Losing weight is hard; Keeping it off may even be harder. For years, the mantra has been, “Eat less and exercise more,” but that has done little in the way of helping people to overcome the challenges to weight maintenance. A famous talk show host used to say, “when you know better, you do better” and she’s got a point. I don’t think people engage in risky health behaviors because they don’t know what to do, but rather they don’t know how to do it differently. Obesity is not a disease of willpower and so the treatment can’t simply be, “try harder.” I have had the honor and privilege of working with so many men and women who have fought hard to get healthy and I can tell you that their willpower isn’t lacking. It’s not willpower, but as Dr. Pamela Peek says, it’s “wellpower” strategy. Instead of relying on willpower, which is limited, use that willpower to develop strategies that provide lasting results. So what’s the secret to losing weight and keeping it off? It’s actually more straightforward than people might realize, but it’s not easy. Let’s look at the formula for success.
The 4 tenets of weight loss success are nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management.
If you want to lose weight, you must cut calories. This is paramount. In terms of weight loss, calorie reduction is more important than exercise. Surprised? It’s a shocker for most people because we’ve all been told we’re sitting too much (which is true), but to lose body fat a person has to burn more calories (energy) than they are consuming. I won’t go so far as to say it’s simply a matter of calories in and calories out, but creating an energy deficit must happen for weight loss to occur and the best way to do that is through energy restriction. Eat more nutrient-dense foods; Eat less high-calorie foods. There’s a famous saying that holds true for most and it’s worth repeating: you can’t out exercise a bad diet.
Exercise is EXTREMELY important for health, but in terms of weight management, it’s role is most important in the weight maintenance phase. Exercise is wonderful medicine and it’s totally free for anyone to use. To prevent weight regain, the ACSM recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week, but stresses that some individuals may benefit from > 250 minutes a week to prevent weight regain. Exercise helps to prevent muscle loss that can occur with weight loss, which is important since a decrease in muscle tissue would mean a decrease is resting metabolic rate (slowed metabolism). This is why we do body composition testing for all of our clients.
One overlooked side effect of exercise can be an increase in appetite. Pay attention to how exercise affects your appetite and your thinking. Does exercise lead to increased hunger and eating? Do you find that hard workouts leads to rewarding yourself with food? Pay close attention to how exercise affects your eating. It’s not uncommon for people to overestimate their calorie burn with exercise.
The role of sleep in weight loss is getting more and more attention, and for very good reason. If a person is not getting enough sleep, they likely won’t have the energy to spare towards meal planning and exercise. Under stress, they are more likely to succumb to food cues in their environment and also tend to crave sugar and high-calorie snacks. Chronic sleep deprivation impairs your decision-making ability and affects your appetite regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin. This means you tend to feel hungrier and remain less satisfied when you do eat.
Chronic stress affects weight both directly and indirectly. A person under stress rarely has time or energy to think about planning nourishing meals and they certainly don’t have time for exercise. The biological effects of stress creates a strong drive to eat highly processed food-like substances (aka, junk food). Junk food is cheap, legal and a socially accepted way of soothing emotions. If you want to get a handle on your food choices, you’ll first have to identify and eliminate sources of chronic stress in your life.
Losing weight for life requires a complete transformation in all areas of mind, body and soul. Long-standing habits and behaviors must be challenged and replaced with life-giving behaviors. People who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off are determined to get at the root behaviors. They are persistent and tend to surround themselves with people who are also committed to improving their health. There’s a special quote from author Steve Maraboli and he says, “if you hang around chickens, you are going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles you’re going to fly.”
Are you a successful loser? Join the national study at the National Weight Control Registry: http://nwcr.ws/