The Key to Weight Loss.....
It's not rocket science
Trying to attain a healthy weight, or to lose weight, is one of the most difficult things that faces us today. With about two thirds of the US population being either overweight or obese, the problem is daunting. Having coached my patients in my medical practice for many years in this arena, I will tell you it is not easy for me as a coach either. But I think there are a lot of myths surrounding why someone can’t lose weight.
Before I begin, spoiler alert. I am going to say things here that may offend some. That is not my intention. But I am going to be brutally honest, based on my knowledge and experience after thirty years of medical practice. You can take it or leave it. But if you disagree with me, ask yourself this-how has your plan worked so far?
Myth #1 I can’t lose weight because I can’t exercise.
This is one that I believe I hear the most often. Someone once told me “ you can’t out exercise a bad diet.” For some reason in our country the link to weight loss is all about exercise, and little effort or emphasis is placed on a better diet.
So to further deconstruct the myth above, let me give you a real life example.
My heaviest patient ever was almost 750 pounds. As you can imagine, they “had tried everything.” As a last resort the patient opted for bariatric surgery, where the stomach is reduced in size to physically limit the amount of food they can eat at any one time.
Ultimately my patient lost close to 500 pounds over several years. But realize this- the day after surgery he didn’t say “take me to the gym, I need to exercise.” Because of his immense size and poor conditioning, there were very few exercises he could do initially. His initial weight loss was all about calorie restriction. Yes, ultimately he was able to exercise, and that did help. But the foundation of the weight loss was decreased caloric intake, not increased caloric expenditure.
Myth #2 I only eat 1000 calories, so why don’t lose any weight?
I said I might offend some, so be prepared.
No, you are not eating 1000 calories. You are eating a lot more than that, so stop kidding yourself.
As one of my patients who was successful at weight loss told me, “ your body is like a forensic accountant when it comes to calories. You can’t lie to it, because it will show up on your waistline.”
But you can lie to yourself.
A study done many years ago with diabetics had them write down everything they ate for weeks, and at the end of the day they had them estimate how many calories they “thought” they ate. The study found that they underestimated their intake by half. If they thought they ate 1000 calories, they were closer to 2000.
So, we think we have some “spidy sense” as to knowing how many calories we take in, and the truth is, we don’t.
So this is a good segue to what the key to weight loss is, and it can be summed up in one word….
By this I mean, if you really want to be successful in losing weight you need an accounting system. You can do this several ways.
You could get an app like Lose It or My Fitness Pal, a measuring cup and a food scale. Apps like these will ask you how much you weigh, how much you want to weigh and how many pounds a week you want to lose.
Next, weigh and measure everything you eat and the app will tell you how many calories you consumed and if you are on, over or under your target.
Weight Loss Tip- Aim to lose no more than one pound a week.
Studies show that if you try to lose weight too fast, your body releases a substance called ghrelin, which then stimulates your brain to be on the hunt for food- almost constantly, like a great white shark cruising the ocean in search of prey. If you read stories about Holocaust survivors or people that were stranded somewhere and had insufficient food, they will tell you that they had almost obsessive thoughts about food.
One pound a week of weight loss seems to be the sweet spot in terms of avoiding the Ghrelin Gremlin from overtaking your mind.
Now, back to my “ weigh and measure everything you eat…” comment. Doesn’t sound like fun does it? On top of that I don’t think you would be whipping out a measuring cup and a food scale in the middle of your favorite restaurant…. I hope.
Additionally, you are prone to failure because that method has too much “friction.” ( Want to learn more about friction and how to overcome it to make your behaviors stick? See my previous post on this topic here-)
So, what is the quick and easy way? Actually there are two.
Yes, get the apps, and calculate how much you eat by using some of these visual guides-
A half a cup is about the size of half a tennis ball
a full cup is about the size of a baseball or tennis ball
4 oz of meat, chicken or fish is about the size of the palm of your hand, unless you are Shaquille O’Neal.
A tablespoon is about half of a ping pong ball
When in doubt, double your estimate. Think it was 4 ounces, make it eight. Remember the study with the diabetics I mentioned?
Weight loss tip - Don’t count your exercise calories
Why not count exercise calories? Years ago I trained for a marathon, counted all my calories including the exercise burn. Guess what would happen?
“I ran 10 miles today. I can have 3 pieces of pizza. I burned it off.”
My weight at the start of my training was exactly the same when I finished training months later. We have a tendency to sabotage our plans when we try to build in “buffers” like this.
Method #2, and easier still…….
Put food on your plate like you usually do. Then remove about 10-20%
No seconds, and you can’t go vertical on your plate with the food either
Use smaller plates
Given a choice, vegetables usually have less calories than the equivalent amount of fruit
If double stuffed Oreos are your downfall, don’t bring them home. You are unlikely to to hop in the car, drive to the supermarket, buy them and come home to eat them ( lots of friction there!) However, a trip to the pantry is much easier, too easy in fact.
And now that I think about it, there may be a third way that is also easier, but more expensive. That is by subscribing to one of the home food delivery options. They do all the calorie counting and portion control for you. That takes just about all of the friction out of the process as possible.
I used the app technique about 15 years ago, and yes I weighed, measured or estimated everything I ate and lost about 20. pounds. I have kept it off all these years, but I have an unfair motivational advantage- I have to talk to patients all day about proper eating, so I try to “walk the walk” as the cliche goes.
Lastly, when it comes to accountability, you have to be accountable to yourself. That means having really tough conversations with yourself about why you are not succeeding. Brutally tough conversations perhaps. Don’t beat yourself up, but just be honest. Did you follow the steps? If not, then maybe reassess and If not, then maybe reassess and try some more stringent calorie counting.
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