Are you trying to lose weight for health or optimizing performance, but the pounds just aren’t coming off? Read on for 10 solutions!
- Track your food intake.
Start doing this one step, and you can stop reading this now! Some like to claim that it’s not all about calories in versus calories out; and honestly, it can sometimes be more complicated (more on this later.) However, if you haven’t tried this basic formula, how will you know if this method works – for you?Websites and apps like MyFitnessPal, Weight Watchers or SparkPeople all allow you to readily track the food you eat and the calories you burn exercising using a large database of food counts and exercises.To lose weight, the calories you eat need to be less than calories burned. This is normally the first problem many people have.
Studies have shown that many consistently underestimate their food intake and overestimate their daily activity, with many saying they must just have a slow metabolism, bad genetics or other factors.If you feel this method is too inconvenient for you, do it for three days or a week. That alone may surprise you.
- REALLY measure your food portions.
This goes along with #1… if you are tracking, but haven’t weighed or measured your food, it can be an eye opener as to what a portion size actually is. A simple food scale can do the trick here. Weighing can be more accurate than measuring, for example, 120 grams of something, versus a measured half cup. 120 grams is 120 grams, but a measuring cup can be overfilled, even unknowingly.
Another way is to go by observational portion sizes but even these surprise many: a 3-ounce serving or protein is about the same size as your palm. A serving of peanut butter is about the same size as your thumb. See this chart for more…
If you were tracking and measuring for a while and then decided to “wing it” after a while, it’s good to track and measure again for a few days just to make sure your portions are still in line. It’s natural to sometimes get a little hungry when trying to lose weight. Psychologically this can cause slight “excesses” here and there – a slightly larger portion here, a small snack there. And it all adds up!
- Correct your calorie deficit.
To lose weight, the typical rule of thumb is that a 500-calorie deficit per day will equal around a pound of weight lost per week. A generally safe rate of weight loss for most people is around 1-2 lbs per week, or about 1% of your total bodyweight per week.Some might see shows such as the “Biggest Loser” and think, “But that’s too slow!” But frankly, the smaller and leaner you are, the longer it can take to safely lose fat.
Everyone is different, and you may lose somewhat faster (or slower) than this, however expecting to drop 10 pounds in a week with an extremely high calorie deficit, either through eating too few calories or combining that with exercising to the extreme can be unhealthy and even dangerous, causing nutritional and hormonal imbalances. At a lesser level, it can actually slow weight loss in the long run. Also, as hunger rises, it can lead to a binge and cause a larger setback than it’s worth.
On the other hand, if you are at a very low- or no-calorie deficit, you will find your weight loss stagnant or non-existent. There could be several reasons for this. First, see #1 and #2. Then, even if you are diligently following what you read, the listings for calories in food values can be inaccurate. As well, calories burned during exercise are based on average equations and can vary greatly from person to person.
So what to do? One method is to adjust what you’ve been doing. If you have calculated a reasonable calorie deficit according to your preferred method, continue using the same technique as you were before before, but adjust your TOTAL daily calories by 100-200 calories per day, and see if that changes anything. Experiment until you find a level at which YOU begin to see your desired results.
- Stick with the program.
Real weight loss programs may take 3-4 weeks to show results. Some may notice weight loss right away, while others may take longer as their body adjusts. Factors such as sodium intake, bloating or dehydration can skew results. Many people choose to weigh themselves once a week, and any of these factors can influence the number you see.
If exercise is involved, it can be even more complicated. Exercise is powered by carbohydrate stored in the muscles. A hard workout burns off carbohydrates. Since carbohydrate is stored in the muscles with water, this can cause weight loss. When the carbohydrate is replenished, this can then again appear as weight gain – however it is not fat gain, yet the scale will vary due to these issues. Therefore, it can take a while to see a weight trend.
- Measure results in different ways.
I usually advise people to use more than one measure for the most accurate results if they are trying to lose fat. A scale is one tool, but doesn’t always tell the whole story. Regularly checking body composition, or the percent of your body that is comprised of fat, is also an important component. “You could be gaining muscle,” is often heard by frustrated, exercising dieters. Yet this almost cliché statement can be true!
How to check body composition? There are many ways, with some of the methods considered the most accurate (the “Bod Pod” air displacement chamber, water displacement or DEXA scanning) also being the least available and most expensive. Other ways include an experienced trainer using calipers to “pinch-test” the amount of fat on the body (the more sites “pinched” with the calipers tend to be the more accurate). Or, a step-on body fat (bio-impedance) scale.
Some argue the step on bio-impedance scales vary in their readings, however I have found on several different occasions that when using a 7-day average of results, a step-on bodyfat scale has been within 1% of the DEXA or underwater weighing methods for measuring body fat. Also, it’s not always getting stuck on the exact number, but observing a gradual downward trend, that matters.
Other commonly used methods are how your clothes fit (using the same clothes), measuring tape, progress pictures, a mirror or athletic performance. These can all give a better rounded picture of your progress than just a number on the scale.
- Reduce stress.
Stress can stall in weight loss or even cause weight gain, as can lack of sleep. Stress and tension can cause the “stress hormone” cortisol to build up in the body, which some say can lead to excess fat accumulation, especially around the midsection. As well, anxiety can be a large culprit of overeating or even sedentary behavior.
Looking at lifestyle factors outside of diet and exercise can cause the “A-ha” moment to your body and be the key to weight loss success.Relaxation and focus techniques such as meditation, massage and even enjoying more moments of laughter or serenity can all help with both stress and weight loss. Intense bouts of exercise can also help calm anxiety.
- Be careful of “justification calories”.
After an endurance race or other hard fitness goal, it can be OK to take a break and give your body the extra calories it needs to heal. However, it’s not uncommon for the break to become an extended vacation from healthy eating habits and lead to weight gain over the coming weeks or months.
This attitude can even happen after a single exercise session. In one experiment, researchers had two groups of people walk the same route around a campus. One group was told they were going to walk this route for exercise. The second group was told they were going to walk the same route to sightsee. Afterwards, both groups were polled as to what they ate – and guess what – the group who thought they did the route for exercise ate more than the “sightseeing” group. So again, watch the “justification” calories.
- Start just one time.
On the contrary, it’s tempting to give up after falling off the wagon only one time. “I already ate a donut, so I might as well eat <fill in the blank> as well, and start over tomorrow/next week/next month.” Constant progress, over perfection, is the goal. Many times if someone has overly perfectionistic attitudes toward eating, this can also result. So give yourself a reality check and just keep going!
- Moderate the “cheat.”
As mentioned before, not counting small snacks here and there can add up. However, some people choose to give themselves free meals or days during the week. While some can find this motivating, having an extreme free for all, even just one day a week, especially when paired with any of the previous steps, can set a person’s weight loss plan back several days – each week. An integrative doctor I used to see commented that some hormonal markers such as insulin levels can possibly take many days or even longer to reset after an event.
While it’s fine to give yourself treats or a break now and then, try to keep in mind moderation, and a full picture of figuring out a lifestyle change that will work for you for a long time to come.
- Change it up.
If what you’ve been doing for the past three months or three years has not worked – stop and try something else! Just because it worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for your particular body type, chemistry or lifestyle. Or, if it was working for a while and then is no longer working, perhaps your body has become accustomed to your routine. The human body is extremely adaptable – so change up your workout routine or food intake.
I wrote in a recent Facebook post about my 50+ lb weight loss. There was a point when I ate very healthfully, trained sometimes twice a day but could not break out of a weight loss plateau I had reached. At one point, I accidentally injured my foot, and could barely walk at all. Not wanting to gain weight without exercise, I cut calories to a sedentary level and watched my intake like a hawk. That week – the weight started falling off. Weeks later as my foot healed, I had lost 18 lbs without any exercise whatsoever, whereas everything I tried before hadn’t worked.
When I went back to a workout class that I had regularly attended before my foot injury – everyone else who had continually gone to the same class looked the same. They all asked me what new diet or exercise program I had tried. I simply told them I stopped exercising as much and relaxed my calorie deficit. To this day I’m not sure some of them believed me.
The key to lasting weight loss is to find what works for YOU. This is one thing a Wellness Coach can help you to discover. Contact [email protected] for more information on how.
Keep running with life ! – Amie