Thursday, July 17, 2014

Looking for the reason why you can't I lose weight or why you keep gaining it?

I am a member of quite a few facebook groups and work with people trying to lose weight and this question comes up very often.  To me, it really isn't rocket science and I can typically find at least a couple of things that people do that hold them back from attaining whatever health or weight loss goals they are trying to attain.  More often than not it's because they take an overly myopic attitude towards weight loss.

Over the course of the last couple of weeks I have come up with a checklist that I will be using with my clients to help them troubleshoot their weight loss issues.  The impetus for this is two-fold.  First, I may see someone in a Paleo group say they are sticking to the diet to the T but not losing weight or someone in a Fitbit group say they are getting their steps in but nothing is happening.  More often than not, when I question what they are doing for the other variables they should be paying attention to, they aren't doing anything.  I see the same thing with clients.  They may be getting their steps in every day, eating a proper diet, or getting in 3 weekly workouts but they aren;t doing all of these things consistently.  The second reason for the checklist is that it will gamify the process and provide a measure of accountability for my clients that they didn't have before.  Gained some weight this past week?  Look at the list.  Think you were good on your diet this week but not sure?  Look at the list.

While I am only using the checklist with my clients right now, I think a lot of these, "Why am I not losing weight?" questions can be answered simply by paying attention to the primary lifestyle factors that a person trying to lose weight should be paying attention to and creating a checklist to make sure yo are doing them.  I have my own specific way of dealing with each factor that I won't get in to, but most people will have an answer to that question simply by knowing what is important for weight loss and general guidelines for each.


If you're not winding down at the end of the day and getting to bed at a reasonable hour, you basically trash your ability to lose weight by messing with hormone signaling, especially insulin.  You should put yourself in bed with the lights off and no distractions at least 8 hours before you need to get up.  This is a bare minimum.


Stress should be managed for the same reason.  One thing that sticks out like a sore thumb to me is that people who manage stress poorly also tend to have a difficult time losing weight.  I don't think there is a single reason why this is the case, there are many.  However, one glaring issue for me is that people who are not "planners" don't typically manage stress well and are the first ones to regress on weight loss when an opportunity presents itself.  I used to be guilty of this myself on numerous occasions.  If I put myself in to a situation where people are eating junk food and I haven't planned for this by having a healthy option for myself, I'll eat junk food.  If I know I am going to have a heavy client load one week and don't attend to it until the last minute, I won't work out that week.  If I am taking a 7 hour car trip and I don't make a point to get some low level physical activity in before and/or after it I won't get any in.  A quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin sums this up nicely, "If you fail to plan you plan to fail."

3)Intense physical activity

Whether it be working out with weights or playing a sport competitively or in a social setting, people really need to get intense physical activity in regularly.  I used to believe that 2 times a week was sufficient, but now believe that 3-4 times a week is significantly more effective.  In order for something to qualify for this factor, it should include the entire body and generate a significant sweat.  Good examples are weight training, flag football, rowing, or rock climbing. More often than not, this activity should also be 45 minutes to an hour long.

4)Daily physical activity

Many people feel that blowing themselves out at the gym 3-4 times a week is enough physical activity to lose weight, but multiple studies show that it can't make up for sitting around all day long.  At a bare minimum, people who wish to lose weight should be taking 10,000 steps a day which equates to 5 miles of walking throughout the day.  If I were to say that any one of these factors is the most underutilized, it's this one.


People who are trying to lose weight should be eating a highly diverse diet that is mostly of plant origin by volume and contains little to no processed food.  If most people did this they would have no problem losing weight and would score quite a few weekly points on my checklist.  Where it gets tricky for most is that this requires a lot of preparation and a lot of people shop for convenience.  However, if I had a dollar for everyone who told me that they'd give anything to get to their goal weight I'd be a rich man.  In the grand scheme of things, utilizing 5-10% of your day preparing the proper food is a fairly small price to pay for someone willing to do "anything".

6)The "It" factor

What is the "It" factor and who has "It"?  Some may call it mental toughness, some may call it willpower, but I believe it to be more than that.  The "It" factor is knowing what you need to do to achieve a goal and the willingness to do that to achieve it.  Michael Jordan had the "It" factor.  Michael Phelps has the "It" factor, and many captains of industry and people who have become elite at what they do have "It".  From a weight loss perspective, "It" is preparing lunches for the week on Sundays if that's what you need to do to eat properly at work.  "It" is waking up 20 minutes earlier so that you can take a 20 minute walk after breakfast before your 30 minute commute.  "It" is resisting the inertia holding you down on the couch to watch TV after you eat dinner and going for a walk or work out.  "It" is realizing that the end of the fiscal year is a busy time of year for you at work so you plan your workouts accordingly.  Neglecting these things may seem small, but it adds up over the course of a year.  People with the "It" factor just do "It", and as a result they typically get "It".  The whole reason to develop a checklist for yourself is to determine if you are getting "It" done.  In fact, "It" is exactly what your checklist should measure.


Looking at these 6 factors, it may seem like weight loss is a lot more than burning more calories than you eat, and it is.  However, knowing about these factors and paying attention to them is just part of being successful when it comes to weight loss.  More than any other factor, success in any field is dictated by persistence, or the "It" factor.  Pick a sport and anyone who is highly successful at it can be found practicing while their friends and lesser talented competition are on a beach or hanging with friends.  Look at any successful business person or parent, and you will find that their priorities align with what it is they truly want to be great at.

None of these things just come to people, they have to be worked on and perfected over years of practice, failure, and refinement.  Weight loss is no different.  People who want to be successful at it work at it and prioritize it in their life.  They don't run in to situations every week where they have nothing to eat but food that goes against their goals.  They don't skip workouts because something else comes up or because work or family life is getting busy.  Day in and day out they make sure they get done what needs to get done.  If something pops up and they can't work out at their designated time, they are working out late that night or first thing the next morning.  They get their steps no matter how busy they are.  There are 24 hours in a day, there is plenty of time to work, enjoy your family, AND work on your goals if you truly want to attain them.  The trick is to know yourself and learn the techniques necessary to prioritize your weight loss goal.