Grab a cup of coffee guys, and let's have a real life talk about one of the most common questions I get as a dietitian...weight loss! Here we go...
"I have tried every diet and can't lose weight. "
"I'm running 5 miles a day and spending hours at the gym and the scale isn't budging."
"I am not eating any carbohydrates and I'm gaining."
"I can't control my cravings for more than a few days, then I give up and binge."
Do any of these sound familiar to you? My friend, you're not alone. Let me share a secret: if weight loss was easy, we would not have an obesity epidemic and a billion dollar diet industry that continues to thrive regardless of the latest trends.
Weight. Loss. Is. Freaking. Hard.
There. I said it. And if you are one of the minute percentage of people for whom it comes easy, you can stop reading now. :) :) For the rest of us, I'm going to share my top tips for reaching a weight that feels right for you and your body.
#1: Eat Intuitively, with some structure, guidance, and/or support.
One of my first and top recommendations for my clients is to read the book Intuitive Eating by Elese Resch and Evelyn Tribiole. We often will work through the book together in our sessions - it is always such a discovery process, and we have amazing breakthroughs and "ah-ha!" moments.
So, what is intuitive eating? Oh man, its about so much! I could write a huge post about it, and someday I will, but for now, the basic principles focus on (re)learning to trust your body to make your food choices and learning to listen to internal hunger and fullness cues. The authors offer amazing (but common sense!) strategies to nurture mindful eating, and to minimize eating related to stress, emotions, boredom, etc.
The book helps with identifying with certain behaviors that are preventing you from becoming an intuitive eater, and offers solutions to those behaviors and internal "voices" related to food and body image, self worth, etc. If you have ever struggled with weight and dieting, I can't recommend this book enough!
Now, with intuitive eating, one often needs a hand to hold, and/or some basic guidance and structure. I have found in my practice that a combination of eating intuitively combined with the knowledge of which foods help to stabilize blood sugar, mood, energy, etc. is the winning combination for weight loss.
#2: Focus on losing fat rather than just weight.
Weight loss is such a general term. Supplements, teas, pills, drastically cutting carbohydrates, fasting....all of these things can cause weight loss. When the scale goes down (or even up!) quickly, this is usually an indication of water fluctuations. It can cause a panic if its going in the wrong direction (up), or cause elation when it goes the other way.
If the focus shifts to creating a moderate caloric deficit, and eating enough protein to support muscle maintenance while maintaining this deficit, the body is more likely to use fat stores for fuel. When muscle is preserved as a person is losing weight, metabolism is maintained rather than sacrificed. This is what we want, guys!
If someone is simply restricting calories, the chances that muscle will be lost are high (as high as 50%!). This lowers resting metabolism and means that your body will require less calories just to maintain weight, which makes maintaining harder to do, which means that the person gains weight back easily after the diet, then goes on a another one! This is yo-yo dieting at its finest.
Which brings me to my next point:
#2: You MUST create a (realistic) calorie deficit.
There is no other way to say this. I don't care what you are eating, if you are not burning more calories than your body needs on a daily basis, you will not lose weight. Please, if you struggle with weight loss, re-read that statement. (And, if you feel that you have other issues such as a hormone imbalance, or a thyroid issue, until those are addressed and corrected weight loss should not be a primary focus).
Calories are the energy in food. All foods, regardless of whether carbohydrate, protein, or fat, contain calories. Energy from calories fuels basic functions like your brain, heart beat, breathing, and also movement like daily activities and exercise. Calories from food are either used as physical energy (weight loss or maintenance) or stored in your body as fat or muscle (weight gain).
Here is the math: 1 pound = 3,500 calories. To lose 1 lb, you must burn an EXTRA 3500 calories beyond your basic needs. So, if you need 2000 calories to maintain your weight, if you cut 500 calories from your day via either food or exercise for 1 week, you will lose about a pound. 500 X 7 days in a week = 3500 calories.
If you have never tracked what you are eating, the results may be surprising. I always recommend doing this temporarily to get a baseline number of calories. You can use an app like LoseIt or MyFitnessPal. The results of tracking are eye opening and may give you all of the information you need in terms of weight loss (or why you are having a hard time losing)!
Now, depending on an individuals' unique resting metabolism, calorie needs for weight loss will differ. As will the breakdown of carbohydrates, protein and fat within those calories. Each person tolerates foods differently, so often it involves some experimentation to figure out the right balance to support muscle maintenance as fat loss is occurring. Phew!
#4: Find vegetables that you love, and eat them every day.
I can say with 100% honesty that in my 15 years of working with clients, I have never had a person who loses weight without the inclusion of generous amounts of non starchy vegetables in their diets. And by generous, I mean an absolute minimum of 4 cups per day. They can be in salad form, steamed, sautéed, roasted, I do not care!! Put cheese on them, use butter to sauté, roast with olive oil...I'm not going to tout the benefits here, you've already heard all of that.
When I meet some who says they hate veggies, we run through a list of about 30 choices, discuss preparation methods besides steaming, and 9 times out of 10 we find vegetables and preparation methods that are appealing for that person! Win!
My basic rule of thumb for weight loss is to recommend 2 cups of veggies at lunch, and 2 cups at dinner, and more in between if possible. If someone is not doing this regularly, the foundation for lasting weight control is not in place. And you can't build a house without a foundation, or it will fall apart.
Now, we all have days where we can't get veggies at a meal, and that's life. But for those you have control of, which if you take a hard look is actually most of your meals (a little tough love there for ya), implementing this principle makes a world of difference.
5#: Eat some protein at every meal, including breakfast.
Again, find foods you like and that you enjoy eating, and also that are convenient in the morning. During the week I often have leftovers for breakfast; another one of my standby meals is a smoothie made with a high quality protein powder and a good source of fiber (addicted to my basil seeds!). Think outside the box if you have to, your body doesn't know if its 8am or 6pm, so eat whatever your heart desires!
Most of us get enough protein at lunch and dinner but lack it at breakfast. Did you know that having protein at breakfast has consistently been proven to help moderate hunger throughout the rest of the day and evening? This is the meal where we need it the most. Think of it as setting the framework for your body's eating for the remainder of the day. Another added benefit is that protein has a high thermic effect (which means that your body uses more energy to break it down) compared to carbohydrates and fat.
I generally recommend a serving of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a smaller serving with snacks. And remember, just because its protein doesn't mean you can't gain weight from it. Eating too much of anything - chicken, carrots, or donuts - beyond your body's needs, will result in weight gain. The law of energy balance still applies!
#6: Be selective about your starch/carbohydrates.
Carbs, ahhh the feared macronutrient of the decade. Let's get back to the basics for a minute. All carbohydrates turn to glucose in the body. And that's totally fine, because your body runs on glucose. It is the preferred fuel source for your muscles and brain.
Did you know that even non starchy veggies have carbs? And so does fruit, and whole grains, and starchy veggies like sweet potatoes (same amount per ounce as white potatoes!). Oh and so does maple syrup, honey, Hershey's kisses (just had 2 while writing this, yum!), and the breading on your buffalo chicken salad.
Folks, SO many foods have carbohydrates. It's practically impossible to go on a no carb diet unless you are eating straight up fat with a little protein thrown in here and there, because even that turns to sugar if eaten in excess! Woah!
Now, for most people, weight loss becomes easier when carbohydrates are reduced. Note that I said reduced, not eliminated. What happens when we eliminate something? We think of it all. the. time. Did you just get a new red car? Oh, now everyone has a red car! Pregnant? How many pregnant ladies have you seen this week? The same goes for food my friends! If you tell yourself you cannot have pizza, you may wind up with pizza dreams or eating 5 slices the next time you're around it, whichever comes first.
In general, I have found that limiting starchy carbohydrates to 1 serving a day is most effective for weight loss. Of course we want to choose "good " carbohdrates more often than not. But in certain situations, its better to go with the food that is calling your name.
Did you read tip #1 about intuitive eating? What happens when you want the fries more than the baked potato? Or when you want the donut more than the oatmeal? If you are eating intuitively, you eat the damn fries, that's what! BUT, you eat a portion, and you do so with intention. This means you do not shame yourself, call yourself fat, and decide, "to hell with it" and that you fell off the wagon and now are going to blow the entire rest of the day.
Nooooo, that's not how you will achieve lasting weight loss and also a healthy relationship with food.
How about if you had the donut for breakfast, ate it slowly and mindfully, thinking about how awesome it tastes and how long its been since you've had a donut, finish it, and move on with the rest of the day per usual? Personally, this donut situation recently happened to me, and I proceeded to have my regular lunch of salad with protein, snacks as usual, my glass of wine with my lovely dinner of salmon and roasted veggies.
Voila! It can be done, and with practice and commitment, YOU can do it too.
#7: Treat exercise as an adjunct to, and not the catalyst of your weight loss.
Its almost January and boy do I wish I owned a gym! Just kidding, major job love here :)
But really, exercise alone does not lead to weight loss. You've probably heard that abs are made in the kitchen, and its so true! Now, I definitely recommend exercise for many many other reasons, some of which include stress relief, improved muscle tone, and better sleep. It also helps us fight depression and can increase our energy levels.
I personally exercise most every day. This could be walking (we purchased this treadmill a few months back and I LOVE it), hiking, yoga, or strength training, or just running around with the kids. I don't go to the gym because I don't like gyms. Just like I don't eat okra because its slimy and unappealing to me.
We must find movement (and foods) that we enjoy and that are sustainable for the long haul. Yes, its true that exercise burns calories. But how many times do you come home from a mega sweat session absolutely ravenous and eat what feels like all day? I see this time and time again with women especially. When I tell them I want them to back off on the exercise and focus on getting their eating and relationship with in order, I am often met with feelings of fear. Totally get it my friend!
But when something is not working, do you keep doing it? Well sure, if you are happy with the results! And if not, trying a different approach may surprise you. I am 100% in support of exercise, but when weight loss is the goal, figuring out the best nutrition plan for you and THEN adding in exercise that you love may be the better option.
After reading this, I hope that some of your questions have been answered and that you feel like you have a better and more informed perspective on weight, treating your body with respect and creating a healthy relationship with food.
If you are looking for more help with creating an EASY and sustainable weight loss program, please contact me! I'm happy to help!
Cheers to vibrant health!