If like me, you are part of a weight-loss group or know people who are trying to lose weight, you have heard this. Well, play along with your calories. Eat more one day, eat less the next. It’s a sure recipe to lose weight. It’s not.
What it is, well, a good way to not confuse your body, but to create issues with your metabolism that will get you into trouble later in life. Then there are the many tools used to “speed up your metabolism” such as Apple Cider. Believe me when I say this. It is snake oil hailing from the 19th century. And no, it does not work. Nor can you change the PH of your stomach. Nor can you detox your liver. In fact, that is the job of your liver.
What we have some evidence that may work is intermittent fasting. However, this is not recommended for everybody. Those of us who are diabetic should just steer clear. And so should people with eating disorders. Something like a bright sign that says DANGER should be put on every site pushing this, for very specific people. As always, ask your doctor.
Then there is the other reality of weight loss. It WILL slow down your metabolism, which is normal. Your body thinks we are in a famine and will try to get back to whatever your set point is. In time that set point can be reset to a lower point. But it takes time. Your body needs to get familiar with the new weight, and the longer you keep that the better chance that you will not regain it. One way to avoid the worst of this is to avoid rapid weight loss. Try to lose half a pound to a pound a week. More than that, and you are asking for trouble. It will slow either way, but fast weight loss is going to lead to a deeper resting metabolism slowdown.
Therefore, those who maintain their weight loss are more successful if they exercise. While you do not need exercise to lose, it is about twenty percent of weight loss at a high number, it is essential to maintain the loss. When you exercise you are forcing your body to speed up, as it were, from that slower basal metabolic rate. If you have yo-yo dieted for years, even decades, your metabolism is guaranteed to be slower to begin with. Some medications can do this as well and make weight loss more difficult. And no, not everybody who is having issues losing has a bad thyroid, though you should have that conversation with your doctor. However, taking medications for the thyroid is not a magic pill, literally. You still need to do the work.
There are some medical conditions, like PCOS, that make weight gain very easily and weight loss almost impossible. And if you are short, you will need fewer calories, to begin with.
For me, Avandia likely wrecked and slowed down my metabolism. The medication is no longer on the market because it caused very rapid weight gain or death. However, I do not let that stop me. Yes, it is more work. But it is worth it.
It must be muscle…
How many times have you heard this from well-meaning friends? You gained a few pounds, and they go, “it must be muscle!” First off, when you first start exercising, you will gain some muscle mass. You are going from literally a couch potato to exercising, and your body is going to do that. It will build some muscle. It is a normal response. This is good since this will help you burn more calories and avoid some of the inevitable slowdowns. Exercise helps you maintain that when you lose (eat your protein), however, unless you are an Olympic athlete, or play for the NFL, or are doing any semi-pro or pro sport and train for hours every day when you gain a couple of pounds after losing weight, it’s not muscle, it is fat. It is time to look at your food habits and readjust before a couple of pounds become 50.
Food logs can be extremely helpful in this case. This is why I could go back to Lose It, readjust my activity level where it was, and done.
Yes, I know a couple of people who lost over 150 pounds and weight lift for three hours, or more, every day. Yes, their BMI is high, technically one is obese, but they are bodybuilders. In their case, it is muscle. I tried to account for my activity level and upped my calories a tad. I gained three pounds. I know what I am physically doing, and what I am eating. It is not muscle. I gained three pounds, I cut those calories back down, and slowly, losing that weight.
And by slowly, I mean very slowly. I am good. It is what it is.
Calories in, Calories Out
This is what I have been doing, and I wish it was this simple. Yes, getting to a calorie deficit will, in theory, get you to lose weight. But there are many reasons why this may be more difficult for some people. One is our relationship with food. For me food is fuel. Though I enjoy good food. But for many people who have eating disorders, counting every calorie can literally get them into more trouble. In this case, talking with a mental health pro who specializes in eating disorders is a must. Eating Anonymous can help as well.
Macros, how much protein you eat in a day, versus other nutrients, can have an effect. I try to go for complex carbohydrates that are also rich in fiber since I need to feed my gut biome. I prefer to have a healthy one as well because it helps in more ways than one. As is Americans eat way too much protein, and while I cannot do a vegan diet, which could have benefits for diabetes, it shot my sugars sky-high. That does not mean I eat as much animal protein as many other people. We stick to a single serving during dinner. We fill the rest of the plate with veggies and complex carbs. Protein will keep you full though, and so will fiber. I try to eat more protein in the morning for that reason. It helps to curb some cravings, at least with me.
So yes, technically I could just count calories and stay under my calories eating ding dongs, I do not recommend doing that.
Remember, when you eat it’s not just what you eat, but the quality of the nutrition. Highly processed foods also tend to have fewer nutrients than less processed foods. Think apples. A fresh apple is better for you and has less sugar than apple sauce, especially the commercial ones that have a lot of sugar added.
A word about deprivation
A lot of people who go on a diet restrict what they can eat. One of the first things to go is bread. In my view, if it's white bread, do it. Good multigrain bread is good for you. It is rich in nutrients and has fiber. But there is low calorie…yes, and some of them are just thinner slices or have a lot of added fillers to make them lower in calories and less nutrient-dense. Full disclosure, I cannot eat bread, because I have gluten. Intolerance has led to a few other issues, but if I could eat bread, a good local bakery dark bread sounds lovely. I have found some GF bread that is exactly that, sans wheat of course. They have fiber, they have flavor, and a slice is the same calories as a regular slice of bread. I am not looking for a low-calorie alternative. It fits nicely in my life.
The restriction will lead to binges. Restrictions also can feel you deprived and this is supposed to be for a lifetime. You need to learn to eat reasonable portions. And you need to be able to eat dessert from time to time. We do, even if ours is a good quality GF dessert we buy at the farmers market. Notice, we buy a slice of a good quality desert or a cookie for the week. We do not buy the full cake or a box of the stuff. Moreover, the quality of the equivalents at the supermarket is nowhere near as good as these. I just eat it slowly and in a mindful manner. They are NOT diet food.
As I have written. In the past, one of the secrets in my mind is to cook at home where you control the ingredients. Going out to restaurants is a nice break, but should be a treat, not a regular thing. Partly, American restaurant food is highly processed, high in fat, high in sugar, high in salt and the portions are enough to feed an army. The exceptions to this statement may be locally owned family restaurants. However, the portions are still going to be huge.
This is critical. Over the last forty years, we have lost our minds and our dinner plates have grown into servers. Meaning, each dinner plate, on average, is 300–400 more calories than we used to. You don’t believe me? Ask grandma to show you the dinner plate from the set she inherited from her mother. The first trick I recommend is to change your dinner (they are serving plates really) for salad plates. Dessert plates used to be salad plates. This will reduce your intake, especially if you avoid seconds. From time to time seconds are fine, but don’t make them a habit.
Remember that apple I talked about above? One of the things people believe is that an apple is a portion. Not so fast. They come in different sizes. I only buy lunch box-sized apples because they are a portion. Anything bigger, you start getting into multiple portions. Some people recommend you stay away from tropical fruits. I eat them, but like the apple, I buy small bananas.
And then there is the debate of whether to weigh or not to weigh your portions. Some people find this extremely helpful. For me, smaller plates did the trick, and I can eyeball my food to what a portion is. I got a scale for the dog…and tested some of my eyeballs. Some were under what my eyes were telling me. As to cottage cheese, my spoons are heaping, so I count them as two. Do what is best for you. Realize that whatever you do, will have to be a lifetime.
As to the scale, I don’t carry one to a restaurant. So here is where eyeballs are helpful.
To Snack or Not to Snack, or What About Meal-Time
For some people, the only way to lose weight is to be hyper-disciplined and eat only three meals. First off, three meals are not written in stone. They are a product of the industrial age. Humans are designed to eat when hungry, not when the clock says so:
As it turns out, eating three meals a day stemmed from European settlers, with whom it grew into the normal routine, eventually becoming the eating pattern of the New World. Native Americans were actually eating whenever they felt the urge to, rather than whenever the clock said morning, noon, or night. After the industrial revolution, people began to turn a midday meal into a lunchtime staple, and the after-work meal turned into dinner, a placeholder for the next meal.
“The eating schedule of the native tribes was less rigid… the Europeans took this as ‘evidence that natives were uncivilized,’” Abigail Carroll, author of the book Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, told National Review. “Civilized people ate properly and boundaried their eating, thus differentiating themselves from the animal kingdom, where grazing is the norm.”
Breakfast, for example, is paraded around as the key to weight loss, but in truth, meal times were based on convenience and ritual. A person’s own eating behavior is one of the greatest determinants of health, and Cornell University researchers say it’s better to avoid going without food for more than three to four hours.
Full disclosure, I eat breakfast, because I am hungry when I wake up. Unless, of course, I wake up at five in the morning in which case I wait until I am hungry two to three hours later. But this is about what you eat and the amounts. If your snacks are the same size as the main meal, it would be fine if they added to your total calories for the day.
The problem is that many times snacks tend to be large, and that means we eat more than we should. So make sure that your snacks run in the 100–150 Kcal category. As a diabetic sometimes I get low after exercise. There is a snack waiting for me, that has a lot of fast-acting carbohydrates, sugar. For example, honey nut cheerios, a small banana, or some dry fruits are quick sugar doses, to treat low blood sugar. If Ignored the hole in my stomach I could get into serious medical trouble. I still account for them in my food log.
However, for some humans this three times a day at a set time is best. My dad fell in that category, though later in life he added a small snack in the middle of the afternoon. So do as you need to. But realize that if you are physically hungry, you should eat something. This also means you need to learn to recognize when you are hungry. This is from the University of Texas at Tyler:
5- Neutral. Neither Hungry nor Full.
4- Lightly Hungry: Starting to think about food, deciding what sounds good to you, what you would like to eat, and maybe stomach gently growling.
3- Moderately Hungry: Thoughts about food increase, stomach starts to growl more, need to get something to eat increases.
2- Very Hungry: Stomach growling, stomach may hurt, need to get food now, everything is starting to sound good.
1.-Ravenous: Difficulty concentrating, low energy, headache, everything sounds good, past the point of comfortable hunger.
0- Empty: Uncomfortably hungry, stomach hurts, headache, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, dizzy, weak, everything sounds good.
6- Lightly Full: Satisfied, will likely be hungry again in 1–3 hours.
7- Moderately Full: Satisfied, comfortable, will likely be hungry again in
8- Full: Comfortably full, but would not want to eat more. Satisfied.
9- Stuffed: Past the point of comfort, full, stomach may hurt.
10- Sick: Uncomfortably full, feel sick.
think about eating at number three to avoid overeating, and don’t get beyond comfortable full. If you feel sick to your stomach, you ate too much. Learning to be intuitive about your eating also matters.
Feast Days and Sustainable Living
Some of the things that many dieters struggle with are the holidays, weddings, and other special events. We live at a time in human history when food is available everywhere, at least in the developed world. There are plenty of places where there is food scarcity. But where we live you pretty much can find it, in varying degrees of quality, everywhere.
This is one reason for the obesity epidemic. However, over the last year food insecurity has increased to alarming levels in the United States. So, this is not a total statement. If you have enough food, be thankful.
If you have something like a wedding, or first communion, or any other celebration, yes food is part of it. There was a time when these feasts were rare. These days we can pretty much eat the same rich foods we eat at these celebrations every day. One of the reasons why we need to learn to cook simple foods for daily eating and leave the feasts for feast days. But we also need to learn to enjoy ourselves and to enjoy these rare treats. And chiefly, we need to learn to enjoy ourselves without fully stressing about food and what we will eat, or not eat.
One trick is to eat a little of everything. And if you are logging your food, keep track. Feast days were occasions when people ate until the mouth could eat no more. But it was back to the daily grind after that. Just remember, to eat mindfully, and to enjoy yourself in the moment. If you go over, don’t stress. There is the next day. This is exactly how humans functioned for tens of thousands of years. There is no reason why you cannot adopt that kind of structure and have a healthier relationship with food. Just that feast days do not become a daily thing.
Now that restrictions are ending, more of us will meet with family and friends. We will either have quiet dinners at home, among vaccinated people or go out to eat. These are feast days. Enjoy yourself and enjoy the company. Remember, you will go back to your daily routine the next day. But as we all go out of our homes to see others, we will have a new set of holidays, and feast days and the last thing we need to do is stress over the food.
One last thing. Why are you losing weight? If your goal is to fit in that summer dress, or the coming wedding, just stop. These short-term goals guarantee that you will gain again. Once they are over, why are you going to continue? Also, if you do not lose the weight you were intending, you are going to be disappointed in yourself and punish yourself. For me, my goal is to maintain my weight loss for a lifetime. This means I eat my breakfast, I move, I watch the amounts I eat.
I also do not make excuses. I gained some weight trying to “switch things around” and back on what I need to eat to maintain that fifty-pound weight loss. There is a chance that at some point my body will decide to lose beyond that. If not, that is ok. I already got quite the benefit from the weight loss.
Is it work? Yes, it is. I must be aware of what I am eating and keep moving. But I feel much better, and my in real trouble knee is not screaming in pain all the time. Yes, it hurts some of the time, but we can safely have a conversation about what that means with my doctor. And if we decide it is time to start the process to replace it, it will be good, and less risky given I lost fifty pounds. The new joint will also last longer than if I had those fifty pounds still on my frame. In fact. I am not sure I would have been a candidate at that point.