If Diets Make Us Fatter, How Do I Lose Weight?!?
I spent the last two blog posts covering how dieting actually makes us FATTER because it goes against our biology. If you didn’t read those posts, please go back now so that this one makes sense! Read the first of the series here and then head here to read the second.
It's okay to aspire to a healthier body and lower weight!
If you are currently at an unhealthy weight – which I define as a weight that affects your ability to be an active and happy participant in your life, and/or a weight that threatens your life due to complicating health factors that are sometimes associated with being overweight – it’s okay to be concerned about your health and take positive steps toward improvement. It's okay to want to lose weight! But you don’t want to end up where most dieters do: hungry, resentful, deprived, emotionally unstable around food…and heavier and less healthy than they were before they started dieting!
So if diets don't work and actually cause long term weight gain...how do I lose weight?!?
You basically need to prove to your body that it’s going to be okay…that the famine is over…that there is no more stress. Here's how you can prove to your brain that you are not starving to death, bring your metabolism back up, and eventually achieve a weight that is natural and healthy for you:
YOU GOTTA EAT. Your brain is ultimately in charge of your metabolism, which is raised and lowered in response to how much you eat. The longer you have been restricting, the lower your metabolism may be. If your body is exhibiting a “famine response” or your metabolism is very slow (see infographic on the left), you MUST eat.
If you have been invested in super-low cal, low-carb, ketogenic, or intermittent fasting diets, this is a tough pill to swallow because it means you need to eat more calories in general, eat more regularly, and eat more carbohydrates.
TRACK YOUR INTAKE. Most people hate tracking, including myself. I usually advise against tracking because it tends to lead to obsessive compulsive behaviors around food. But I ALWAYS ask new clients to track what, when, and how much they eat for at least 5 days. This is a lesson in awareness. Whether you are eating too much or too little, you have to be aware of what’s going on if you hope to make changes in the right direction. I recently worked with a woman who knew she was under-eating, but didn't know to what extent. Upon tracking we found she was averaging about 600 calories per day! It's no wonder that she could barely get out of bed and she was bingeing every few days!
ACCEPT THAT WEIGHT LOSS ISN'T A "LINEAR" PROCESS. You may need to go backward before you move forward again. This is a soft way of saying that if your metabolism is in the crapper and your body is responding as if you are starving, you may need to gain a few pounds before worrying about weight loss again. To raise your metabolism you need to eat (see above), but if you’ve only been eating 800 calories per day and your body has adjusted to that, you will likely regain a few pounds as you bring your calories and metabolism back up to a normal level. As scary as this may be, I promise that you will not become the Goodyear blimp! Your weight will stabilize and eventually begin to fall again.
GO SLOWLY, DARLING. If you discover through tracking that you have been vastly under-eating, bump calorie intake slowly. Remember, your body is primed to store fat right now because it's starving. Your metabolism will bounce back, but it takes time. Going too quickly from eating very few calories/carbs per day to a more-normal 2,000 calories per day, will cause most of the excess calories to be stored as fat. Try eating an additional 200 calories per day for the first week, and then bump again the next week, and again the following week, and so on…until you are eating a “normal” amount of calories for your size and frame. You should go all the way back up to maintenance level calories (not weight loss level). To find out what your maintenance level calories should be for your size and frame, check out this calculator.
STOP ACTING LIKE A DESPERATE LOVER. I know what it’s like: the absolute desperation to “get the weight off”. Every time I begin to feel desperate I end up falling for the newest 10-day detox or 30-days-of-whole-hell, thinking this time is going to be the golden ticket to a thin and happy me. But it never works. I'm just 10 to 30 days from my next fall off the wagon, massive binge, and subsequent weight regain. When you stop acting desperate, when you stop trying to lose the weight quickly, when you stop imposing deadlines…you’ll be able to give yourself the gift of time and grace. You’ll be able to relax about weight loss, and believe it or not, you’ll make better choices simply based on the fact that you know you don’t have to be perfect all the time!
Special note: This is how I stopped binge and emotional eating! When I stopped dieting and placing insane restrictions on my food, I lost the urge to binge! If you are interested in how I resolved my issues with binge and emotional eating and improved my relationship with my body, see more at the end of this post about a step by step coaching course that will start in late September!
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE. Are you picking up a theme here? Slow weight loss is the key to long-term weight loss. Slower weight loss means calories and nutrients are never slashed too low. Slower weight loss means giving your body and brain time to adjust to both a lower calorie intake and a lower weight...without sending out the starvation red flags. The human body must be coaxed gently and slowly to release stored fat. So slow down, relax, and keep telling yourself "I know I'll get there".
I CAN'T TELL YOU WHAT TO EAT. I know what you want. You want for me to make this easy for you. Just tell you what to eat. Just give you another diet. But I can't. Yes, you need to eat healthier overall to be healthy and weigh less. But what works for one person won't work for the next. The diet that works for me could make you sick. I see this all the time with Keto (yes, I love to pick on this ridiculously restrictive diet). Keto works well in very specific situations and is useful in treating certain medical conditions. Keto should NEVER be undertaken for the sole purpose of weight loss by the average Jane. Ketosis is a starvation response (we already talked about how that makes you fatter in this blog post), can cause kidney stones, nutrient deficiencies, can make you infertile long-term, and can also damage the heart muscle. And let's not forget that "going keto" also means swearing off of pizza, donuts, and wine...forever. Is that really realistic for you? Or does the keto diet set you up for a massive binge? (Hint: I've never met anyone who maintained keto for longer than 6 months.) Bottom line is this: Your weight is regulated by your brain and other complex mechanisms in the body that we don't yet fully understand. You do need to eat a "biologically sound" human diet to reach your optimally healthy weight. I cover both of those topics in my upcoming course, but suffice to say that if you have a dysfunctional relationship with food caused by years of yo-yo and restrictive dieting, you need to heal that relationship before you even think about weight loss again!
STOP DIETING FOREVER AND HAVE A BONFIRE. I wish I could go into every woman’s house and burn all of her diet books, fitness magazines, and her scale. I wish I could go through her social media accounts and unfriend and un-follow all of the unrealistic #fitspo models that she follows. I urge you to get rid of all of the things that may tempt you to try the next lose-weight-quick-scheme. This may include getting rid of your scale and diet books, un-following certain social media profiles, distancing yourself from friends or colleagues who are dieting, and even putting away old photo albums from when you were thinner (for at least a little while as you regain your confidence with food and your body).
Special note: this post is directed toward women who have been dieting for years and are struggling with all of the physical and emotional problems associated with yo-yo weight loss/gain. Sometimes you must repair your relationship with food and body before you can achieve long-term weight loss. That's said, not everyone has a dysfunctional relationship with food and body...but dieting is often the quickest way to get there. If you have never dieted before and have a healthy relationship with food and your body, use the information presented here as a cautionary tale and vow to never go on a restrictive diet! That doesn't mean go out and eat donuts and pizza all the time! If you ARE currently at an unhealthy weight, rather than focusing on weight loss and trying to force your body through strict diets, you can start lowering your "set point weight" by eating more fresh vegetables and fruits! It's really that simple! You should feel good about the foods you choose to eat and the exercise you choose to do...not restricted by it! No rules, no guilt, no problems!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, LOVE YOURSELF UNCONDITIONALLY, GIRL! Your body is an amazing machine operating in a foreign environment. Try to remember that your body is not against you, it is not trying to sabotage you. It’s simply doing what millions of years of evolution taught it to do: save your life in the event of a famine.
So breathe deeply, get enough sleep, love fully (especially your amazing self), enjoy the journey, and eat some good food...
Show your body that everything is going to be okay…because it is.
Feeling desperate to lose weight yet out of control around food can wreck your life. If you're in this spot, I know how you feel. I know about the obsessions. I know about losing control around food. I know the shame of midnight binges. I know about hiding empty candy wrappers, chip bags, and frosting containers in the attic so no one will find out. I know the misery of fearing food and social situations where food is present. I know the torture of paying penance for eating by fasting and over-exercising. I know the bloated and hopeless despair of having your pants fit tighter and tighter. Years of this self-administered abuse has wreaked havoc on my body, self-image, and metabolism...and worse has caused strain in my relationships. But there's a way out.
One of my favorite sayings is "sometimes the way out is through". When your relationship with food and body is damaged, sometimes you have to repair it before you can focus on health and weight loss. I had to make this difficult choice. I had to choose to stop dieting. I had to choose to stop trying to lose weight. I had to choose ME over FEAR. I decided that living my life in constant fear - fear of food and fear of gaining weight - was worse than staying fat. And it worked.
If you are in this place...I feel for you. I understand you. I think I can help you. If you are at the end of your dieting rope...just drop the rope...and try something that's completely out of the box. I have a guided online course starting in late September that will take you step-by-step through my process of healing. Please contact me today for more details and to get on the waiting list. What's the worst that could happen? You end up needing to lose 20 pounds for the 2,000th time in your life?