By Lisa Rhea
When it comes to weight loss, most people are quick to slash calories and increase their cardiovascular exercise. They hop on some diet or take up running and eagerly jump on the scale each morning to track their progress. Conventional wisdom says to eat less and move more, sure.
And it will work – to a degree.
At first the results will be great. The scale provides positive feedback and you hear all about their success on Facebook. But soon the updates stop. Why? Because the human body is programmed to adapt. Eventually, our bodies learn to function on less calories and adapt to the changes.
How often have you dropped 5 to 10 pounds with a new diet or new exercise program, only to find your weight loss stalled? Either you cannot sustain the lifestyle you want and the diet and training program, or you stay vigilant to the program, but just stop making progress. Both are frustrating. You either find yourself abandoning it all or doing more and more and eating less and less, or looking for a new supplement to make it to that final goal, then getting frustrated and throwing in the towel.
In any case, when you go off the program, you rarely maintain the weight loss. Most people gain all the weight back and oftentimes more. When you attempt to go back on that same diet program that helped you drop 5-10 pounds last time, you don’t see the same results you did the first time.
Why? You’ve damaged your metabolism.
The Oprah Effect
For most people who struggle with their weight, this cycle continues for years and years (can you say Oprah?) Some people are constantly dieting, yet you never really notice a change in their appearance. Some will lose a lot, but then regain a whole lot more. Some will keep the weight down, but become obsessed and constantly trying to diet harder and seem to never be able to just maintain. Again, they are fighting against their metabolism, not for it.
To understand how the metabolism works, consider what a healthy metabolism looks like. Think about the one group of people who seem to have the best metabolisms – teenagers. What’s characteristic about them? They eat a lot and they move a lot. A healthy metabolism is like a muscle car – it can move fast but sucks down gas. When fat loss is the goal, we want to be a fast, inefficient machines.
So how do you lose weight without destroying your metabolism? There is no one simple answer, but here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
Forget the Fad Diets
Call it a jump-start or whatever you want, it’s not a good idea. There’s a reason these programs make money – because people do them over and over. The only reason to do them over and over? They didn’t provide lasting results the first time. Often these 7-day, 21-day or month-long programs are extreme and do exactly what I describe above – set your body up to run on less.
Further, if you don’t see yourself being able to stick to a program indefinitely, you’re not going to see lasting results. Rather look for a program or challenge, like the Better Choice Challenge, which teaches you to make sustainable changes.
Change What You Eat Before How Much You Eat
The first step in improving your diet should not be cutting calories. Rather, it should be increasing the quality of the food you are eating. Oftentimes, simply switching the macronutrients you’re consuming will lead to physique changes, even without slashing calories.
Namely, look to increase your consumption of protein and limit sugars and saturated fats. These changes alone allow your body to operate more smoothly, promote a healthier hormone balance, and should have you feeling better and craving less.
When you’ve changed your macronutrients, but still need to do more to lose weight, slowly, I repeat SLOWLY, lower your calories. The goal should always to be to eat as many calories as possible while seeing results. When you’re looking long term, you want a sustainable meal plan. Sure, you can drop weight quick by cutting down to 1200 calories. But you’ll be miserable and you will quickly plateau, if you don’t start bingeing before you even get to that point.
Rather than a big cut, make small changes that will be sustainable. Even more, you want to be able to have room to make further cuts as your body adapts. Again, think about the long run and work towards a way of eating that you can maintain. You shouldn’t always be in a deficit, but you’re never going to be able to eat whatever you want and maintain your weight. So find a balance.
Get Moving, But Think Muscle Car
This point is two-fold. Not only do you want to be move quickly, with intensity, you want to get stronger. Building muscle boosts your metabolism and weight training workouts are great for continuing to rev up your system long after the workout has ended.
Likewise, intense cardiovascular work (think intervals, sprints, dynamic movements, plyometrics) utilize more muscle activation and more energy systems, thereby again, doing more for less.
Now if endurance is your goal, by all means go out for hour long runs and enjoy! I definitely do this, but understand that this isn’t ideal for fat loss and I am sure to mix it up, incorporating various forms of exercise.
Endurance is all about becoming efficient. We want to be able to run longer while breathing easier. If you are trying to do both, lose weight and run races, heart rate training is a great way to insure you’re working just as hard despite endurance gains. And you’ll only get faster from including other intense cardio work in your routine.
One of the best things you can do is learn to have balance in your life. If you are constantly trying to lose weight and always unhappy with how you look, it’s a good sign that you haven’t found the right method yet. A healthy metabolism is the result of consistently “feeding the machine” and being active.
It doesn’t sound sexy and it doesn’t sell, but balanced living is where the long term results are at. I can put anyone on a program that will have them losing weight for a short time period. But that’s pointless if it’s not sustainable.
Whenever you are attempting to make a change, ask yourself “Can I live this way indefinitely?” Because there is no short-cut . There’s a reason even the wealthy (hello Oprah again) struggle with their weight. Many times it’s rebuilding your relationship with food, improving your self-image and managing stress that are the keys to long-term weight loss.