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I’ve been here. This might sound familiar for you too.
Buy the latest diet book
Read the most fad-y-ist blogs, decide to go vegetarian/paleo/vegan/grapefruit diet/atkins/villainize all kinds of food groups and start on THE new diet on January 1st that will help to lose weight THIS time.
The title of the book convinces you that you will lose 5 pounds a week, 20 pounds a week or something QUICK.
You buy it.
AND are committed to losing weight only to find yourself 6 weeks down the line, fallen off the wagon, frustrated, restricted, craving everything you gave up and feeling hopeless.
Sound like you? Sounds like me at one point in my life and I’m guessing a few other people too.
But the good news is…there is a saner approach out there, namely a focus on unprocessed whole foods and creating a healthy lifestyle rather than ‘dieting’. Crash dieting is hard, but looking for smaller habit changes that are focused on whole foods and creating a balanced lifestyle is a more sustainable way to look at weight loss. This is a balanced, holistic way to look at food and exercise and one’s life as a whole. And it is much less frustrating and a whole lot more sustainable. The issue isn’t that most of us don’t know WHAT to eat (generally we can agree that fruit and veggies are healthier than that tasty donut), the trouble is it is HOW to stick with it. We KNOW the right information, but making permanent change is Hard. No one teaches us how to change our behavior.
In Chip and Dan Heath in “Switch: How to Make Change When Change is Hard” discusses why changing habits is difficult. And it comes down to three things:
This is the plan that has been laid out. Want to lose weight? Well first things first is to figure out how to get into a calorie deficit. How to do that?
Step 1: Take Inventory:
1) What are you eating?
Keep a food log for a week. You can keep a digital one like on myfitnesspal.com, or a journal, but the point is to write down what you are eating (be brutally honest with yourself). If you have never counted calories, try it out for a week. Why? It has nothing to do with accuracy or I should say inaccuracy of food labels, and more to do with the fact the act of looking at calorie counts helps people become more mindful of the food they eat. I know that eating ice cream has calories that are somewhat ’empty’ in it, but when I realize that if I eat a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s has about 1000-1200 calories, I’m less inclined to eat the whole thing and be more mindful about how much I eat when I do eat ice cream. Calorie counting has been proven time and again to be not terribly accurate, but when we are more mindful of WHAT we are eating, we tend to start to see where we are fooling ourselves. The mind has a funny way of not remembering all the less desirable foods in our diets, but a food log creates accountability.
2)What are you doing for exercise?
Do you exercise regularly? No? What activities do you like to do? Are you pressed for time and interested in the most efficient workouts or are you more inclined to do something more often if it has a more social element to it? Figure out what works for you. Usually the best generic advice is to spend 3 days a week lifting heavy and the other 2-3 days a week can be activity focused or some sprint workouts. Can’t do that yet due to a limitation? Make a goal of just being more active every day, walk more, ride your bike more, but most of all: write it down. Write down your plan to move more and schedule it into your calendar. Don’t have a calendar/planner? I’m a fan of the Happy Planner. But any planner will do. Just write it down as an appointment.
3) Document where you are right now.
Grab the tape measure, step on the scale and take pictures. This can be an extremely difficult task, but it is a worthwhile endeavor that over time you can track your progress and really SEE how your body changes with weight-loss.
Step 2: Focus on Small Changes
Once you have taken inventory figure out the one thing that you believe you can do…RIGHT NOW that will address how to help you eat healthier or move more. Make a small goal.
Here are a few ideas:
A) Eat at home more…goal: only eat out 2-3x a week
B) Eat more nutrient dense food but plan on eating less nutrient dense food 1-2x a week. (That is not a typo, plan some goodies or less nutrient dense treats into your diet)
C) Drink more non-caloric liquids. Keep caloric laden liquids to the ‘treat’ category that can be visited 1-2x week in the treat category.
D) Move more…grab a cheap-o pedometer and track your steps (myfitnesspal.com has a way to sync your smart phone with their logging to track steps). But the main go is: move more. Maybe 10K steps, maybe more…figure out what ‘more’ is and aim for it.
E ) Discover the free weights. Heavy weights will help you keep burning calories all day long. Don’t know where to start? Hire a trainer to show you how to use the lifts.
F) Be more hungry…being a little hungry throughout the day isn’t a bad thing. Learning to be just a little hungry and discover that hungry isn’t a scary thing is good for weight loss.
From this list and many more options, there are ways to figure out your path…the way to lose weight and what works for you. Remember roughly ~500 calorie deficit a day will translate into a 1lb/week weight loss and if you stick with it, that can translate into 50lbs over a year. Think about the long term, where do you want to be next year? The main objective with the Path is to figure out what you want to do (and will stick with), and write out how you plan to achieve that path. Start with small changes and move forward over time. But commit some time to figuring out the path to take.
Step 3: Don’t go Crazy
My recommendation: don’t go crazy with being super strict. Creating a black and white “Pass/fail” view of your path is akin to putting you on a tight-rope and then feeling like when you slip up you have totally fallen off the path. There will be some set backs from time to time…plan for them…or even schedule them in. This is why I suggest EATING less nutrient dense food in limited amounts…WHY?? You are less likely to feel deprived if you don’t create a scarcity mindset. If you think you cannot have something, suddenly it becomes the one thing you want All.the.time. Being flexible in your eating habits will make you more likely to stick with them long term. What does this look like?
Lately I have found that I tend to eat out a few times on the weekends. Rather than be feel restricted when I go out, I chose to not indulge in treats during the week so I can chose an option that I would prefer when I eat out. I don’t go completely crazy, and I still moderate a few things… namely I try to limit the calorie dense side options with a main meal and try to get a side salad or more veggies with dinner. Why? Because I like dessert. If there is a dessert I can chose, I usually like to have it…but if I have dessert, I try to share it and savor the treat. Less nutrient dense foods should be allowable in limited amounts but some reasonable limits do have to be set if you want to achieve your goals. I try to stick to an 80/20 rule with my food…80% of my meals are focused on whole foods like veggies, lean protein, healthy fats and some less processed carbs (when required after a workout) like a sweet potato. Maybe your rule is 1-2 treats a week or something along those lines. Just be mindful of the treats and enjoy them when you have them because…well…they are delicious.
This is the logic center of the brain. For me this is where the analytical dissection of how my progress is coming will come into play. This is the part where reviewing what is working and what isn’t working happens. This also requires you to track and figure out what may or may not be working for you. For me, if I don’t write down what I am eating in some capacity, I am much too gracious on myself and think I am eating less food than I really am…and then get puzzled why I don’t lose weight or why I have gained weight. This is a pretty normal tendency in human behavior. We tend to think better of our habits than they really are. When I track my food typically the first few days I think: ugh…really?? I am usually eating about 300-500 cals/day more than I typically think I am. Repeatedly this tells me that I am not very accountable to myself if I think I’m doing “OK’ without the data to support that ideal. Tracking the data will actually TELL me if I am lying to myself or not.
This is also true for tracking weight and measurements. These two things can really bring people down, but they are just numbers and it is best to not define oneself by the numbers. Tracking weight and measurements give a clear picture what else is going on. Having someone check calipers (7 or more sites) is also a valuable thing to monitor because many times the number on the scale doesn’t tell us what is really going on.
Step 4: Track your progress
Keep track of measurements, % body fat and if you find yourself stalling with your progress, write down all your food for the day. The act of writing can make us more accountable.
Here is the tricky part. The elephant in the book is our emotional center. If that part is not on board…basically all efforts might be for nothing because imagine getting an elephant to do something if it doesn’t really, really want to. This emotional hurdle can be a number of things:
A negative self perception.
A belief you can’t achieve the goals that you want.
Disparaging thoughts about yourself.
Belief that losing weight will ‘fix’ issues in your life.
The reality is that if we can’t get the emotional part of our brain involved in the process of believing we can achieve our goals it will be very difficult to reach your goals. Most of the time this negative self talk is the hurdle.
How to dismantle this negative thinking:
Are you thinking thoughts that you would never say to another person? Tell yourself: hey self…I wouldn’t say that to a friend so why am I berating myself!!
Maybe your goal feels overwhelming, just look at the next day, next week or next month in front of you. Just put one foot in front of the other and tell yourself: one day at a time. Or in the infamous words of Dorrie from “Finding Nemo”: Just keep swimming…just keep swimming. Remember a long series of choices brought you to today and a series of choices will help you lose weight. Take it one day at a time and believe that you can handle one day.
Step 5: Re-frame your thoughts
Figure out what is negative and try to find the positive spin on it. If you are thinking: There is no way I can eat healthy!! Try re-framing it: well this week eating healthy is quite challenging, but I will start with just trying to eat a better breakfast for the week. Next week I’ll try eating healthy at Lunch. Trying to overhaul your eating style and habits all at once is very difficult to stick with in the long run, start small and write it down. Look at your small goal daily.
Step 6: Find Accountability
The other part of the emotional side I that it is necessary to find some accountability.
Tell people what you are doing.
Join a community of like minded healthy people. There are lots of forums out there, myfitnesspal, bodybuilding.com, sparkpeople, fitocracy….etc.
Find a buddy.
Start a blog.
This type of commitment will help you when you are struggling.
If you do what you have always done, you will get what you always have gotten.~Anonymous
If you know where you want to go, determined how you want to get there, and that you BELIEVE you can actually get there you are on the right track. And no fear…if you don’t have enough belief to get you to your end goal…just believe you can get through tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that is enough to start off. It is all, one day at a time.
Still scratching your head on where to start or just want more support? Send me a message. Find out more about coaching groups by contacting me. I start them year round.
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