Losing weight is always a popular topic, and one I get asked about quite frequently being a dietitian. Nutrition, health, and weight loss are seemingly the most complexly simple notions. Yet- so many people have struggles, and go awry on their weight loss endeavors.
So. If calories in = calories out. Why do we struggle. Here is a guide for some honest self reflection on your journey to: weight loss, better health etc, and below are some common mishaps I see, that send people for a tumble, on the road to reaching their goals
1) Do you exercise?
What I mean is do you do EXTRA activity outside of your daily routine. It’s great if you are on your feet all day doing heavy lifting. Guess what though, it is not exercise. Your body is used to it, and you need to move your body above and beyond that to see results. Same thing if you walk 30 minutes, at the same pace, every day for months and months – eventually you will just kind of plateau – and set a new baseline for yourself.
So many times I see people struggling with trying to master portion sizes (which are important), and count calories, but they do not exercise. This is a MAJOR component in weight loss/healthier lifestyle. Exercise is also a natural helper for sleep, mood, heart health, blood pressure, blood sugar control, and the list goes on.
A word of caution with exercise though – 1) it does not mean you can eat whatever you want so you can “burn it off at the gym” 2) if you have issues with joints, heart/lung health – always get a physical from your doctor before starting a new program.
2) Are you following a fad diet?
Easy ways to distinguish a fad diet: a) you have to buy a book to follow it b) you are restricting one or more food groups (carbs, grains, dairy etc).
Fad diets work. But they cannot typically be sustained indefinitely. A good example of this is the Atkins diet, and other low carb diets – these are notorious for successful weight loss, however they are also notorious for successful WEIGHT REGAIN. Being too restrictive with carbs can also cause majorrrrrr mood swings, mainly because carbohydrates trigger the production of serotonin (a neurotransmitter) serotonin not only makes us feel happy and calm, but when serotonin levels are good they signal the brain better to stop eating, and serotonin also plays a role in getting restful sleep. So when serotonin levels are low (i.e. being ultra restrictive with your carbs) that can make anyone an angry bear, screw with mood, and sleep patterns.
Screwing with these ultra restrictive diets, and can also screw with our metabolism so bad that it can make losing weight even harder.
3) How restrictive are you being?
Speaking of restriction. Let’s flip the coin and talk moderation. I personally believe in moderation. When I am at a baseball game I will eat a hot dog, if I am at Pat’s, I will sometimes go get a cupcake. I like to occasionally treat myself with food, and so do many other people.
There are typically two schools of thought on restriction vs moderation. Some RDs I know think out and out restriction is what is best, and never eating processed/refined/foods is the way to go – both personally and for patients. However, the other school of thought- is to consider that not everyone responds well to being told “no, never again”.
When dealing with yourself you have to assess which class you fall into. Are you someone who genuinely understands what moderation means, and therefore truly treat yourself occasionally? Or are you someone that responds to the all out ban on on the processed/unclean foods. Personally I do not feel the latter works well for most people, because what I see in practice, is most people can only be so “good” for so long, then there is a binge. Some people learn to go on without things. I think both have merit depending on the person, but you have to know what type of person you are. What works for me, and a majority of my patients is – I buy healthy food. I do not buy things like cookies, chips, etc because I can’t be trusted around them. So instead when I go out, I will treat myself, instead of mindlessly snacking on cookies after dinner
4) Guess what. Those snacks count too.
A bite here, a handful there, some “tastes” while cooking. All of those have calorie. And they count. Make your meals and snacks structured, and healthy. I don’t recommend just “grazing” unless you’re grazing on non-starchy vegetables.
It can be shocking to just go one day of recording everything you eat – either in MyFitnessPal or with paper and pen, and actually add up the calories – especially with snacks. It is easy to grab a handful of nuts several times throughout an afternoon – if you have a canister sitting near you. It is also shocking to realize that a few handfuls can quickly add up to 1 cup of nuts. AND WHAT IS EVEN MORE SHOCKING: ~ 1 cup almonds = ~500-600 calories.
5) Are you getting the right information?
Some people say obesity is an epidemic, misinformation about weight loss, and nutrition is also an epidemic. So here is my bottom line on this – if you are trying to lose weight – do it in a way that will involve making changes you can continue with (i.e. lifestyle changes). Rather than trying to do 100 different things for 3 months. Also remember there is no quick fix, so the popular promises that
Dr. Oz – some pop scientists offer (read: supplements and superfoods that will make you burn fat) – may be a great addition to a balanced diet – but are not curative.
Also, trainers at the gym, while there are some I would actually listen to, as they take the time to learn more about nutrition, they are not a substitute for someone more qualified (read: a dietitian- specifically one that works in the area of weight loss).
The fault with many non-dietitians leading weight loss programs/doling out nutrition weight loss advice –
besides most of them not being qualified to do so is that it took me 5-6 years of just school to learn how food interacts with the body, and hormones, down to the cellular level. So if you are taking advice from a non-dietitian/non-nutrition professional (there are plenty of non-RDs who have advanced degrees in nutrition, that I would trust in a heartbeat), I would make absolutely CERTAIN, they have credentials, and they have legitimate instruction and expertise in the field they claim to.
6) What are you drinking?
DO NOT DRINK YOUR CALORIES. DO NOT DRINK YOUR CARBS. Unless you are participating in strenuous physical activity for > 1 hour, and it is very hot – you will be just fine with water. Google how many calories is in your fancy coffee drink from Starbucks. There are enough carbs/sugar in a can of coke to account for a meals worth of carbs.
Water is clearly the best choice- zazz it with with some lemon or orange slices, or even some crystal light (from time to time).
Herbal or green teas are also great options.
Water so many times is overlooked, despite it’s importance, next to air – it is probably the single most important thing we put into our body. So next time you scoff at a glass of water remember some of these specific roles water has in our body:
-water releases heat through perspiration, thereby lowering body temp
-water retaining membranes lubricate the joints, thereby allowing for easy movement
-Water in the mucous lining of the lungs allows the lungs to expand and contract without drying out thereby aiding in respiration
-Water fluids bathe our cells and contain minerals that buffer cellular acids, thereby helping to maintain our bodies’ acid/base balance
-Water in the blood helps maintain blood volume, thereby aiding in regulation of blood press
S0. Go out and by that cute water bottle, and fill it up with water. 🙂
7) How are you sleeping?
Sleep is something that is heavily influenced by hormones, and there is significant evidence starting to show that sleep deprivation can lead to inflammatory conditions like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, reduced growth hormone release, and other health problems. If you are not a restful sleeper I would HIGHLY recommend looking into the root cause of why you do not sleep well. For many it’s stress, for others its over stimulation in the evening hours (i.e. computer screens, smart phones, tvs).
8) Slow your stress
As I have said multiple times above – stress both emotional, and physical (being sick), can influence our weight, and our overall health in general. Stress can easily snowball into screwing with other areas of our life – it can lead to poor sleep, and it can start a downward spiral into overall health. In fact many people can trace when their health problems begin, back to a single, or series of stressful events. One thing I see often in practice is patients will often be diagnosed with diabetes around the time they: lose a job, lose a family member, or get very sick (not to say these are causative – but more or less the stress is the last straw). Chronic stress over time can alter adrenal function, this is important because our adrenal glands produce a hormone called Cortisol, and cortisol can be over-produced with chronic stress.
When Cortisol is over produced it can lead to a whole other mess of problems. It can stimulate production of cholesterol and triglycerides, it lowers production of certain immune cells (read: weakened immune system), it stimulates the release of many inflammatory chemicals in the body that can lead to systematic inflammation. Over production of cortisol can lead to decrease in libido, and also mess with thyroid function.
Bottom line: stress sucks. We are all stressed, we all have bills to pay, and jobs to do. But try to deal with your stress in a productive way. If you need to talk to a professional – then talk to one, exercise can help too. Making sure you have healthy foods around, instead of succumbing to a vending machine binge is also a good idea.
9) Are your calories quality ones?
The ultimate goal with weight loss is different for everyone – and no, I am not talking about a number – I’m talking about the REASON WHY people want to lose weight. To be healthier? To be happier? To feel better about yourself? Those are all valid reasons.
But regardless of the reason remember – your health is still important – so that calories that are taken in should be quality ones that will promote health.
One of my favorite methods of healthy eating is the clean eating movement. Meaning you are eating more foods that are whole and natural (fresh/frozen fruits, and veggies, roasted/unsalted nuts, beans, yogurt/milk from cows non treated with growth hormone, grassfed meats, cage free chicken, and wild caught salmon, whole grains etc) , and a lot fewer foods that are processed and unrefined, with the help of some portion control.
10) The big picture vs smaller steps
Understanding the big picture is important. But making changes with lifestyle habits is not always easy, for some people A LOT of changes are necessary. Sometimes, no matter how dedicated you are – if you try to do too many things at once trying to achieve your “big picture goal” sometimes it’s really easy to fall off track, and get discouraged. One strategy that works is looking at all of the different steps you will need to take to get your goal. For instance maybe your goal is to lose 30 lbs. Ok how will you achieve that goal? Most people will probably answer: eating better, and exercise. Ok. Still too vague. Let try: “I will walk for 15 minutes 4 times a week, and increase as I feel more comfortable”, “and I will incorporate a non-starchy vegetable into each meal”.
Those are two very basic yet effective goals and they are just two small steps on the track to the goal.
Make sure you set SMART goals for yourself:
Setting SMART goals can help take that big picture, and turn it into a more low-stress incremental process.
In terms of weight loss, and/or making changes in general to your lifestyle. I think the first step always needs to be some type of self reflection and self assessment, and that is an important habit to continue with as you make progress, or as you hit a bump in the road.
**As a reference outside of my own practice experience, I did reference “Breaking the Metabolic Code” by James LaValle, R.Ph, CCN, ND