsheet) about May 11th, and have had to watch my weight seesaw at 212±1 since then. Two days ago, my weight had finally dropped to 209.5 and I thought, oh, yeah baby, I've done it, I've busted out of this rut, and I'm so the queen of this weight loss thing and everything's gonna be all right.
(208.x == twenty pounds gone. So close I could practically taste it.)
The next day (yesterday) I walked into the gym, ready to confirm that yes, I'd made the twenty-pound goal and that it was time to celebrate by executing a flawless - and killer - weights routine.
Except the scale said 210.5. A pound more than the day before.
I sat on my exercise mat, in the back of the gym where no one could see me, and cried. I was hurt, I was pissed, and I was pretty sure that the only thing that would make me happy at the moment was approximately 3.5 pints of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food (the most perfect ice cream on the planet). I knew part of this plateau was my own fault, because I went to Atlanta for a few days and, even though I watched what I ate, I didn't insist on finding a gym and putting in the cardio time I needed.
But that didn't explain every day since May 11th, and I knew it.
I sat on the mat and realized I wanted to take my toys and go home. Wasn't far, and wasn't hard: put up the mat, put up the exercise ball, gather my stuff in my left hand and pick up my keys from the pegboard with my right. Just walk right out the door. I'd be home in three minutes.
Except that no matter how much I hurt, going home and giving up would only make it worse. I knew that no matter how much I hated that weights routine at the moment, it was nothing in comparison to how much I'd loathe myself at the end of the day for quitting.
I set up the bar for squats, pulled the 35-pound dumbbells for presses, and set up the jungle gym for one-armed rows. I treat weightlifting like surgical prep: all things placed where I'll be when the time is right, so that once I begin, I can move from motion to motion with as little interruption and fuss as possible.
I did the sloppiest set of presses you've ever seen. I was glad nobody saw them; I did, and I was appalled, because I was capable of better and I knew it. I was lucky I didn't hurt myself. In my anger I forgot the cardinal rule of weightlifting: never, ever approach a weight you are not mentally or physically prepared to tackle.
Fine, I said. I'll take that anger and push it back into the weights. One exercise, one set, one rep at a time, I took the anger and the hurt and the frustration and shoved it back and forth, for no other reason but to prove that I could.
By my third set of exercises (deadlifts, incline presses, underhand seated lat pulls, and side-lying crunches) I realized that yes, I was still hurt and mad and frustrated, but that I was capable of doing this workout, and that there wasn't a damn thing in this world short of injury that was going to keep me from finishing it just from sheer spite.
After the weights, I moved to cardio. Forty-five minutes. I ran like a woman possessed, angered, taking the hurt out on the soles of her feet. I would win this battle against myself, even if the scale never showed the loss of another pound.
At the end of forty-five minutes I felt…clean. Empty, almost. Calm. I had run through the worst of my fear, and come out the other side still alive, and still willing to fight.
That doesn't mean today was easy. Today's number was 209.25, a frustrating quarter-pound away from my second weight goal, but the fact that I know the number means that I went to the gym today. I took that frustration and sank it into another forty-five minutes of running.
It will come. I don't know when, but I know that there's no going back. These are the choices I've made. There is no Plan B.
This is my life now.