Losing weight is hard; Keeping it off may even be harder. For years, the mantra has been, “Eat less and exercise more,” but that has done little in the way of helping people to KEEP the weight off once they’ve lost it. Two important points I would like to make before we go any further:
1) A healthy weight is not a number on a scale. When we speak of weight loss, each person will have unique challenges and goals that they set for themselves. I don’t set weight goals for clients, they do. And if they set weight goal numbers, we have an understanding that the body composition matters more than the number on the scale. Health comes in many shapes and sizes.
2) Whenever we speak of weight loss or weight gain, it’s important to understand that obesity is not a disease of willpower, and therefore it’s imperative that people who are affected by obesity are not subjected to stigma and bias. We need to embrace these facts. We should also move away from talking only about the diet and expand the discussion to include specific strategies for keeping the weight off. It’s not so much about which diet will work (many diets will work for weight loss in the short term), but instead it’s about which nutrition and exercise habits are sustainable for that individual over time. There’s too much emphasis placed on diets, and not enough emphasis placed on the person’s lifestyle. At Nutrition Solutions, we emphasize a personalized approach to weight loss and provide long-term support and education. Some of the greatest, and yet modifiable factors preventing optimal health are poor nutrition, overeating, inactivity, chronic stress and sleep deprivation and we spend a lot of time working with our clients on these issues. To sum it up, losing weight requires the right nutrition and exercise plan, along with stress and sleep management techniques and this demands an individualized approach. There are some universal strategies that work (see NWCR ), but a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
The 4 tenets of weight loss success are Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep and Stress Management.
If you want to lose weight, you must cut calories. This is paramount. To lose body fat a person has to burn more calories (energy) than they are consuming. I won’t go so far as to say it’s simply a matter of calories in and calories out, but you can’t out exercise a bad diet. Eat more nutrient-dense foods; Eat less high-calorie foods. Here’s the thing: Eating low calorie does not necessarily mean eating less. When you adopt a diet that includes plenty of nutrient-dense foods, the volume of food you eat actually increases. For example, let’s say you want to make a hearty beef chili. Great. Just make sure to use lean, and preferably local beef and bulk it up with beans or lentils, tomatoes, onions and whatever other vegetables you can cram in. Essentially what you have done is create a lower-calorie, and yet completely satisfying meal. Eat more nutrient-dense, low-energy dense foods.
Exercise is EXTREMELY important for health, but in terms of weight management, its role is most important in the weight maintenance phase. Exercise is wonderful medicine and it’s totally free for anyone to use. To prevent weight regain, the ACSM recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week, but stresses that some individuals may benefit from > 250 minutes a week to prevent weight regain. Exercise helps to prevent muscle loss that can occur with weight loss, which is important since a decrease in muscle tissue would mean a decrease is resting metabolic rate (slowed metabolism). This is why we do body composition testing for all of our clients.
One overlooked side effect of exercise can be an increase in appetite. Pay attention to how exercise affects your appetite and your thinking. Does exercise lead to increased hunger and eating? Do you find that hard workouts lead to rewarding yourself with food? Pay close attention to how exercise affects your eating. It’s not uncommon for people to overestimate their calorie burn with exercise.
The role of sleep in weight loss is getting more and more attention, and for very good reason. If a person is not getting enough sleep, they likely won’t have the energy to spare towards meal planning and exercise. Under stress, they are more likely to succumb to food cues in their environment and tend to crave sugar and high-calorie snacks. Chronic sleep deprivation impairs your decision-making ability and affects your appetite regulating hormones, (the most famous being ghrelin and leptin). This means you tend to feel hungrier and remain less satisfied when you do eat.
Chronic stress affects weight both directly and indirectly. A person under stress rarely has time or energy to think about planning nourishing meals and they certainly don’t have time for exercise. The biological effects of stress creates a strong drive to eat highly processed food-like substances (aka, junk food). Junk food is cheap, legal and socially accepted as a way to medicate emotions. If you want to get a handle on your food choices, you’ll first have to identify and eliminate sources of chronic stress in your life.
Losing weight for life requires a complete transformation in all areas of mind, body and soul. Long-standing habits and behaviors must be challenged and replaced with life-giving behaviors. People who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off are determined to get at the root of their negative behaviors. They are persistent and tend to surround themselves with people who are also committed to improving their health. There’s a special quote from author Steve Maraboli and he says, “if you hang around chickens, you are going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles you’re going to fly.”
Are you a successful loser? Join the national study at the National Weight Control Registry: http://nwcr.ws/