Imagine you’re talking to a business owner about their work. The business has been functioning on the same model for ten years, but suddenly profits are tanking. The owner’s response: “We’ll keep doing what we’re doing, just trying harder.”
Would you be surprised? How long do you think that owner stays in business for?
If you think about it, it’s common sense that everything has to evolve. Businesses have to evolve their business plans as the market changes. Students have to evolve the way they study as courses become more difficult. Parents have to evolve their parenting style as their children grow up.
So why on earth do we treat weight management differently?
For most folks, whenever they hit a wall when losing or managing their weight, the first two lines of attack are either A. diet harder or B. exercise harder. Now, provided the person isn’t going to extremes that they could harm or injure themselves, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that approach. Yet, what happens when those approaches don’t solve the problem?
Here’s the key that most people miss: evolution in weight management is more than those two approaches. It’s actually a step by step process that involves those changes. And sometimes, it’s a process that requires stepping backwards. As we all tend to become over-confident in knowledge and our ability to perform a task we’ve done repeatedly, we sometimes end up glossing over “the basics” because “we know them.” With weight management, if you find yourself dismissing one of these steps in a similar fashion, it’s probably the place you need to focus your efforts.
So, let’s dive in to the roadmap of weight management evolution.
Food and Activity Logging
This is the absolute number one place that I see most patients stumble, especially with food logging. It’s generally a habit that most struggle to establish and it’s typically the first of “the basics” to slip after it becomes routine.
Activity logging is a fairly simple process—simply record any formal exercise you do and include what activity you performed and the amount of time you did it. You can include other metrics like how you felt during the workout or how many calories you burned (but beware—even the most accurate calorie burn estimates are off by a minimum of 10%) if you feel so inclined.
Food logging is a more complicated process, but we’ve broken it down in our getting started with weight management guide. The absolute main factor here is accuracy. As I tell my patients: I don’t care if it’s a two calorie mint, you need to log it.
Now, the slope of complacency with logging is a slippery one that can only be combatted by remembering why you log.
First and foremost, logging your food and your activity relates directly back to mindfulness. If you don’t know exactly where you are and what you’re doing, how are you going to know what changes to make?
Second, logging gives you a baseline of what works and what doesn’t work. The more information you have, the easier it will be to ferret out what changes you need to make. That baseline data will also let you know what factors you can and cannot change. If you’re consuming 800 calories a day, restricting your calories further is absolutely not the answer. If you’re exercising 20 hours a week, increasing your activity is probably not possible. But if you see that you’ve been on target with your calories yet your workouts have been becoming progressively easier, it might be time to step up your activity.
Finally, if you’re working with a weight management professional, your logs are invaluable data. It will give your team the ability to see places you could tweak to improve your results as well as inform their decision making process in regard to their recommendations for you.
So once you have your logging shored up, the next step is:
Hit Your Targets
This is a pretty self-explanatory process. If you’ve started to manage your weight, you will have some sort of target regarding your daily calories and your activity goals. Check your logs and ensure that you’re hitting those goals. If you’re certain that you’ve met those targets and still aren’t seeing results, determine whether your exercise or your dietary restriction will be easier to focus on or have greater potential to affect your results. Then either gradually step up your activity or adjust your calorie goal down by 50 to 100 calories (keeping in mind not to dip below 1200 calories if you’re female or 1400 calories if you’re male).
If you’ve tweaked your calorie goal and your activity goal and are still having issues, you’ll want to move on to step three.
Watch What You’re Eating
One of the first lessons I teach my patients is how to read a nutrition label. The primary reason for this is to assist them in their food logging and watching their calorie consumption. I tell all of my patients that 60% of weight management is calorie balance.
The next 20% of weight management is what they’re eating. Essentially, this can be broken down into macronutrient balance and food quality.
In my clinic, we advocate a 40/30/30 diet of 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 30% protein. For most of our patients, this is an excellent balance that keeps them on program with minimal hunger and frustration. However, those targets can seem like lofty goals when getting started, especially considering that the typical American diet is very carbohydrate heavy. This is why we start patients with a focus on their calorie goals, then gradually move them to concentrating on their 40/30/30 goal.
The next component to “what you’re eating” is food quality. In short, whole, unprocessed foods like those we discussed in our last lecture are your best bet when it comes to weight management. But, remember that food is not on a black and white scale of “good” or “bad.” Instead, you have shades of grey of “okay,” “good,” “better” and “best.” Of course, with food quality, we want you to be on the side of “better” and “best” choices as much as possible. This usually means a short ingredient list consisting of natural ingredients that you can pronounce. As I tell my patients, if it has forty-eight letters, it’s probably not natural and you probably don’t want to eat it.
After improving what you’re eating, you’ll want to look at the final 20% of weight management.
Watch How You’re Eating
The final 20% of weight management comes down to how you’re eating your food. This really comes down to meal timing and fasting. Multiple studies have shown that patients who get close to a twelve hour fast between dinner one night and breakfast the next day have an easier time losing weight. The same principle can be applied with techniques like intermittent fasting, though I strongly suggest that you talk to a medical professional about these techniques before attempting them. Some fasting techniques may not be suitable for individuals with certain medical conditions. Your personal needs should be taken into account when working with this kind of technique.
So if your fitness or weight management goals seem to have stalled, recommit to the basics (like logging, calorie goals and mindfulness). If this is not enough to kickstart your progress again, then consider evolving in the other areas we discussed. Remember that while evolution may seem like a complicated process, a lot of it will come to you naturally as you work through your program.
Ultimately, you don’t want to rush and overwhelm yourself with too many changes. But follow the roadmap, one step at a time and you’ll find yourself back on the road to continued success!