I have some bad news: Your metabolism hates you.
Well, actually, it loves you. It wants to preserve your fat stores in order to keep you alive, which kind of puts the challenges of weight loss into perspective. From an evolutionary standpoint, your body really doesn’t want to lose weight. It wants to preserve those precious fat stores in preparation for the next big famine, which could be just around the corner as far as its concerned. Your body doesn’t know there’s a grocery store around the block and so it fights to preserve fat.
This is why, when you restrict calories too far and lose weight too quickly, it slows metabolism and engages post-starvation hyperphagia. This means that when you lose a lot of weight, especially rapidly, your body wants those fat stores back and releases hunger hormones to make it happen.
With ample access to highly palatable and high-calorie food, efforts at sustainable weight loss can drive you crazy in this land of plenty. Especially if you’re doing it wrong. Follow these five steps to not only achieve your goals, but keep you sanity, in the oft-overwhelming world of weight loss:
1. Don’t obsess over the scale
This is controversial advice, as many studies have shown people who weigh themselves regularly are more successful at long-term weight loss. The problem with the scale is that it can lie, it can be frustrating when it barely budges, it doesn’t reflect gaining muscle, and it can just become something you hate doing. While the studies show regular scale users are better at weight loss, they haven’t been compared with what I think are far more positive things to measure, such as miles run each week, weight lifted, fitness classes attended, fast food meals avoided, healthy meals prepared, fruits and vegetables consumed. And there are better ways to assess results, like how tight your clothes are, how you look in the mirror, your energy levels and even your sex drive. If you can use the scale in a way that elicits a positive mindset, then go ahead, but if it stresses you out, consider burying it and tracking these more important numbers instead.
2. Slow and steady wins the race
Walk into any bookstore, go to the diet section, and you’ll see outrageous weight loss claims a plenty. One book from the publishers of a popular magazine promises right on the cover that you can lose up to eight pounds in three days. The only way that’s actually possible is if the pages are infected with amoebic dysentery. Another book is called “10 pounds in 10 days.” These claims go far beyond unrealistic; they are ludicrous. Unless you start off weighing 300-plus pounds and live the unrealistic life of a Biggest Loser contestant, that kind of rapid weight loss is impossible.
Many studies have shown those who focus on slow and steady weight loss are far better at sustaining it. We’re talking about anywhere from half a pound a week to a maximum of two pounds per week.
3. Get a team together
If you’re on a weight loss program and your family still wants pizza and chicken from a bucket twice a week, plus cupboards full of cookies and chips, that’s a problem. You can’t resist high-calorie junk that you have constant access too, so elicit their help in making your home a healthy-eating haven. You can also turn both family and friends into regular exercise partners to help motivate you to go.
4. Understand exercise is more than burning calories
Exercise has profound stress-reducing and brain-boosting effects. Not only does this have the ability to reduce the instances of stress eating, but the neurological effects of exercise involve improving what is called “executive function.” Executive function is what enables your decision making and ability to stick to a plan. In other words, it makes you better at making eating decisions and sticking to a healthy eating plan. So you need to understand this benefit and take advantage of it. Don’t believe that exercise entitles you to a food reward, but instead understand that it gives you the power to resist junk and make healthy choices.
5. Don’t be hungry during the day
This is one of the most powerful, sustainable weight loss tips I know. During the day, focus on being “satisfied” rather than “full,” but never hungry. Hunger during the day leads to runaway eating at night. There is one time it’s okay to be somewhat hungry, and that’s before bed, because your appetite resets overnight. Going to bed a little hungry (emphasis on “a little”) most nights is one of the sanest ways to lose weight.
To achieve lasting weight loss, you must focus on loving the journey. White-knuckle weight loss is rarely sustainable, but a Zen mindset will eventually get, and keep, you there.
James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary. He writes the syndicated column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Chicago Tribune and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get your free Metabolism Report here.