While it may take only days to lose 5 pounds, the weight lost is mostly water and undigested food and is very easily regained. True weight loss means losing fat. This is much harder, far more complex and in general requires small, long-term adjustments and a holistic approach that includes nutrition, exercise, stress management and sleep.
About four times a year my husband declares that “this is the heaviest I’ll ever be again!” Then he binges White Collar as inspiration for the 30-something year old he wants to be, does about 20 push-ups for 5 nights in a row and starves himself for 3 days. He loses about 10 pounds, and then promptly gains 11.
Losing weight is not the way to lose weight. Sure, you can weigh less temporarily, but sustainable, life-changing weight loss takes more than a focus on the scale.
As Dr. Seuss puts it, “True weight loss doesn’t come from a store. True weight loss, perhaps, means a little bit more”. Well, maybe he didn’t put it exactly like that, but you get the point, right?
My guess is that you have lost weight at some point in the past. Maybe it was through a fad diet, fasting, hiring a personal trainer for a month… But you weren’t able to keep it off. See, somewhere along the line – through infomercials, social media, celebrity bodies or just an attention span that wants More! Now! – we started confusing the number on the scale with actual, honest-to-God sustainable weight loss. And we figured that fasting for 5 days, or eating only almonds or whatever our quick weight fix was, would be the magic key to weight loss success. But the thing is, that hardly ever works. You were able to keep the weight off for a few days, weeks or maybe even a couple months but it came back, didn’t it?
It came back for 2 reasons, both of which are equally important to understand.
First, what you were doing wasn’t sustainable. Let’s say you’ve decided to try a new “kale only” diet (I’m using a kale only diet as a hypothetical, please don’t try a kale only diet!). Anyway, you may lose a bunch of weight over the first couple weeks because you’re only eating kale. Thing is, we can’t only eat kale. At some point you need something other than kale because 1) kale can be kind of gross, 2) you need other nutrients and 3) the world has more flavorful, satisfying food in it and you know you’re missing out!
So you add back one other food, and then another, and then another…And before you know it, you’ve fallen back into your old lifestyle because what you were trying to do wasn’t something that could actually become a new lifestyle. Same goes for people who wake up one day and decide they’re going to lose 20 pounds this month. Or for those who decide they’re going to run a mile a day despite the fact that the last time they ran a mile was in 8th grade gym class. It simply doesn’t work that way.
If you hate salad, then eating salad isn’t the key to your weight loss. If you hate exercise, then hiring a personal trainer isn’t the key to your weight loss. And if you love wine, then abstaining from alcohol isn’t the key to your weight loss. Can you lose weight that way? Sure. But in a year will you have sustained that weight loss?
It has to be sustainable for you, meaning not someone on T.V., not your neighbor who loves yoga, not the person who posted their weight loss journey on Instagram, not me, but you, in order for you to achieve that long-term weight loss that you want.
And the second reason that these quick fix weight loss methods don’t work? They ignore how multi-factorial our weight actually is. How much we weigh isn’t merely a measurement of how much food we eat or how much exercise we do.
In fact, there are four core tenets of health that influence our ability to lose weight, and hundreds of factors within each: stress, sleep, nutrition and exercise.
Allow me to illustrate my point with an admittedly nerdy example. Cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by our adrenal glands in response to stress. Picture this…
You’re at the park, and a bear shows up. Your body says, “Whoa. That’s a bear. We’re gonna run.” So your adrenal glands begin to secrete cortisol because one of cortisol’s primary functions is to increase our body’s resistance to insulin. It does this so that the body can turn our protein energy stores into glucose to supply our muscles with the energy needed to run from the bear (this process is called gluconeogenesis, literally “make new glucose”).
Now, this abundance of glucose is all well and good provided you burn up that glucose by running from the bear. Here’s the thing though. Most of our stress today isn’t due to a bear. It’s our boss. Our spouse. Our kids. It’s COVID. It’s social media. It’s a million things that are mental rather than physical and thus we don’t burn up that glucose. So you know what ends up happening? Your body stores that glucose as fat. And it stores it in those deep down, never-gonna-reach-them, super unhealthy, visceral fat cells in our belly. So your stress causes you to gain weight. To add insult to injury, if we’re stressed a lot, we can develop chronic insulin resistance otherwise known as type-2 diabetes, but that’s another topic for another post.
And guess what else! Because your body just took your protein energy stores and turned them into glucose, your cells are like “I want those energy stores back!” So what’s your brain do? It tells you you’re hungry. And what kinds of foods can replenish those stores the fastest? High. Calorie. Foods.
Ever wonder why our go-to comfort foods are often super unhealthy foods? Thanks to cortisol, stress on the body causes a nearly insatiable demand for calories, so our comfort foods – the foods we eat when we’re stressed – are typically heavy and have lots of calories. In other words, stress produces cortisol, and cortisol makes you want cake. Which would be okay if you just ran from a bear. But chances are you didn’t, and now you’re in the pantry hoping no one notices that the Oreos disappeared.
Each of those four core areas (again those are stress, sleep, nutrition and exercise) is a massive, complex topic unto itself, but each needs to be addressed to truly achieve long-term, sustainable weight loss. The latest “shred diet” fad or meal replacement supplement may improve you nutrition temporarily, but does it give you better sleep? Provide stress management? Improve your fitness? The kind of life change you’re looking for requires a more holistic approach.
I’m a certified personal trainer and a certified health coach. I probably receive 3 requests for personal training for every 1 that I receive for health coaching. But you know what the most common personal training request I hear is? “I want to lose weight”.
So many of us just don’t understand the complexities of weight loss. It usually can’t be done by nutrition and fitness alone.
This is where health coaching can be amazingly transformational, and it‘s why my approach is a holistic one. Each of us is unique. We require our own plan. We need to understand how our stress impacts our sleep, how our sleep impacts our nutrition, how our nutrition impacts our exercise, how our exercise impacts our stress…you get the idea… That’s when you’ll be able to lose weight and actually lose weight.
If you’d like to see what this sort of holistic approach looks like for you schedule a free consultation with me! We’ll get you where you want to be and we’ll do it in a way that works for you.
But if, like my husband, you continue to opt to go it alone, just remember, you won’t lose weight by simply losing weight. Focus instead on assessing and understanding all four core aspects of your health (stress, sleep, nutrition and exercise). Every single one of them matters if you hope to change your weight, and to change your life.