In my last blog post, Why “Eat Less, Move More” is Crap, I talked about how stubborn and focused I can get when I set my mind to something. I guess obsessive would be the correct term, although that makes me sound slightly psychotic. I prefer driven. So when I decided to finally get my head out of my rear and lose weight, I wanted it done yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with harnessing that initial motivation while it’s there, but I wanted to address how to tackle plateaus, and set yourself up for long-term success.
Go Hard Or Go Home
Raise your hand if your weight loss efforts generally go something like this. The motivation strikes. Maybe your clothes were getting tight, or maybe somebody tagged you in a picture that made you want to delete your entire Facebook account. Can I just say, whoever created the approval feature for Facebook tagging, I’d like to kiss you on the mouth. Anything can generate that initial spark. So then you panic, you’ve got to do something now. You have to start tracking your calories, so you download an app to help. You plug in all of your information, height, weight, activity level, goal weight. You press enter, and then gaze, horrified at the amount of calories this stupid app is telling you to eat. There has to be a mistake, you’ll never lose weight eating that much, and if you do, it’s going to take an eternity. Okay, now regroup. If this app is telling you to eat that many calories and you’ll lose 1-2 pounds a week, let’s see how quick you can lose it if you just go ahead and drop that sucker right down to 1,200 calories per day.
This was my exact thought process, every time I would try to lose weight in the past. Slow and steady is for losers! Go hard, or go home! 1,200 calories a day for some reason has become the set point for women when going on a diet, and for the life of me I still don’t know where that number came from.
Your Body is Trying to Keep You Alive
I don’t like slow and steady, but as I came to learn from experience, it really is the best way, but maybe not for the reason you might think. I’m not a terribly patient person when it comes to weight loss. However, in all of my extensive YouTube research, I finally came across a video that explained the reasoning behind it, in a way that made me stop kicking my feet, having a temper tantrum about it, and listen.
The reason you want to start your weight loss slow, at the highest possible calories, isn’t because you necessarily want the weight to come off slow. Who in their right mind wants that? You start slow, because if you start off losing weight eating 1,200 calories a day, 20g of carbs, and going crazy in the gym with cardio, eventually your body is going to rebel. Our bodies are naturally designed to keep us alive during times of famine. So when you’re putting your body through a self-induced famine, it’s going to try to protect itself. The dreaded “starvation mode”. Cravings, fatigue, mind games, and holding onto body fat, are just some of the ways your body will try to survive that stress you’re putting it through. This is why eventually, we all hit a plateau or completely go off the rails and go into binge mode.
Take It Easy
If we start out slow, eating the maximum amount of calories and carbs possible for us to see results, and limit our cardio, then we have some wiggle room to make adjustments. Adjustments would be things like, dropping our calories by 100 a day, maybe dropping our carbs slightly, or increasing our cardio as a last resort. I shudder to think. Basically, you just start making small adjustments to let your body know that it’s okay to keep letting go of body fat. “Mental Sanity Meals” are also important here, because while it may seem like you’re slowing your progress, they can actually be important for replenishing your glycogen (which is how our body stores carbs for energy), and telling your body that you’re not actually starving to death.
On the flip side, if we start a diet like a maniac, going all out, white knuckling from day one, there’s really no room to make adjustments. Are you going to be able to realistically drop your calories from 1,200 to 1,000 per day? I couldn’t! Or maybe you started out doing an hour of cardio 4 days a week. Are you going to be able to sustain that schedule or add another day or two? Heck no, don’t put me down for cardio!
Long Term Strategy
It can be so tempting to ride that motivation high and go crazy in the first few weeks of a diet, but it’s so important to think about the long-term strategy. You can lose weight consistently and steadily without going nuts in the process. Don’t back yourself into a corner by pulling out all the tricks on day one. Maybe try thinking about it like a relationship. Do you want the quick spark and then the atom bomb explosion where you bury your face in a tub of ice cream for a week? Or do you want the long-lasting steady flame? Keep your body guessing and keep some things in your back pocket for later! Start by experimenting with however many calories your app or calculator told you to eat to be in a caloric deficit. If you’re consistently seeing the scale drop 1-2 pounds a week, great! Keep eating that much until you start seeing your weight loss getting slower or stalling out for a few weeks. Then you can make small tweaks to get the ball rolling again.
One huge mindset shift we have to make, is not getting caught up in the length of time it takes to really make this a lifestyle change. The things you do to get the weight off, will be the things you have to do to keep it off, so don’t do anything nutty. Even if it takes you 2 years to get to your goal, what’s 2 years in the grand scheme of your life? If it means slow, consistent weight loss, that sets you up to reach your goals in a way that’s maintainable and realistic, those 2 years will fly by. I would much rather spend one to two years, totally focused on creating lifestyle changes, than to look back 10 years from now and still be worrying about the same 40 to 50 pounds that I keep having to lose over and over. With the right strategy and mindset, we can teach our body to work with us, and not against us.