I recognize that weight is just one measure of overall health, but it one that many of my clients are connected with. If this describes you, then this article is for you.
Overweight and obesity are so common today that two-thirds of adults and one-third of children experience these in the United States right now. That’s hundreds of millions of people, so please don’t feel alone. Overweight and obesity can increase the risk of many health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Achieving a healthy weight, eating nutritious foods, and being physically active can help improve your health and reduce your risks.
But as you know, there is so much more to the old adage: eat less, move more.
Weight loss can be very challenging for many reasons:
- There is an abundance of food available around most of us 24/7
- Eating isn’t just something we do for sustenance; it’s gratification, a social activity, and sometimes even a reward
- Computers and cars, etc. have contributed to a much more sedentary lifestyle—we don’t all need to be physically active farmers to survive anymore
- Reducing calories voluntarily is really, really hard; it’s a huge challenge to change habits
- Many diets work in the short term, but fail later on because they’re simply unsustainable
- After losing weight, maintaining weight loss is extremely difficult and this is particularly true for women after menopause.
Today, let’s go over some strategies to overcome the challenges of weight loss.
What is metabolism and how can I lose weight?
Your weight is based on several factors, some are controllable and others are not. For example, your genetics, family history, and hormones can impact your weight, but there’s not too much you can do on your own to significantly change those. On the other hand, how much and what you eat, the medications you’re taking, the amount of stress you’re under, and how much sleep and physical activity you get also contribute to weight, and are a bit more controllable (albeit not completely controllable).
Here’s where metabolism fits with weight. There are so many things that your body does at rest: breathing, pumping blood, adjusting hormone levels, maintaining your body temperature, and growing and repairing cells. The amount of energy (calories) your body uses to perform these essential functions is called your “basal metabolic rate.” Overall, your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or metabolism, accounts for about two-thirds of the calories your body burns each and every day.
“Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex process, calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Your metabolism is influenced mostly by your body size and composition. This means that people who are bigger and/or have heavier bones and more muscle mass burn more calories at rest. Because men tend to be bigger and have more muscle, they naturally tend to have a higher metabolism than women. This also goes for younger people. Because bone and muscle mass naturally tend to decrease (and fat mass naturally tends to increase) with age, if you don’t take steps to maintain bone and muscle mass, your metabolism likely will decrease which results in increased weight.
Certain medical conditions can also affect your metabolism. For example the hormonal conditions of Cushing’s syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can slow your metabolism down. These conditions often come with a range of other symptoms beyond just weight gain. If you suspect that you have an underlying medical condition, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional about tests to confirm these diagnoses.
A slow metabolism may be one factor that influences your weight, but it’s not the only one. How your body processes what you eat or drink and how active you are also play roles in your weight. The process of digesting food burns calories. About 10 percent of the calories in carbohydrates and protein are used to digest them. Plus, the amount of physical activity you do also accounts for some of the calories you burn every day.
While some people may gain or lose weight easier than others, in general, the balance of your “energy equation” counts for your weight. That is, the amount of energy (calories) you take in minus the amount of energy (calories) you burn can determine whether you gain or lose weight.
Weight loss/maintenance strategies
Before you start a weight-loss program, be sure to speak with your health care provider. Many weight-loss products or programs can be harmful depending on your current state of health and goals. Be particularly wary of products or programs that promise quick, long-lasting, or effortless weight loss and don’t focus on whole food nutrition.
Your behaviors and habits have a huge influence on your weight and you are empowered to adjust them as you see fit. It’s recommended that if you experience overweight or obesity and want to lose weight, you need to take in less energy (calories) then you put out. And, if you can add in some of these other strategies (including adding physical activity) you may be able to reach your weight-loss goals even faster.
Here are my top six strategies for weight loss/maintenance:
1 – Set specific, realistic, forgiving goals
- Instead of a goal to “lose weight,” try smaller and more specific goals that you can attain.
- Daily or weekly goals can be, for example, to cook a vegetable-rich meal on the weekend, decrease food cues (hiding cookies out of sight or disregarding food ads), or walk at least 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week.
- Try to stick with a new habit for at least a week or two to start making it routine. Then when one habit becomes consistent, add another one.
- Remember, it’s not uncommon to take 6 months to lose 5% of your body weight (and this varies based on on how much or little weight you have to lose), so that may be a more realistic goal to aim for.
2 – Ditch the “diet” mentality and focus on making lasting improvements for sustainable health
- Focus on improving your food choices for overall health, rather than “dieting” for weight loss.
- Focus on your macronutrients ensuring you get enough lean protein, and the right amount and type of healthy carbs and fats
3 – Try eating a different way and see what works for you
- Ideally, each meal should take at least 20 minutes to eat, so eat slower. Enjoy your food more and listen for fullness cues that subtly signal when you’re getting satisfied and it’s time to stop eating.
- Eat more mindfully by focusing on and enjoying what you’re eating while you’re eating it. Pay attention to your food’s smell, taste, and texture as you’re eating it.
- Try putting your fork down or sipping water between bites and thoroughly chewing before swallowing.
- If you have a habit of snacking in front of the TV or computer screen, try getting used to replacing that with a glass of water or unsweetened beverage instead.
4 – You don’t have to do exercise to be more physically active (although I recommend it)
- Boost your activity; move for at least 30 minutes per day (even three 10 minute sessions can help); more movement can bring greater benefits.
- Strategic aerobic activity (e.g., HIIT/Biking/sprints, etc.) has many benefits and is an efficient way to burn calories
- Weight training (e.g., using weights or pushing your body against gravity) builds your muscles which increases your metabolic rate; ideally you’d include at least three weight training sessions per week.
- Don’t forget you don’t have to do “exercise” to be physically active, you can take the stairs more often, park further away, walk a bit faster, or do housework or gardening—they all count toward increasing your daily energy expenditure. (But again, I recommend it and really recommend adding in strength training)
- Remember that any physical activity is better for your health (and weight loss goals) than none.
5 – Reward your successes …aka, celebrate your wins
- According to the National Institutes of Health, “frequent small rewards, earned for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than bigger rewards that require a long, difficult effort.”
- Each time you reach a goal, however small, reward your success with a non-food activity or item.
- For example, you may want to buy yourself that book, movie, music, or game that you’ve wanted for a while. Or re-read, re-watch, or re-listen to an old favorite.
- Perhaps you can put a small amount of money away to save up for a larger reward.
- Rewards don’t have to be monetary. You can take some time for yourself like have a bath, do your nails, or enjoy a craft or hobby you love (or try a new one).
- No matter what, take the time to remind yourself of “what went well”. It’s all too easy to focus on what’s not going well so this is something you may need to train yourself to do.
6 – Persevere
- Losing weight can be hard and most women have been trying for a long time to find what works for them.
- Every day is a new day. If you go off track, get back on track and try again.
- Don’t give up. EVER! I know it may be frustrating, and even more so as hormonal changes kick in, but you living your healthiest life is worth it!
While weight is but one measure of health, it is a big concern for many women. Losing weight is not easy. Your metabolism is influenced by many different factors—some you can’t control (e.g., your genes) and others you can (e.g., what and how you eat).
The fundamentals of weight loss include enjoying healthier, nutritious foods more often, being aware of what you are eating with a focus on knowing your macronutrients and energy in/energy out, and being more physically active.
If you find your metabolism is causing issues, or you need help to lose weight in a sustainable, effective way, I’d love to chat! You can connect with me at Nancyleedsgribble.com.