Monday, April 22, 2013

How to lose weight the Synergy Wellness way. Part 3

In the 2 previous installments of this blog series we discussed how to lose weight by collecting data and choosing which data is relevant.  In this blog, we will discuss the specific factors that contribute most to your ability to lose weight.  Most people are familiar with changing diet and exercise, but are unfamiliar with 2 factors that are far more important: Stress and physical activity.  We will discuss all 4 in the hopes of helping you learn how to lose weight.

Dieting to lose weight

You have probably heard the saying, "There's more than one way to skin a cat!"  In much the same way, you can approach diet a million ways and successfully lose weight following completely different plans.  While there are a number of ways that work well to lose weight, the ways that will work for you are not the same as the ways that work for somebody else.  I have many clients in South Jersey who have successfully lost weight doing the 8 hour diet, the South Beach Diet, the Atkins Diet, and any other diet you can think of.  When selecting the diet of choice, it's best to understand which aspects of your current nutritional plan are negatively impacting your ability to lose weight the most and working around those issues first.  You also want to realize that other factors are going to impact which diet is best for you to lose weight.

For example, you may have a problem with late night snacking and choose the 8 hour diet where you only eat during 8 hours of the day and set your 8 hour period to end at 6pm.  This is all well and good, but if you typically work until 5pm and exercise from 5-6pm, you may go from lunch until the end of your 8 hour window without eating, setting yourself up for failure.  The best diet for you will not only provide your body with nourishment and the proper foods, it also must fit around the rest of your life and some diets just don't do that.  For our program we typically start with our own regression diet with 3 meals and no snacking for 2 months.  If you find it difficult to stick to that schedule we can tweak the schedule here or there provided you stick to the other parameters laid out in the program.  During the initial 2 months you will lose weight while identifying the things that you should and shouldn't be eating.  This will be specific to the individual and give each person a firm handle on the diet that best works for them. We are literally finding out how you lose weight from the diet side of things.

Exercise to lose weight

Should I do Zumba?  Is strength training something I should consider?  What about boot camps or Crossfit?  When people are asking these questions, what they truly want to know is how to exercise to lose weight.  The answer to this question is basically the same as the one above, it depends on everything else.  In our program we like to introduce one change at a time to manage stress better.  If you are already exercising, we may have you cut back or perform other forms of exercise that are right for your current state so we can introduce diet and it won't be a shock to your system.

For example, if you are currently doing Crossfit 3 nights a week, Zumba 1 night a week, and a bootcamp on the weekends you probably need to cut back if you can't lose weight.  Chances are, in this scenario, your ability to lose weight is being compromised by an excess level of stress.  Adding more stress to that equation will not help you lose weight, it will prevent it.  So, we'll have you cut back a little on your exercise which will free up some time to help with preparing food for your diet.  In fact, your inability to lose weight may not be  specifically from the over-exercising, it may be a result of not providing the nutrition your body needs to recover from it.

It may also be a situation where you would take one of the Crossfit days and lower the intensity or volume on that day to help speed recovery.  There are a lot of exercise variables you can manipulate to get the desired results you are looking for whether your goal is to lose weight or prepare for an athletic event.  This is why more data is always better.  While you may think your problem is one thing, that one factor could actually be driven by a separate factor or a number of them.  This is also why changing 50 things all at once as most people looking to lose weight typically do is bad, if you change too many variables you can't see which one is helping you lose weight and which one is hindering you.

Physical activity to lose weight

When trying to lose weight, people think physical activity is synonymous with exercise.  While exercise is a form of physical activity, you have to look at physical activity as a whole.  Physical activity can teach you a ton about how you lose weight because it is impacted by all of the other variables we are discussing today.  If you are not eating enough food, physical activity will naturally become less and less.  Supporting the body with diet in a way that doesn't impact physical activity is an important factor in losing weight.  If you don't eat enough food, you will lack the energy to get up and move.  I do not recommend using energy balance as your means of measuring weight loss (Focusing on burning more calories than you can eat) because it is easy to measure intake but difficult to measure expenditure.  If you choose to use this method and you cut your calories by 500 calories a day and unwittingly reduce physical activity by the same amount, where does that get you?  Certainly not in a better situation to lose weight. There are many tools you can use to assess physical activity, we use the Fitbit activity tracker because of the depth of data it collects, but you could use any pedometer-style device.

Fitbit One and Zip

My words are probably not enough to convince you that physical activity outside of exercise is a more important factor to help you lose weight, but maybe a little math will.  There are a total of 168 hours in a week.  If you exercise 5 days a week for 2 hours at a time, that is 10 total hours of physical activity.  That's a grand total of 6% of your total hours for the week, and that's assuming you exercise too much.  Aside from getting constant low grade physical activity throughout the day by walking and avoiding being seated for long periods of time, we recommend 2-3 hours of exercise per week and our clients see fabulous results doing this.  In fact, their results are much better than you will ever see doing it the other way.  To lose weight, it's not about the calories being burned, it's about the genes being activated, and this is time dependent.

Managing Stress to lose weight

How you manage stress is something you really need to pay attention to if you want to lose weight.  In fact, all of the other topics are as in involved with managing stress as they are with losing weight.  In many ways, exercise done properly can help you manage stress by giving you an outlet.  However, exercise done incorrectly can push your stress levels to the limit if you are over-exercising or experiencing high levels of life stress and not cutting back on exercise at the same time.  Think of your stress level as a bank account.  You will take withdrawals from your "stress account", but you better balance your withdrawals with some deposits or you will eventually lose your ability to deal with stress altogether as your account balance crumbles to zero or even negative.

Exercise can take withdrawals from your account AND make deposits depending on which type of exercise you do.  How most people believe they lose weight is through the type of exercise that takes withdrawals such as distance running, boot camps, crossfit, and aerobic classes.  When you look at weight loss from an energy balance perspective this makes the most sense.  The problem is, energy balance is affected by your stress account and if you don't balance withdrawals with deposits, you simple don't lose weight.  The type of exercise that makes deposits in to your stress account include yoga, meditation, foam rolling/stretching, and tai chi.  These are great strategies for managing stress and improving recovery from training.  In fact, performing these exercise modalities can improve weight loss by allowing you to train more without overdrawing your stress account.


Diet, exercise, physical activity, and stress management are the 4 major factors or variables that you need to manipulate in order to lose weight.  Paying attention to these variables either by directly collecting data  and/or subjectively managing them with the way you feel will give you a more thorough understanding of how you lose weight.  Most people look at these 4 factors and try to deduce which one(s) are the most important.  The truth of the matter is, all 4 are important and you will not lose weight effectively without manipulating all 4.  That is not to say that everyone's journey will be exactly the same; we all have different lifestyles, different genetic make up, and different pasts that will shape which approach is best for each variable in order to lose weight.  The reason we use a regression diet as the starting point for our nutrition program is based on the concept that we are all different and are affected differently by foods as well as the other 3 variables.  With diet we just need to bring everyone back to the point where we weren't so different to identify the dietary approach best suited for the individual to lose weight.

In Part 4 of this series we will discuss why we use a Paleo Regression diet to lose weight.  I'll give you a hint...It has to do with evolution, but not just your own.

Part 4