Losing weight is never quick and it’s never easy. But losing a lot of weight is a journey! And while I understand that ‘a lot of weight’ is relative, for me it’s 100lb (7st 2lb/45kg). For someone else, it might only be half that. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that to qualify as ‘a lot of weight’, we’re talking about at least a quarter of your starting weight. So, if you’re losing that amount of weight, expect to experience some strange things along the way.
I started my weight loss diet plan in December 2018. It is a diet plan of my own devising, mainly based around two meals of porridge (oatmeal), each day, and increasing amounts of exercise, over time. As of the time of writing, in June 2019, the diet is working really well. My total weight loss success to the end of May has brought me down to 218lb (15st 9lb/99kg). This is a loss of 53lb (3st 11lb/24kg) since the start of my diet plan.
But my weight loss journey didn’t start in December with my diet plan. It started in September 2016, at the conclusion of my second course of chemotherapy. At this point I weighed more than 300lb (21st 8lb/137kg); the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. It took a lot of time and effort to get to the point that I could properly exercise. These struggles took a toll on my mental health, which slowed the whole process down. And having three surgeries over the course of 2018, to deal with the issues from my third recurrence, certainly didn’t help.
Finally, though, by the end of Christmas 2018, all my ducks were in a row, so I went for it. Here are 8 of the strange things that I’ve experienced while losing a lot of weight…
When you’re dieting, you’re running a calorie deficit; you’re burning more calories than you consume. This means that you’re really showing those fat cells who’s boss, right?
Well, not entirely…
Particularly if you’re losing weight at a fast rate.
The recommendation is to lose no more than 1-2lb (1kg) of weight a week. Keeping to this rate of weight loss will minimise the risk of muscle loss. However, and let’s be honest, if we’re losing a lot of weight, the temptation to try for more than 2lb a week is sometimes irresistible. Especially in the beginning.
The solution is to make sure you do enough exercise to stimulate the muscles in your body. Keep them working, to prevent the loss of muscle. This does mean ensuring that your exercise routine targets all of the main muscles in your body. To achieve this, there should be an element of resistance training, otherwise known as weight training. Nothing too serious, just what you can do using your own body weight and, perhaps, a resistance band. You’re not trying to gain muscle, you’re just trying to ensure that the weight you are losing, is coming from fat.
Trying to actually build muscle, while dieting to lose a lot of weight, is a fool’s game, take it from me. Maybe, if I’d swapped out my porridge for protein, I might have made some gains, but I doubt it. The first strange thing about losing a lot of weight, is you can’t gain muscle while doing so.
Now, your body isn’t going to be happy with what you’re doing to it, by losing a lot of weight. Your body is programmed to want to have extra weight because, in times gone past, surviving through the winter depended on it. Your body hasn’t caught up with the reality that calorific food is always available now.
Which is why it fights back.
And it fights dirty…
If you’re anything like me, you got to the stage of needing to lose a lot of weight because you had an unhealthy relationship with food. For me, binge eating is my biggest problem. Especially in regard to a new, and really appropriate, phrase I’ve just learned; trigger foods. In my case, this tends to be cakes and desserts. And if I eat even the smallest amount of cake and/or dessert, I’m likely to eat all of it. No matter how big it is.
Which is why I avoid these things entirely when I’m on a diet. I’ll gradually reintroduce them after the diet is ended.
And yet I regularly get the strongest cravings for these very things. These craving come completely out of the blue and usually very late at night, when I used to do most of my binge eating. I can be happily typing up a post and Boom! All I can think about is cheesecake. This is why I keep chewing gum on my desk.
People stop being supportive
At the start of a diet, most people are incredibly supportive and encouraging. One of the really strange things about losing a lot of weight is that not only does this disappear with time, it reverses.
To start with you’ll hear things like, “Have you lost weight? You’re looking really good.”
As a dieter, this is great. It really feels like people have got your back. It drives you on and makes you want to hit your weight loss target even more.
As you progress towards that target, though, you start hearing things like, “Wow, your diet worked then. Are you keeping it off okay?”
So you explain that you’re still on your diet and working towards your goal and you have some way to go yet. At which point you might hear, “Well, you already look great, are you sure you need to lose any more?”
Which is less encouraging and a little dispiriting. At this stage it’s taking a lot of will power to stick to the diet, and people saying that you don’t need to bother puts doubt in your mind. But you know what you want, so you keep on losing that weight.
As you get closer to your goal, people can actually start suggesting that you’ve lost too much. That you look ‘drawn’ or ‘gaunt’ or even ‘ill’. To be fair to these people, they probably haven’t seen you for a while and the transformation might take them aback. You, meanwhile, have seen yourself every day and are happy with where you are and what you look like.
Don’t be put off, it’s unlikely that anyone is being malicious. And they haven’t seen those wobbly fits that you’re still fighting to lose!
People try and get you to break your diet
While we’re on the subject of ‘other people’, another strange thing they can do, while you’re actively losing weight, is encourage you to step off your diet for a while. This might be for a meal, or a day, or a weekend, or even an entire vacation.
The argument is usually along the lines of, “You’ve done so well, a little break won’t matter…!”
When you politely decline, while not mentioning that this really isn’t helpful to you, these people can actually get upset with you. They’ve gone to all this time/effort/expense and now you won’t even try their food/relax and enjoy yourself/etc.
This can be a tricky time. Especially if you’re already struggling with cravings, because you’re now surrounded by your trigger foods, and someone is actively trying to erode your will.
Choices are available, other than having a major falling out with whoever’s trying to get you to break your diet.
You can, for example, just weather the storm. If you want to stick to your diet, just do your best to ignore those that are pressurising you, and have a good, calorie-controlled time.
Otherwise, you can accept that your diet is a marathon, not a sprint and partake. Have a cheat day, if you will. But, if you do decide to go down this route, make clear decisions about what you’re doing, before you tuck in. If it’s for the evening, set a deadline at which the evening ends. For a weekend, limit it to one or two meals a day. If it’s a whole vacation, then limit it to one or two treats a day.
Don’t let someone talking you off your diet, be the end of that diet. Your health is more important than someone else’s feelings.
You’ll need to buy some interim clothes
Okay, so you’re losing a lot of weight and looking forward to the new set clothes you can buy. The strange thing is that you’ll need to buy an interim set of clothes, just to get you to your new wardrobe.
This is because, when you’re losing weight, your clothes start to get baggy. When you’re losing a lot of weight your clothes end up becoming very baggy. If you’re married, this may well turn out to be ‘too baggy’. In which case, your wife might invite you to, ‘go and buy some new clothes, you scruffy bastard!’
Not my wife, obviously. My wife is all sweetness and light…
But, in all seriousness, if you’re intending to drop five sizes, that’s too much to do in one go. A woman looking to go from a 22 dress size to a 14, would need a set of size 18 clothes on the way. Likewise, a man, dropping from a 42 waist to a 34, is going to need some 38 waist clothes at the halfway point.
Naturally, there is an expense element that comes with this. So remember to factor that in, when you start your weight loss plan
The weight doesn’t come off evenly
The next thing about losing a lot of weight isn’t just strange, it’s bloody annoying!
On the journey from obese to healthy, the weight doesn’t come off everywhere at the same rate. Or even at the same time. The last areas of fat that you gain, are usually the first that you lose (face!). Likewise, the area of the first weight you gained will be the last bit you lose. This means that the typical ‘you’re overweight’ signs are with you to the end. In my case a pot belly.
And this is what you’d expect. When men start putting on weight, it ends up on the waist and leads to the classic ‘apple’ shape. When women start putting on weight, it goes on the hips, buttocks and thighs, leading to the pear shape. Of course, when you put on a lot of weight, this all smooths out, somewhat, and you’re just big all over.
And, the annoying thing about losing a lot of weight is that, towards the end of the diet, you get back down to either your apple or pear shape. And while other people may tell you how well you’ve done to get that far, all you can think about, when you look in the mirror, is fruit! In my case, apples…
You’ll pick up injuries
At the start of your diet, the weight will come off with diet alone. This is just as well, because you’re unlikely to be in any position to get involved with serious amounts of exercise.
As you progress with your diet, though, you’ll need to introduce exercise to keep the weight loss momentum going. Also to prevent muscle loss, as mentioned above.
The exercise choices you start with will be very low intensity and of short duration, something like walking around the block. From there you can first build up the duration, to the point you’re walking for half an hour to an hour. After that you can introduce higher intensity activities, initially at smaller a duration, and build up from there. Things like swimming, weight training and cycling. Initially for 10 minutes, then 20, then 30, etc.
The strange thing is, because you’re in the process of losing a lot of weight, no matter how slowly and carefully you build up your exercise, you’ll pick up injuries. Admittedly, they’ll only likely be minor injuries, but they’ll certainly be annoying.
These minor Injuries are almost inevitable because your body is being worked at its limit all the time. Not least because you’re constantly pushing the boundary of that limit to increase the capacity of your exercise. So you can continue with your weight loss
With that goal in mind, and on the understanding that the injuries are only minor, you’ll need to soldier on.
Injuries take ages to heal
The minor injuries that you’re likely to pick up are sprains and strains of ligaments and tendons. These are the tissues that connect bone to bone and muscle to bone, respectively.
Ligament and tendon injuries are famously slow to heal, at the best of times, because they have very poor blood supplies. This means that the body can’t get at the injuries to repair them very easily.
When you’re running a calorie deficit, due to your weight loss, it’s even worse. Your body doesn’t have much in the way of resources to repair injuries, even if it could get to them. Which it can’t because of the poor blood supply.
This means that for the duration of your diet, which might be a year or more, twinges and niggles will stay with you. Particularly in the joints. In my case, my knees.
This isn’t to say that you should keep training if you’re in pain, because that will just make things worse. It does mean that you shouldn’t use every bit of discomfort as a reason to stop training.
Minor injuries like sprains and strains will slowly improve once you end your diet and get to the maintenance phase. Your body will then have the resources it needs to make repairs. Until such times, you’ve got to keep on keeping on.
And that’s it; 8 strange things to expect while you’re losing a lot of weight.
I’ve no doubt that there are other oddities out there, but these are certainly the ones that stuck in my mind. There is, of course, a whole array of strangeness to watch out for after you’ve lost a lot of weight. But that’s a list for another time.