My Weight-Loss Journey

Weight-Loss part 9: The 5(ish)-pound swing

It’s October already! After a glorious summer vacation, I went back to work, and suddenly six weeks flashed by. I realized that I hadn’t created a post for this series since the summer and now that fall is in full swing, I thought I’d share my little data experiment.

It’s been a year since my first Weight-Loss Journey post! Hard to believe a whole year has passed. In those 365 days, a lot of life has happened. There have been many opportunities for me to trash the whole weight-loss plan and gorge myself in response to life’s ups and downs. I’m glad I didn’t.

This has been my guiding light throughout this whole process, which I stated in that first post:

I have always had a goal that when I’m 80, I want to climb a mountain. By solidifying these habits now, I like to think I’m setting myself up to train for the next 30 years. Hopefully my hips will hold out until then. Here’s to a healthy, happy, active future.

Me, from My weight-loss journey, part 1: Choosing to be Honest and Accountable

I’m not convinced that my hips will hold out 30 years from now; maybe I’ll have a couple hip replacements by then and bionic parts will keep me going. Regardless, I’m proud to say that a year after my first post, I have not abandoned myself. I have stayed true to my daily commitment to taking care of myself and reporting my progress here. I really want other people in a similar place in their lives to know that they can empower themselves to make the same commitment. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

The yearly report

In my August post, I mentioned the 5-pound swing, which seems to be a regular part of this process as I pay attention to maintaining a consistent and healthy weight as a 50-something.

At one of my previous visits to my nutritionist, she asked if I had noticed any pattern when it came to my period cycles and weight fluctuation. She explained that sometimes, depending upon which ovary the egg is released from, hormone fluctuations can affect weight gain differently every other month. I had trouble in that moment recalling any useful information, but I put it in the back of my head as something I should look more closely at in the future.

The future is now

I am not a numbers and data person. At work, I typically count to eight (as in 5-6-7-8!); that serves as the extent of my math abilities. However, I appreciate the virtues of science and data, and decided to give myself a little challenge on my day off (teachers love Indigenous People’s Day). I wanted to try collecting and interpreting some data so that maybe I could glean a little more insight into why this 5-pound swing happens and see if I can do anything more to have it swing a little lower on the scale. 

With the data, I decided to create a graph, something I haven’t done since my junior year of high school. As I’ve explained in past posts, I do a morning weigh-in on most days and then track the results on the Garmin app. I can also track my cycles there, so all of the info is in one place. I actually had the data from the past year, so it was easy to transfer the information into a Google Sheet and create a chart.

The Garmin app reports weekly averages. Every day can have a swing of 2-3 pounds, so using the weekly average made the most sense. The red dots were the weeks in which my cycles began. I also figured out how to add a trend line. I’ve always been a visual person, so that adds a good reminder of how things are going overall.

Side note, I’m proud of myself for figuring out how to make this very pretty graph.

My scientific deep-dive into the last year of weigh-ins

Interpreting results

Looking at this insane set of data points, I now have a glimpse into what was really happening week-to-week and month-to-month over the course of the last year.

The good news is that for a year, I have kept my weight under 170, which has been a goal of mine. Also, the trend line indicates the average of about 165.5, another goal set by my endocrinologist.

The less than good news is that it seems to be trending slightly upwards. That’s something that I’ll have to contend with if I don’t follow last year’s pattern. We’ll see what happens as the weather continues to cool down.

Now that I have the data organized in a lovely graphic, I wanted to look at it through the lens of some of the conversations I’ve had with my nutritionist. Specifically, how my menstrual cycle/hormones and seasonal temperature affects weight trends.

Effects of the monthly cycle

Even though I’m 50 (turning 51 soon), my cycle is still as regular as ever. My doctors all ask if there’s any sign of menopause and so far, the answer is a hard no. That’s great news for my bones and the fight to keep the weight under control. That said, hormone fluctuations every month still apply.

Looking at the data from the period perspective, I’m thinking my nutritionist’s suggestion that the “sidedness” of ova release affecting weight in a constant pattern doesn’t really apply to me. The red dots seems to be less consistent with an every-other month trend and more about following the general weight fluctuations that are happening regardless of hormonal flow.

On average, it does seem that I experience a slight weight gain the week or two before, consistent with the common understanding that you retain water in the week before your new cycle begins. There’s not much I can do about that. So be it. 

Summer heat

Another running theme in my visits over the years has to do with cold vs. hot weather. In the heat of the summer, the body tends to retain water to avoid dehydration and when you add exercise to that mix, you must counteract the water loss with even more water than the 8-10 cups required daily. Adding any amount of salt to that increases the normal rate of water-retention.

Looking at the trend in the chart, that seems to track. My lowest weigh-in averages were from January through May, which are the coldest months and also the busiest months at work. It seems very clear that I typically drop a few pounds on average when it’s cold and add a few when it’s really hot. The takeaway: stay extra hydrated in the summertime. So be it.

Other factors

There are always the same culprits that seem to directly affect my progress:

The daily variable culprits: salt and wine. Dinner seems to be my Achilles’ heel when it comes to my weight-control progress. When I cook, I rarely add salt and try to substitute other seasonings or citrus to add flavor. If I open a bottle of wine, I’ll take the next 3 to 4 nights to finish it.

The problem arises when I have meals with more salt, either from ordering in because of the busy schedule, eating out, or eating family dinner on Sundays (which tends to include both more salt and wine). This is when I tend to see the scale tip upwards in the next 2-3 days, and I see this on a day-to-day basis, which is not necessarily reflected on the chart. When this happens, I usually don’t open another bottle for a while and try to make dinner at home more often.

The long-term culprit: fat. Fat happens to be a problem for my body, so I have to keep it limited. When I pick up snacks at the grocery, I read labels. If a serving has more than 4-5 grams of fat, I put it back. Typical snacks I choose are fruit, air-popped popcorn, a slice of toast and jam, Nutrigrain bars, Clif mini bars. These give me a carb serving or two in-between meals so I don’t get “hangry” and scare the people around me. I definitely need my snacks, and I have been given strict instructions to make sure I eat something every 3-4 hours. Letting more time go between feedings makes my nutritionist very unhappy with me, and I don’t like getting “the look” from her.

Again, when it comes to fat, dinner is my main concern. When I cook at home, I know exactly what’s going into the meal. When someone else prepares the food, it’s a crapshoot how the meal is prepared. It’s also usually really tasty, which is why it can be a problem. What typically makes things taste good? Fat and salt. Sigh…

Bottom line, there are daily adjustments that I can make when I see the trend moving upwards:

  • Drink more water and less caffeine
  • Consume less salt and wine
  • Check the fat content of your food as much as possible
  • Eat a small portion of foods that you don’t cook
  • Add fiber to every meal. The bulk makes you feel fuller.

When that fails, this is my rule of thumb: If I have a heavier meal today, I ease up tomorrow. I don’t have to starve myself, but I can’t eat like an ass every day. There is a delicate balance to be maintained. While I am far from weighing and measuring everything (that’s something I did in the beginning), I am very mindful of the things I put in my body. Sometimes, I eat to enjoy. More often, I must eat to live. 

Final thoughts

If I can give any advice to people struggling with weight-control, especially if you’re in that “middle-age” set, it would be these ideas:

  1. Understand how habits affects you personally. The trendy diets don’t work for everyone. In fact, more often than not, they work for a while, then fail because they are too hard to maintain. Take the data, keep a journal, track your food, and analyze what you learn.
  2. See a nutritionist. Having a partner who knows more than you do is very helpful. Get on a plan tailored for you, tweak as necessary, and do the work to stick to it. Figure out what works for you based on your own personal data – not what has worked (or not worked) for others. Your body is your temple and your body’s chemistry is your own puzzle to solve.
  3. You’re in it for the long haul. Remember that changing habits takes honesty, mindfulness, work and time. Be graceful with yourself and get right back to the plan if you stray.

I hope this post is helpful. If so, comment, like, subscribe, and check out my other Weight-Loss blog posts!

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