Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Sustainable Lifestyle for the New Year

Another new year and another opportunity to make unrealistic resolutions.  This is, of course, why resolutions usually fail.  Either the goals that you set are unrealistic or lack specificity.  So, if you are waking up to 2020 and decide that this is the year that you are going to lose those unwanted pounds that have been piling up over the years, don't fall into the same trap that you (and many others) have fallen into before.

Weight Loss/Health Traps to Avoid

Trap #1: Eat Less

How often do you hear that if we eat smaller portions and fewer calories that the weight will just fall off?  It seems so simple.  But, if it were, wouldn't everyone just do this and be skinny?  How many diet programs exist that create a plan or even portion food for you?  It is a big business.  The problem: your body does not like to feel deprived.  Your body will reflexively start slowing your metabolism which will undermine your efforts at reducing your weight.  When I say reduce your weight, I mean burning your fat.

To make things worse, if you are not eating satiating/satisfying food, your appetite will increase with the result of eating more often than you admit.  In other words, your brain will trigger a hunger response and you may end up consuming more calories than you were before you started this journey.  This isn't because you have poor moral character or are a bad person.  Your body does not want to be deprived nor should it.

Eating less is a trap, especially if you are eating the wrong types of foods.  How do you know which foods are the right type to target?  Generally speaking, seek foods that have the highest nutrition (especially protein) to energy ratio.  So, in that respect, calories do matter.  Understanding this single concept can carry you quite a distance without having to follow complicated plans or buy special foods.

I could list the most satiating foods here, but it isn't quite the whole picture.  Some foods rank very high on the satiety scale, but they have a secondary feature that reduces their effectiveness.  That secondary feature is the tendency to raise your blood glucose level when consumed.  The problem: when you eat these foods, they may fill you up quickly but your blood glucose will soon drop giving you the feeling of low energy which many people respond to by eating again.  Foods that fall into this camp are potatoes, pulses, and grains.  All of these foods are also very high in carbohydrates which your body converts to sugars and consumes as energy rather quickly.

So what should I eat to be quickly satiated and to hold on to sustain my energy levels?  Meat, eggs, and fish are very high in bioavailable protein and nutrients.  Your body does not need to convert the nutrients as it does with many vegetables.  The energy will be generated from the fat content of these foods and once you adapt to eating these foods as your main source of nutrition you will be better able to utilize your own body fat for energy.  This is a fancy way of saying that you will begin burning your own fat.  Et voila.  You will start the process of fat-burning weight loss.

The key: Instead of eating less of foods that you don't really like, eat larger portions of meat, fish, and eggs less often.  If you get hungry eat another large portion of meat, fish, and eggs.  Do not mix these foods with carbohydrates.  This may not be something that can be done in one day.  Carbohydrate addiction is a real problem.  This is a high-level post, but the concepts are useful.

  • Eat large portions of meat, eggs, and fish until full
  • Eat less often (Don't eat when not hungry)
  • Avoid foods that raise your blood glucose

Trap #2: Move More

Part two of the Calories In/Calories Out (CICO) paradigm is to attempt to burn more calories than you consume.  It sounds realistic.  If I can offset the number of calories that I am consuming by regularly exercising can't I just eat whatever I want?  I wish that were true.  In a similar fashion to the "Eat Less" solution, your body does not want to be deprived. So, when you begin the process of following the resolution of running X miles per week or going to the gym regularly you will soon see the weight loss, that begins so promisingly, stall or even, begin reversing making you heavier than when you started.  Again, this is not because you have poor moral character or are a bad person.

The truth is that you just cannot outrun poor nutrition.  Once you begin an exercise regimen, your appetite will adjust and your metabolism may slow down enough to prevent you from burning your onboard energy (fat).  Many people believe that they need to "carb-up" prior to exercising in hopes of converting those carbs to muscle.  The problem?  Attempting to gain muscle before dealing with your stored body fat is a fool's errand.  You may convert those exogenous carbs to some muscle, but you will also quickly consume those carbohydrates as energy leaving yourself wanting for more.  Essentially, you will soon be hungry and you will overconsume calories, completely sabotaging your calorie deficit goals. 

So, am I saying to NOT EXERCISE?  No, exercise is important to improve your overall fitness and physical strength which have enormous health benefits.  But, I am saying that you should not use exercise as a means to lose weight.  You must first stabilize your appetite and metabolism before being able to enjoy the full benefits that an exercise regimen may offer.

Exercise is not mandatory for weight loss.  Not everyone is healthy enough or physically able to perform all types of exercise, but can still burn fat and lose weight.  But, if you can exercise, do it.  Most people can walk.  Little things like taking the stairs or parking further away from work or the store can pay dividends, especially when coupled with a better way of eating.  If you have good cardiovascular health, you may enjoy High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which allows you to get maximum cardio benefits in just a few minutes.

  • Eat for nutrition, not energy
  • Exercise for fitness not for weight loss
  • Find exercise routines that you enjoy instead of making it a chore

Trap #3: Setting Unrealistic Expectations

It is easy to get excited about changing your life for the better.  When you see the examples of other people losing 100 pounds in a year, it is human nature to compare your progress (or lack of progress) to those examples.  Generally, the first 10 pounds are the easiest to lose with much of that being water weight.  So when the initial success begins to fade and the weight loss stalls it is not unusual to feel disappointment and lose focus. Every person is different.  Not everyone loses body fat at the same rate.  Not everyone is going to lose 5 to 10 pounds every week.  Sometimes your success rate needs to be included in the fact that you did not regain the weight that you lost.  In fact, being weight stable can often be more difficult than losing weight.  Having said that, a weight loss plateau should not be considered a failure.  A sustainable way of eating should allow you to not always have to think about what you are consuming.  Once you develop proper eating habits, the process becomes second nature.  The benefits of focusing on nutrition instead of energy become apparent within a few weeks.  The dopamine hit of eating sugary sweets begin to lose their allure.  The number on the scale should become less important and the numbers of your A1C and blood pressure should take precedent.  Weight loss should be compared to a marathon, not a sprint. It should never be treated like a crash diet, but a lifestyle choice.  If you are having difficulty keeping steady progress in your weight loss you are probably having a problem with Trap #4.

Trap #4 Lack of Consistency

I have tried and failed to lose weight many times in the past.  Why was it different this time?  In every other case, I would allow myself to take "well deserved" breaks.  I would stick to a strict plan for 5 days and relax on the weekends or on special occasions.  I never gave myself a chance to develop consistent habits.  Then I would fool myself into how well I was doing.  A cheat day would become a cheat week then a cheat month.  Before I realized it I was talking about how I would get back on track after the holidays or next week or when it became less stressful.  Every failure became an excuse to fail the next time.  My path to weight loss success came when I stopped giving myself permission to fail.  I decided that I would eat under 20g of carbohydrates a day, period.  Not just Monday - Friday.  When I shifted my mindset from deserving to indulge to deserving to be healthy, desserts were no longer a priority.

This did not mean that I was depriving myself of delicious food.  Instead, I found other food choices that were just as enjoyable that did not sabotage my progress.  I found that cauliflower rice provided the texture that I was seeking over regular, insulin boosting, white rice.  The fathead dough recipe could replace my desire from bread when needed.  A pound of ground beef or NY strip was far more satiating and satisfying than pasta.

With consistency, long term success followed.  My journey began in August of 2018 at 287 pounds.  IT took me 14 months to lose 100 pounds.  I have managed to maintain that weight loss without having to count calories or macros.   I also have not adopted a specific exercise regime, but rather just stay active by walking my dogs and hiking.

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