You wake up one day and think to yourself “This is it, today I’m going to eat less calories and exercise more to lose weight!”. You set the goal of losing 50lbs in 6 months, about 2 lbs/week.
You’ve done the math, and calculated how many calories you need to be in a deficit in order to reach your goal by a certain time line.
If 3500 calories = 1lb of fat, then a reduction in 1000 calories/day means I’ll lose 2lbs a week.
A few months go by and you’re not on track to where you thought you would be so you exercise more, and still very little change.
So, intuitively, you eat less calories because surely this will help you lose, your body just needs a “boost” in fat burning.
Six months have passed, and you feel defeated because of all of your hard work, strict dieting, and crazy exercise, you’ve lost a whopping 10lbs.
So, what is happening?
First, let’s talk about what factors impact weight loss:
More than 400 genes have been implicated to play a role in body weight. Genes contribute to obesity in many ways: appetite, satiety, metabolism, food cravings, body-fat distribution (ever wonder why you carry fat in some areas and your friends don’t?), and the tendency to use eating as a way to cope with stress. Does this mean there is nothing you can do about your health? Of course not. Keep reading.
- Muscle Mass
Your body composition plays a role in your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is essentially the calories you would need in a day without doing anything, to maintain your body weight. This is different from person to person based on gender, genetics, and body composition (muscle, fat, water, etc). Muscle is metabolically active tissue, meaning it requires calories to stay with you. Why is this important? More muscle = a higher BMR which means you will tend to have a leaner composition when you carry more muscle. I dread hearing of people spending countless hours on cardio equipment and they haven’t done any strength/resistance training to increase not only muscle mass, but also strengthen your bones! This is a win-win guys, get some strength training in.
Clients sometimes look confused or wonder why I talk about sleep in a nutrition session. But when we have insufficient or inadequate sleep, we do not recover from workouts properly. How can we truly benefit from the hard hours in the gym and let our muscles grow if we are not giving them the rest they deserve to grow? Look at your sleep routine and quality and have some self reflection. I have seen clients change body composition on sleep quality ALONE. This is a great place to start.
- Stress Management
We all encounter stress, it’s inevitable. Stresses that are healthy and encourage us to get things done like an alarm going off, scheduled deadlines, being at work on time, exercise, and house chores are all great! However, there are also the CHRONIC stresses in life that are ongoing that can be a real detriment to our health. Not only does this weigh on you mentally, but physiologically it can have an impact. Chronic stress increases the hormone cortisol (a stress hormone) chronically. In turn, our body sees this and wants to protect us by keeping fat stores to protect us (think of it as reservoirs of energy). Your body is not “broken”. It is doing what it is meant to; to keep you alive and safe. Managing chronic stress can help with mental health and also to help bring down chronically high cortisol and in turn, body fat.
Well, obviously I’m going to be talking about this one, I am a dietitian after all! It is true that excessive caloric intake leads to weight gain. But, as you can see from my points above, it is not the ONLY reason why some people can maintain weight loss and some people can’t. If you think about your current diet, and it mostly consists of calorie-dense foods that are low in nutrition, some changes need to take place. Now, does this mean going to the extreme of really low calorie diets, never having that cookie, and intense exercise? No. In fact, cohort studies have shown that restrictive dieters actually binged more on unhealthy food at the end of a diet more than those that had an “all foods fit” diet type (having “treats” in moderation). By means of intuitive eating, mindfullness, and including a well rounded diet, you can be on the right path to find a weight that is best for YOU ( we are all different, so stop comparing yourself to others). The one aspect of diets that I see in new clients that are trying to manage their body weight and eating habits is the lack of protein. Protein has a high TEF (thermogenic effect in food). Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and helps build muscle (remember what I said about muscle tissue in #2). This doesn’t mean that a super high protein diet with extremely low to no carbs will be the answer. In fact, when extremely low carbohydrate diets happen and we see weight loss, we see water loss not fat loss per se. We want to be hydrated to support health and exercise! For every gram of carbohydrate you consume, you retain about four grams of water (hey runners, this is why carbs can help you stay fuelled AND hydrated in long runs). It’s not to say that a lower carbohydrate diet is bad, I just would not go the route of ketogenic dieting and feeling so restricted from foods you love. My point in all of this nutrition talk is that we need balance in our diet – fats, carbs, and protein from a variety of foods (yes, even the ones you label as “bad”).
So, before you start feeling like your body is “broken”, know that there are many factors in life that you cannot control. Yes we can control some, but there comes a point that it becomes unhealthy and puts your wellbeing at risk. I am a supporter in people’s goals, but not if they take away from your quality of life. One more question you should ask yourself is, why is this important to me? Societal standards? Health reasons? Relationships? It’s a hard question to ask, but it’s important to know your “why”.
There are many more reasons why your body weight is where it is, but I hope that this small list with detail can help clarify and set your mind at ease.
Until next snack,
Jessica Roy, RD