This is a question that I get a lot, especially more recently since my weight loss has become more apparent, and no doubt because I’ve been very public about the process all along. “How’s the training?” “How’s the diet going?” or “How’s the weight loss going?”
Once I hit the 50-pounds-lost point, I was feeling really optimistic. “Things are great! I’ve lost 50 pounds!” Then a friendly exchange of “Wow! Awesome! How?” and a fun discussion of the way I’ve been eating, how I’ve been exercising, and how I’ve changed up my lifestyle to promote healthy living. I hear myself repeating all the great messages I’ve picked up through the magazine, my life coach and my trainer.
It’s also become much easier to quickly identify the misguided approach: At the gym on Saturday, I overheard a woman tell her friend, “It’s not that complicated. You eat less, you exercise more, and you lose weight. If you’re not losing weight by doing that, you’re obviously lying.”
I had to hold myself back from correcting her.
As some of you know from reading Experience Life and the Life Time Weight Loss blog, it’s not that simple. The body’s hormones play a huge part: the sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone), stress hormones (cortisol is most often cited as it affects the metabolic system), the thyroid (undiagnosed or subclinical hypothyroidism are common challenges to weight loss); and both too little sleep too often and years of yo-yo dieting and weight changes can mess with your metabolism and hormones. Or there could be an underlying illness that’s putting a demand on your body (and distracting it from losing weight), as my doctor and I found with my parasite. Today, scientists are continuing to learn more and more about how our bodies lose and gain weight.
It’s a fascinating and complicated study, but it’s become very clear: It’s not as simple as calories in and calories out. The continued belief and preaching of this dated theorem comes off as ignorance.
For those of us who’ve struggled to lose weight, this message can be very empowering. When I believed it was all about calories in/out, I was obsessed with numbers and food. I would dream about chocolate cake. I’d struggle with binges if I was left alone with a box of Cheez-Its. I felt shame over food, and over the fact that I couldn’t get a handle on my willpower. I’d work out in long, steady cardio sessions to rack up more calories burned, not knowing anything about weight lifting and muscle, HIIT training, or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or commonly called the “afterburn,” in which your body continues to burn calories after you’ve finished your workout).
This is supposed to be easy! Just eat less and move more, Courtney! But…why isn’t this working?!?
The more I learned about weight gain and loss, the more I gave myself a break. (Self-acceptance and kindness goes a long way — and it lowers your stress hormones!)
But I do see how people can get overwhelmed by this information, or feel like it’s so complicated that they don’t have control. I would encourage you to see these findings as new avenues to weight loss, so that, when you feel like you’re doing everything right but still not seeing results, you’ll be able to talk to your healthcare provider about, say, testing your thyroid or cortisol levels, and getting recommendations on improving sleep and adding in more activity.
Now, back to that question, “How’s your program going?”
Recently, when I’ve been asked this, I’ve felt some hesitation when I answer.
I’ve hit a weight-loss plateau, hovering around 163 pounds. During my first big weight gain in the summer and fall of 2000, I went from 135 pounds to 165 pounds, and I think reaching this number again has been messing with my state of mind. I remember how it felt to gain that weight and enter my freshman year of college: my self-esteem was low, I was fighting with my then-boyfriend frequently, I had a falling out with a high-school friend, and I was worried about my last-minute decision to attend the University of Minnesota instead of the University of Michigan. A lot was changing, physically and emotionally in my world (I bet a cortisol test would’ve revealed sky-high numbers!).
I know I’m a different woman now, but the number threw me. Compounded with our weird spring snowstorm, selling our house, and changes at work, I haven’t felt as focused on my program. And I haven’t felt as energetic, which usually means that I ease off the intensity of my workouts and eat more comfort foods (on my program, that means whole gluten-free grains such as brown rice and quinoa, and while those are healthy options, I’ve been losing weight easier when I cut all grains). This all becomes clear during my workouts, and last night’s Boot Camp class, in particular, was a doozy: one minute of four weight- and body-weight exercises, sprinting between each exercise for 30 seconds, two minutes to rest between the four rounds of the circuit. It felt haaaaard — but in a good way.
Instead of harping on what’s not working, I started looking at what does work for me: group training and classes, spending time outside, and simplifying my diet. It’s a good time for me to set new goals, too, so I’m signing up for two 5Ks with Esprit de She, one in July and one in September. Prompted by the 90-Day Challenge‘s Try-It Tuesday classes, I’ve participated in Barbell Strength, and returned to Cycling and Zumba. I’ve also shared some of my challenges with my supportive coworkers, and discovered a few of them are going to follow a detox/elimination diet from Dr. Mark Hyman’s UltraMetabolism program, so I’ve decided to join in starting May 1. It’ll help me simplify my diet, and the group support for the detox and the 5Ks also helps me feel even more accountable. AND it should help me break through this weight-loss plateau.
So here’s to seeing challenges and changes as opportunities for growth. And when someone asks me how my program is going, I can return to answering confidently “great!” knowing that adding creativity to my program will help me reach my goal.
*The fortune-cookie quote pictured above is one I’ve kept since the start of my healthy-living journey. It inspires me to keep working toward my goals — even when there are setbacks — and, ironically, to stop eating fortune cookies (the messages are delightful, but the flour, sugar and vegetable oil, not so much).