Healthy weight loss. The holy grail of fitness and nutrition! Healthy weight loss that STAYS lost is not complicated, but it does require consistency and a few basic concepts:
Healthy Weight Loss
A common approach to weight loss is to “count calories in and calories out,” which suggests a set formula for weight loss: In theory, if you create a certain calorie deficit, you’ll lose a certain amount of body weight.
But losing weight in a healthy way is often not that simple. You don’t always lose the expected amount of weight despite the “right” calorie deficit. Your body’s hormones, especially insulin and cortisol, may limit the amount of fat you can burn, even when you reduce calories. Some people may respond to that outcome by reducing calories even more.
But by doing this, you may lose precious muscle and bone mass, not just excess body fat. Unfortunately, the scale won’t tell you when you’re burning through muscle to get to a lower number on the scale.
So use some other measurements too. Recording your clothes size or your waist circumference can show changes in your body that the scale does not.
Healthy weight loss means:
- Setting realistic weight loss goals, both in terms of the time it takes to lose weight and the amount of weight you want to lose
- Getting adequate nutrition (including protein) in whatever nutrition plan you choose
- Managing hunger and cravings
- Choosing foods and workouts that help protect lean body mass
- Choosing foods and exercise that help improve metabolic health
- Getting enough protein and total calories from your diet to protect your resting metabolic rate
- Enjoying your diet so you can maintain it long term
- Having a realistic plan that fits your lifestyle
A looming deadline with weight left to lose can be a good excuse to either give up altogether, or to try unsustainable “quick fixes” that undermine your health. Furthermore, an unreasonable target date can narrow your entire focus to diet-diet-diet, creating an unsustainable and unpleasant obsession in your life.
Instead of being frustrated by trying to control how much weight you’ll lose and how quickly you’ll lose it (the OUTCOME), focus on goals over which you have control — your ACTIONS. If you have DOING goals (planning healthy meals, limiting desserts to two per week, keeping vegetables high and starches low, etc), you have much better control over the process. And when you do the right things consistently, good things happen. Weight loss can happen the way weight gain probably did — over time, while you are busy doing other things.
Setting realistic weight loss goals
Many people start their weight loss efforts with a specific number in mind: “I need to lose X pounds.” The unspoken assumption is “Then I’ll be the ‘right’ size i.e. Then I will be happy.” But where did that number come from? What makes that number so important?
Take a moment to think about “that number.” Are you stuck on that number for reasons other than personal health goals and a desire to feel good about yourself?
Social media doesn’t do you any favors when it comes to realistic expectations. Advertisements stating “I lost 40 pounds in 40 minutes with this miracle (program, pills, gizmo, medication, video, crystal, fill in the blank).
And just because one person dropped eight sizes down to a size zero doesn’t mean you will too. Each human is its own individual organism on its own journey.
Here’s a little-known secret in the world of over-sensationalized dieting promises: you can start with a more modest weight-loss goal that feels doable for you. And, if you reach it easily while enjoying your new way of eating, you can keep going and revise it down later. This gives you the opportunity to succeed — and then succeed again!
Many people also start their weight loss efforts with a specific time frame in mind: “I need to lose X pounds by X date.” Maybe it is a special event like a wedding or reunion, or maybe it’s just bathing suit season (again). Almost everyone can relate to the desire to look and feel their best for those situations.
But ask yourself this: did you have a time frame in mind when gaining weight? Did you tell yourself, many years ago, “I plan to have gained this much weight by the time I’m 45?” Probably not. Weight gain usually happens over time, while you’re busy doing other things.
Weight loss often happens the same way. There’s nothing wrong with losing weight quickly if you’re eating a healthy, reasonable diet. On the other hand, having a specific deadline for weight loss can be counterproductive for some people.
Other ways to lose weight in a healthy way
Deliberately cutting calories can undoubtedly help you lose weight — at least in the short term. Unfortunately, you usually have to put up with one very unpleasant side-effect: cravings.
There is a healthy craving for food, it’s called “hunger”. True hunger is when your body signals that you need food. The hungrier you are, the more likely you are to give up on controlling your food intake.
The other type of food craving is emotional. Sugar cravings, ‘comfort food’ cravings, alcohol cravings, overeating binges, etc. (I talk about this extensively in the Beating Sugar online program)
These emotional eating urges arise when we are seeking some kind of emotional state, and we pretend that food (or alcohol) can give it to us.
To lose weight in a healthy way, you need a nutritious diet that doesn’t leave you hungry, and helps you reduce calories. Fortunately, science shows that certain ways of eating can do both — without the need for superhuman willpower (which is always a limited resource).
- Diets higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates typically help you lose weight with less hunger — improving your chances of long-term success.
- Diets (I really hate using that word, by the way) that don’t have foods that “aren’t allowed”
- Nutrition programs that focus on what to do, instead of what you can’t have.
Enjoying Food While You Lose Weight
Eating should not be punishment! Lots of different diets or methods of eating may be able to help you lose weight and improve your health. But if you hate eating that way, what are the chances you’ll stick with it?
Some people are able to “tough it out” for awhile, despite the lack of enjoyment. Yet the majority of people eventually get frustrated and end up abandoning an unpleasant way of eating.
We are all emotional human beings with cravings and specific likes and dislikes. Our way of eating should match those patterns if we hope to have long-term success.
You’ve likely heard the saying “It isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle.” There’s a good reason it’s so popular. Experience shows that those who have the most success with a particular way of eating do so because they can incorporate it into their life. It becomes who they are, not a special program they’re on.
The best way to healthy weight loss
The best path to healthy weight loss is to use an approach to nutrition coaching that starts from where you are and begins to improve on that for starters.
This is very different than what most people do. And what most nutritionists do.
Most people will have someone create a new plan for them. They start from scratch. That is a recipe for failure and giving up.
Having a nutritionist create a healthy meal plan for you is probably very far from what you’re currently doing food-wise. When things are too different, they don’t stick. You can’t create 12 new habits all at once.
So instead of writing a “diet”, giving it to you, and saying, “Do this” with no real regard for your life, habits, and preferences, what we’re going to do together is identify the places where you are doing really well in your diet, the places where you need a little more consistency, and the places where you need a full reboot. This way we can double down on your winning habits, and tweak the ones that need a little work in order to really accelerate your results.
Sound good? Just drop us a note and we’ll talk about nutrition coaching options. We can work with you one-on-one in Nashville, or over the internet anywhere in the world!