The View from the Plateau

I know health and fitness posts aren't the most interesting items I write.  I doubt there are many readers who want to know the narcissistic details of my health and fitness improvement efforts.  Nonetheless, every once in a while I do feel it's not a bad idea to discuss my progress and whether or not I'm making the right moves to achieve my goals.  I do hope it inspires some of my readers.  I'm sure there are many people out there with similar struggles who want to know what worked for me and what doesn't.   I felt my regular updates on my progress on the Lean Eating program provided some insight to readers who might be considering the program themselves.  I'm also sure there are people who are struggling with losing weight after recovering from an injury or illness as I was.

So now that I have made excuses for why I still continue with this boring and self-centered pursuit of writing about my body issues, I want to talk about the problem so many women face when trying to reshape their bodies:  The Dreaded Plateau.

At the beginning of 2017 I blogged about my determination to finally do something about the post-surgical weight gain.  The surgery was nearly 3 years ago.  I may still have some stiffness in my hip, but I am functioning normally.   There is still some pain in my elbow, but it is only aggravated by heavy pulling motions (I doubt I will ever attempt to do pullups again) or putting direct pressure on it.  I no longer have any excuse to put a full effort into my lifestyle improvement.

I enacted a few rules.  I reserved sweets only for special occasions.  I made sure all my meals were planned ahead.  I limited alcohol consumption by never drinking it in the house unless I was entertaining.

It worked for a while.  I lost about 11 pounds, but soon I fell back into my old ways.  I'd quaff a glass of wine or a cocktail at home.  I would give in to a sweet craving during slow afternoons at work. The weight kept creeping back on.  I wasn't looking any fitter.  My body still looked soft and flabby.

But the worst of the plateau came in the gym.   At first it seemed I was starting to make real progress. One morning I was at the gym and I was doing a heavy weight/low rep day.  I meant to do my front squats at 60-65 pounds.  I miscalculated the weight of the plates when I loaded up the bar and I realized after my first set or two that I was actually squatting with 70 pounds.  I wasn't squatting that much before surgery (I squat all the way to the floor in case you think that sounds light).  I couldn't believe how strong I had become.

Two weeks later I was back at square one.  I was working in the mid weight/rep range and decided I could do 10 reps at 60pounds  with no problem.  I couldn't.  I struggled.  I lowered the weight.  The next time I had a light weight/high rep day, I took the weight all the way down to 45.  I was not only not making progress, I was regressing.

Now is the time to start making the same self-pitying comments I always make about my poor genetics.  Here is where I complain about how naturally unathletic I am.  It's where I say for the hundredth time about how it takes me twice as much time to make half as much progress as a normal person does.  This is the point where I moan about how my body just loves its fat and doesn't want to give it up.  Woe is me.

Oddly enough, even though I throw a really good pity party, I know when it's time to pack it up.  I realized I had learned a lesson in the past few months. What I had been doing wasn't working anymore.  I had gone as far as I could go with the old rules.  If I wanted the old rules to continue working, I would have to adjust them and I would have to find other ways to stick to them.

Back in May I discovered the Whole Life Challenge.  This is an online weight loss "game" where you pay a small fee and track your nutrition, exercise, sleep, and other various lifestyle habits for 8 weeks.  The rules were strict.  I had to give up all grains, including corn, all sugar, and most dairy products.  I also couldn't drink more than one glass of wine per week.  The program worked on a point system where I started each day with 5 points and lost a point for every non-compliant food I ate.  I had tinkered with the Paleo* diet in the past and WLC depended heavily on the Paleo Diet.  I could do this.  I was capable of cutting out a few foods and occasionally taking a hit of a point or three when the occasion called for it.  Besides, the exercise requirements were light.  I only had to do 10 minutes per day.  That's not even a third of what I do on a regular basis.

I knew the WLC eating habits weren't ones I could make permanently, but I felt they would help me practice restraint and think more about my food choices.  It paid off and by the end of of the eight-week program I lost 9 pounds and had lost a total of seventeen pounds since the beginning of the year.  My ultimate goal is to lose a total of 34 pounds, so I came halfway to that goal.

Do I see a difference?  Sometimes I look in the mirror and I still see a fat girl.  Sometimes I see a fit girl.  I don't know what to believe.

This is Kevin and me in 2015 on the beach in the Greek island of Zakynthos .  It's less than a year after surgery.  I was still hurting too much to work out at pre-surgery levels.  My elbow was still pretty bad even after the expensive PRP treatment.

Here we are in Chincoteague in the summer of 2017 after spending a year and half working out the way I did pre-surgery.  I am about 15 pounds lighter.  I happen to be wearing the same bathing suit (as a coincidence, Kevin is also wearing the same bathing suit and the same hat).

Sometimes I look at this and see an improvement.  Sometimes I think it's just that I'm in a more flattering pose.  Do my arms and legs look smaller?  At least the surgery scars on my right hip have faded.

Isn't it strange  how I judge myself not just how I look but also how I judge only one type of athletic performance.   Maybe there is more to consider.

On my birthday I took a day hiking trip with my friends Rich and Mickey.  We went to a trail called Breakneck Ridge.  It was aptly named.   We chose it for its proximity to the charming town of Cold Spring rather than for its ease (or lack of ease) in ascent.  We read the trail was difficult, but we felt we could handle it. We had no idea of what we were in for.

The beginning of the trail is one continuous rock scramble.  It was tricky at times trying to figure out the best way up.  Sometimes the only way up that presented itself still seemed impossible.  I plowed ahead with every climb.  I wanted to get up those precarious parts as quickly as possible.  I wanted to be ahead of the slow climbers so they wouldn't slow me down.  I started out a bit cocky as I swiftly made my way up.

Then I came to a part of the trail that had only one possible way up and it was terrifying.  There was a large, flat slab of rock that was almost vertical with no obvious footholds and handholds.  I saw several climbers ahead of me having trouble with it.  Rich went up first.  Between Rich and Mickey and me there was a young woman trying to go up and having trouble.  I had to wait for her before I could keep going.  I found a ledge to the side to sit and wait.  From that ledge I could see the long descent down to the Hudson River.  I began to panic.  I felt that sense of vertigo one feels when confronted with dizzying heights.  I had confidently come this far, but I suddenly feared I would not be able to get over that slab of rock.  This woman ahead of me couldn't figure it out.  Why would I be any different?

Oddly enough, as she called up to her boyfriend who was on the trail above her and asked for help, he said to her, "Just follow her."  She looked over at me and said to him, "She's off to the side waiting for me."  I realized I was "her" and apparently other hikers noticed how adept I was at climbing.  It gave me a little bit of confidence that others saw me as someone who knew what she was doing (although if I looked down, that confidence would diminish).  Finally Rich helped pull her up and she made it to the next ledge on the trail.

It was my turn.  Going back down was not an option.  I had to get up over this bit of rock.  I couldn't even tell you where I dug in my foot or what I reached for.  I just did it.  I figured it out without even giving it much though.  I think I definite hoisted my leg up pretty high to the edge of the top of the rock and pushed myself up.  I had to be both strong and flexible to do that.  After waiting for several minutes watching someone else struggle, I made it over that section of the trail in a few sections with no assistance.

The view from that (literal) plateau?  It was breathtaking.  Breakneck Ridge is worth the crazy climb.

What else have I accomplished lately? I completed the Warrior Dash and thought most of the obstacles were easy.  This summer I took my first modern dance classes.  I took a tap class with a new instructor who is nothing like my regular teacher and who made it feel like I never tapped before.  I rented a bike in Chincoteague and realized how much better balanced I am on a bicycle than I used to be. (I can take my left hand off the handlebars without feeling like I'll lose control). I was having trouble with Riddle over the winter and stopped riding her for a few months, and started riding other horses to work on my skills until I felt I could communicate with her again.  I started riding her again in the spring and my ability to work with her successfully earned me a Rider of the Month award.  I can do so much.  I have overcome what I lost post-surgery.  I'm as fit as I ever was.  Why can't I be happy with that?

You have to climb to reach a plateau.  I had a long ascent.  It's time I just enjoy the view for a while. I know I can keep climbing again.

*I am not one of those weird, quasi-religious Paleo freaks.  I think the Paleo diet provides some useful guidelines for eating since it focuses solely on fresh food.  However, I also think legumes, grains, and dairy can have their place in a healthful diet.


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