Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Patience is a Virtue in the Weight Loss Game

This morning I weighed myself and have lost two pounds from the last time I weighed myself, two weeks prior. In that moment I thought, wow I only made small tweaks to my diet and exercise and am seeing results, how great! In fact, I can’t remember a day in the last two weeks where I felt like I was dieting or deprived or felt like I had to kill myself in the gym. Nope, I pretty much ate what I wanted, and stayed consistent about going to the gym 4-5 times a week. Losing two pounds was actually easy. And, then it hit me, we approach weight loss so backwards that it is no wonder we fail, it is no wonder we loathe diets, or can only last one day on a ‘diet.’

You see, whenever we’re on a mission to lose weight, we first determine how much we want to lose, then we figure out how fast we can lose this amount of weight, and therein lies the problem. Weight loss is a mathematical equation, and it is possible to figure out how many calories you need to cut each week to lose a certain amount each week. And if you follow the formula, yes, you will lose weight. Sounds so easy, right? But the problem is this, weight loss is also a mental equation. And, while our body can react to dramatic changes, our minds can’t always keep up. See, we usually want to lose the maximum amount of weight we can as fast as we can. So what do we do? We take our 1700/day calorie diet and cut it to 1150/day and then add in an extra workout or two. There are three problems with approaching weight loss like this:

1. Cutting that many calories from your diet all at once is going to leave you feeling deprived, which will in turn make you want to binge or crave “no no” foods more since you’ve made such a dramatic change to your diet.

2. Because you are exercising more, your body will crave and need more food to sustain itself, leaving you feeling extra deprived on workout days.

3. Because making such dramatic changes requires sacrifice, and a list of “no nos” we’re likely to act out just like children when our parents tell us we can’t do something. Yes, we’ll actually want to defy our own rules because the rules are telling us what we can’t do.

Yet, despite this illogical approach, this is the approach most of utilize to lose weight. And then, sure enough, we wake up one morning wondering why those 5 pounds we lost so quickly became 10 pounds gained back. The answer? THIS APPROACH IS NOT SUBSTAINABLE IN THE LONG RUN!! That’s all there is to it. You’ll start off doing great, you may even reach your goal weight in your desired time frame, but as soon as you hit your goal, you’ll start adding more calories back into your diet as a sort of ‘pat on the back’ for reaching your goal. And then, you’ll add in some more calories because you see your journey as complete. Then, you’ll add even more because you’ll see yourself as invincible from weight gain because you’re feeling confident about where you’re at. And, finally one day you’ll step on the scale and you will have gained back all the weight you lost and then some.

So what is the better approach you ask? The one where you make small, incremental changes. You should never feel like you are on a diet. You should never feel deprived, or ravenous. You shouldn’t dream about the cookie you can’t have all day or have a list of restricted foods or rules. All you need to do is make small changes. Once you are used to the changes you’ve made, make a few more. This way, cutting back doesn’t seem like an impossible challenge, but instead it seems doable, easy in fact, and gives you body a chance to adjust to the changes. If you’re eating 1700 calories a day and working out 3 times a week for 30 minutes, try eating 1600 calories a day and working out for 40 minutes those 3 days. I guarantee you’ll see a difference, and it won’t pain you to make these changes. Then, let your body get used to this. Then assess your diet and exercise. Could you work out a little longer? Or add another day in? Would you be ok with eating 100 calories less in the day? You’ll probably say, yup that’s totally doable. This approach allows you to lose weight slow and steady, gives your body time to adjust to your changes, without ever having to slash too many calories at a time or increase your workouts too much too quickly.

Now technically, you could keep cutting and cutting, but there is a limit, and I would never advise anyone to eat fewer than 1200 calories in a day. As you make these incremental changes, you need to assess the point where you feel that the changes you’ve made are unsustainable. If you keep cutting calories down to 1200 and working your way up to 7 workouts a week, even done incrementally, can still cause burnout and be unsustainable. As you cut back incrementally, you need to stop at a level you can accept for the long run. And more importantly, you need to accept what your body looks like at this level because this is where your body naturally wants to be. Just because our minds are set on being 120 pounds, doesn’t mean our body is. Your body knows where it’s happiest; listen to it, instead of forcing it into some ideal you’re set on.