Your Body Will Make You Pay
If this isn’t, it should be an irrefutable law, like gravity, because it always happens – especially with weight loss. An all too common conversation that I have with clients who are struggling to lose weight, centers on how what they “used to do” to lose weight is no longer working. This is primary because what they used to do revolved around not eating for days on end and crushing themselves on the treadmill or with Pilates. You may find yourself in a similar situation. It should be refreshing to know that you are not alone.
Here’s something else that you should be happy about – you can’t lose weight.
Yes, be happy about it.
Because your body is finally standing up for itself. It has decided that when it comes to general fitness and nutrition, you can’t be trusted and it is going to force you to lose weight the right way. Let that sink in for a minute.
Previously, when you’ve wanted to lose weight, maybe you’ve done things that you knew deep down weren’t the best way to go about things, but you needed to get rid of the weight quickly and the tricks that you’d devised over time worked.
Your body has had enough.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that it has gone into survival mode. As that is an over-hyped, overused term in health and fitness circles (if personal trainers or dietitians were preachers, the ‘survival mode’ speech would be their ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon). So I’m not going to go there and say that your body is in survival mode – but, it is sticking up for itself.
It does this via changes in hormones and in which genes it decides to transcribe, which makes brute force fat loss impossible.
Let me tell you a story about a gremlin of a hormone that your body loves to enlist in situations like this. I’m talking about ghrelin.
Ghrelin is THE appetite stimulating hormone in your body. When ghrelin goes up, your appetite goes up, your food cravings go up, and your food intake goes up (unless you are consciously fighting it like crazy). You won’t be surprised to know that when you cut calories, ghrelin goes up. The more severely you cut calories – the more ghrelin will go up.
Your body is really persistent too. I’m talking persistent like a two year old throwing a tantrum in Target, that carries on to the car, and lasts well past getting home. There’s some really interesting data to support this too – the persistence of ghrelin – not toddlers and their tantrums.
In 2011, a study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine (the NBA of scientific journals) that looked at the persistence of ghrelin levels over time. The researchers used a horrible (but unfortunately, Proven Medical Weight Loss approach) form of brute force weight loss by limiting their overweight study participants to 3 very low calorie shakes and 2 cups of fibrous vegetables each day. Their daily intakes totaled a whopping 500-550 calories per day.
Yes, you read that correctly. They had 230lb men eating 550 calories per day for 8-10 weeks (remind me to question the term ‘Medical Weight Loss’ next time I see it on a label!).
With this massive level of calorie restriction, ghrelin levels (and hunger) went up quickly, and remained elevated. After 8-10 weeks of weight loss, the participants where transitioned to real food and a weight maintenance phase. The weight maintenance phase lasted a full year. During this time, participants gained back an average of 12lbs (they were still down 17.4 net lbs). The scary part is that ghrelin levels remained elevated.
62 weeks after initiating the diet program, their hunger hormones were still elevated. Even after gaining back 40% of the weight they lost…their hunger hormones were still elevated!
What can we learn about this?
How you lose the weight matters. Trying to lose weight by severe calorie cutting alone, or calorie cutting and some increases in activity, is a slow death. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Think about dieting differently
Your goal should be to eat as much as possible while still losing/maintaining weight.
This is a good goal right!? Most of the time, people think about food and dieting with a doom and gloom approach. They think about all the things that they are going to need to get rid of, and all the calories they will need to cut. Don’t look at it that way.
It will stress you out.
This will make you hungrier.
That will stress you out even more, as you’ve been thinking about how you need to eat less.
It is a vicious If You Give a Mouse a Cookie cycle for dieting.
When I give continuing education lectures to personal trainers or dietitians about nutritional counseling, one of the points that I stress to them is that they need to listen to their client in order to figure out what foods/drinks they really like, and then work to keep that in their plan as long as possible.
If you like wine, no problem. Let’s set a limit to 4 glasses per week starting out.
Do you love coffee? Drink as much as you want – as long as you’re not flogging it with cream and sugar.
Do you really love chocolate? That’s great, can we switch to dark chocolate and have a little bit after dinner?
Get out of the restriction mindset and get into the proactive mindset. Think about all the great things you can eat and enjoy while still losing weight and working towards your goal. Don’t fill your head (or body) with all the processed, cheaply made foods that you need to limit (they’re aiding in your death and not supporting your longevity anyway).
What are the first set of changes that you should make?
The first should be exercise. Get active. Weight training, interval training, and a little aerobic work (to make you better at the first two things). While you are doing that, clean up your diet (i.e. get really good at the 6 Pillars of Nutrition). Don’t worry about calorie cutting, focus on developing good, long lasting, healthy eating behaviors.
Create the calorie deficit in the calories in vs. calories out equation primarily from the calories out portion, with a little help from the calories in side (by focusing on the 6 Pillars you’ll eat less calories without realizing it).
Master that first.
No more diet tips today. I don’t want to distract you from the mission at hand. Crank up the exercise and clean up your diet. Keep the long term in mind – as your hormones are it in for the long haul too.