Q: erika i’ve been trying to lose this weight for so long that i’m starting to think it’s a part of me i’m just going to have to live with. i feel like i’m doing everything wrong and i barely know my up from down in calories anymore. please help me figure this out!!!!!!!!!!
I feel like there are some common weight loss slip ups that people encounter that are so frustrating that they can make or break a journey. And it’s hard, right? Because who wants to be stuck sitting in a plateau (or not losing a single pound at all) and still grinding your heart out in the gym? It can be demoralizing.
But honestly, there are a few quick and simple shifts that you can make in your plan that’ll give you just the boost you need to start feeling progress, and give you the energy you need to help you stay committed.
‘Cause let’s face it—nothing makes a person commit more than seeing results.
1) You’re not fueling your workouts properly, and it’s forcing you to overeat after you work out. Say you do what I used to do—at the end of a long day, you hit the gym on the way home. Let’s say you grind your little fitness-focused heart out on the elliptical—like I did—and burned a smooth 700 calories during that hour. And, after you pack your bag and head out the door, you find that you’re starving.
And, if you’re like me, you’ll pull into the nearest fast food joint and order a giant calorie bomb of a meal, not thinking anything of the fact that I not only rendered my workout useless by going and ordering something that was over 1,100 calories… but I also ended the day eating way more calories than I consumed. If I had a goal for losing a pound by the end of the week, I’d likely fall short.
As I said in Exercise Doesn’t Make You Thin:
[…] a concept known as compensation – which is, to put it bluntly, the idea that the body aims to “make up” for any imbalance in the energy expenditure -> energy consumption cycle. […] in the sense that when the body senses that you’ve burned a lot of energy (read: calories) in one given activity session, it will try to compel you to eat more calories so that it can keep it’s size. This form of compensation is how the body protects us from getting “too small” – something that is relative to the size you’ve been – because it fears being unable to protect you from famine. This explains that “ravenous feeling” people get after they’ve worked out. This is also why you have to be extremely careful with your intake after you eat.
People who fail to fuel their workouts properly are the ones most a risk for feeling this ravenous post-workout hunger, and when coupled with a craving for otherwise junky high-carb food, it’s a recipe for weight gain.
Your body knows what it’s doing. You just have to know what your body is doing, and why.
If your body is fearing famine, feed it strategically. Eat something before you workout, keep your workouts below 45 minutes, and eat something—preferably higher in protein and fat—within the two hours following your workout. And, most importantly, fit those into your daily food intake. Don’t just say “oh, I can eat these calories as extra” and exclude them from your food journaling because you burned so many calories during your workouts.
So, if you’ve got a 1,900 calorie budget, then make sure the peanut butter sandwich and banana you have before your workout and the little bit of chicken and broccoli whole wheat pasta you have after your workout are subtracted from that 1,900 to determine how many calories you should eat for the rest of your day.
2) You’re likely eating too many calories. What most people miss is that, in today’s food world, it’s virtually impossible to lose weight on a bad diet. Not just because the calorie counts are sometimes wildly inaccurate, but because most of today’s pre-packaged food is so unfulfilling that you’ll overeat on your calorie budget just trying to feel satisfied by your meal.
I know there are people who say they “lost the weight by eating how they’ve always eaten,” but here’s one thing I learned the hard way: I overate those foods because I was chasing a satisfaction I could only get from overeating; because of this, continuing to eat those same food and merely committing to eat less of them basically meant living with never being satisfied or feeling full.
Chances are high you’ll face the same fork in the road that I did: live the rest of my life accepting hunger pains as a part of my relationship with food, or change what I eat so that I’m able to feel satisfied.
At least when you change how you eat, you’ll also be able to keep a better running tally of how many calories you eat. Because eating a pre-packaged food only to find that it possibly has 30% more calories than reported…is not the move.
Keep a tally of all condiments, all drinks (yes, even those you have when you’re out being grown), and all random little side things you bite into all day the same way you would (and should) keep tabs on the meals you eat. Before long, you’ll uncover the source of the extra calories, and it’ll help you cut them down.
3) You’re not burning the amount of calories you think you are. You know, I wore my Polar watch, my Apple watch, and set up the calorie counter on my treadmill as I did my warm-ups today, and—unsurprisingly—I got three different numbers.
The treadmill is the least accurate—it doesn’t track your heart rate on a regular and consistent interval unless you have a chest strap paired with it, which means it can’t give you an accurate bead on your calorie expenditure. The same can be said for the Apple Watch, which only uses a sensor that reads the heartbeat in your wrist vein (and, if you have brown skin, it does it extremely poorly). You can pair a chest strap with the watch if you like, and that’s great, but you’d better be consistent with that.
If there’s not regular and consistent reading of your heart rate, which is a damned good indicator of your breathing speed (which, if you’ll recall, is important for fat burning), then there’s no reliable calorie count for how much you’ve burned. And, while older treadmills and fitness equipment was good for over-exaggerating counts, more modern machines are very conservative, sometimes giving you only around 70% of your total burn. Perhaps they think it’ll encourage you to do more if you think you’re not getting anything done? Who knows.
If you’re not burning enough calories to fit into your plan, then your weight loss will stall. If you’re burning too many, well….
4) Your plateauing because it’s time to cut calories again. As I said in The Math Behind Weight Loss Plateaus:
A 20lb weight loss alters how many calories our bodies burn in a given day by over100 calories! A woman who is 5’8″, weighing in at now 148 pounds, doesn’t burn 2,173 calories each day – she burns 2,025! If she’s counting to make sure she eats 1,600 calories each day,that’s only a 425 calorie deficit! That’s not enough to burn a pound every 7 days, it’s enough to burn a pound every 9 days. Meaning there may only be two Saturdays in the month where she sees any progress on the scale, depending upon where those nine-day markers fall.
After each successful stride in your journey, you must reassess your metabolic rate, be it for an athlete or a couch potato. You have to know what your body is doing, and you have to remember that as your size changes, your capabilities change.
Every month, in your journey, you should take your weight, re-calculate your caloric intake numbers, and base any deficits on that new number instead of relying on old numbers for your old weight. What unfortunately can happen, if you’re not careful, is you can find yourself re-gaining the weight you first lost… and demoralized by something you never even considered.
What are your troubleshooting questions? I’m all ears!