I bet some of you have asked yourself this question before. Some people ask and don't really try to do anything about it but some of you really try. For those “Why is it so hard to lose weight?” can become such a huge source of frustration and demotivation. Especially when you’re striving to reach a particular goal and you're dedicated to getting there. Well you’re not alone. There are many of us out there. I am, quite honestly, experiencing the same thing. Urg...
Let me explain.
Since the 2010 New Year I have stuck acceptably close to my New Year Resolution of exercising regularly and eating well. Admittedly “acceptably close” has covered a wide range of options over the last 9 months. I have / do occasionally give in to pizzas, burgers, and poutine but, all in all, I have stuck to the plan (for those who don’t know, poutine is a French-Canadian dish that combines fries, cheese, and gravy in a most wonderfully unhealthy way). I wish I never gave in but that’s not me. I like those things and truth be told the idea of giving them up forever is just ridiculous to me. Anyways, if I was to give myself a grade for my New Year’s resolution thus far I think it would be an 80-85%. I won’t get a scholarship to an Ivy League school with that grade but I can live with it. It’s above average right!
(For those that are wondering, some of my other resolutions didn’t fare so well... Oh well, there is always 2011 for those!)
There are two HUGE caveats to my story. First, to be honest I’m not hugely overweight. After some heavy indulging in Italian food, I'm still 6’2” and around 220 pounds. I estimated around New Year 2010 that this is 15-20 pounds more than I should be. Let’s call it 20 lbs and say I am roughly 9% overweight (20/220). Why should I be concerned? Well for one I am a man and like most men hold my weight in the belly area. As we all should know abdominal weight retention is generally considered an important health issue. For the most part this is because there are a lot of important organs around that area (ex: the heart) and having extra fat around them isn’t conducive to optimal performance.
The second caveat to my story is that for the last 4 months I have been training to run my first marathon. Woohoo! Having done a lot of research in preparation, I concluded that the less I have to run with the easier the run would be. Genius...I know. So I set a target of 195-200 lbs which “felt” like the “right” amount to run 26 miles / 42.2 km with. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to run the marathon at 160 lbs but I haven’t weighed that since I started high school and at that weight I’d worry about heavy winds carrying me off. So my goal was set at 195-200 lbs and for those doing the math that means losing 20-25 lbs.
Things haven’t gone as expected. Truthfully, I was expecting my body to shed the weigh as quickly as when I was 16 and to spend the majority of my training running ever faster. I was picturing myself at the top of my game come marathon time and surprising even myself. 9 months later, even with my 80-85% resolution grade and marathon training, my weight is still hovering between 207-210 lbs. As a consequence my stamina is improving way more than my speed and marathon date is coming faster than expected. I am not impressed. Very frustrating. I imagine it’s the same frustration some women feel when they don’t feel bikini ready for their vacation. In my particular case, I feel like a Porsche with a full tank a gas and trunk full of lead bricks. Why can’t I just empty the damn trunk!?! Why is it taking so long to lose weight?
Answer: Fundamentally our bodies hate losing weight and suffer from what I call "Fear of Weigh Loss". What does this mean? In simple terms it means that the human body generally does not want to lose weight. In fact, I actually think our bodies will do anything to maintain or put on weight. That’s why weight is so hard to lose but so easy to put back on. Why is the body generally adverse to losing weight? Think about it a second. In order to lose weight you have to spend more calories than you put in. In terms of survival, that’s the same stimulation as starving. It goes without saying that your survival is at risk when you’re starving!
Since the body doesn’t “know” it’s overweight and needs to shed some pounds, it thinks it’s starving when it spends more calories than it takes in. As a defense and survival mechanism it is therefore perfectly understandable that our body will do anything to avoid this. Like a spoiled brat egging for a new toy, the body will become annoying forceful in its attempt to get what it wants. It will make you feel famished, horde every calories ingested, make you think about food 24/7, wake you up in the middle of the night with a craving for chocolate chip cookies, and so on. Ever feel famished after a good workout? Ever notice how it is so much easier to deal with being full than being hungry? All tricks the body plays on us. Exaggerating by making us feel like you're basically going to die if we don’t indulge indulge indulge. What an exaggerator...
How to get around this? How do I let my body know it isn’t going to starved?
The first thing to do is accept that for your body this is a very real “threat”. The body really "thinks" it is starving and will battle hard to get you to eat. Moreover, when you do decide to challenge your body, it will fight back by initially hording calories. The solution is to stick to the program and be patient. Eventually your body will get use to the idea that it isn’t actually starving and accept reduced portion size and lower caloric intake. This will happen but it can take some time.
If you’re eager to know when it is happening you can look for the signs. The first key sign that a change is happening is your stomach “shrinking”. Though your stomach doesn’t actually shrink, it does develop the habit of feeling full on less food. A second sign is regular and easily satiable bouts of hunger (i.e. less famished beyond control). This is solved by having healthy snacks available. For me that means having fruit, veggies, and other snacks and always staying hydrated with water. I have to avoid any artificial juices or pop because those are “easy” calories that don’t and won’t fill me at all. Similarly with those pizzas, burgers, and poutines I love to indulge in. I may love them but they have a disproportional number of calories for their volume. Keep an eye out for these signs and be confident that you are heading in the right direction when you see them.
Things will happen. Eventually.
Secondly, understand that the process takes time. This understanding helps align the body and brain and avoids the loss of motivation. Just like your body needs to get comfortable with the idea of losing weight, your brain needs to get over that initial feeling of failure you get when you’re not losing the weight as fast as you’d like. Don’t focus on winning the battle. Put your energy in winning the war.
Personally, I think guerrilla warfare is the best strategy to win. That means using unexpected patterns at any time. Besides the running for the marathon training and regular healthy meals, I almost always use my NGR Shoes when walking around and doing errands. The extra weight gives me the edge of always doing a little more than usual. Simple stupid. Second, I bought myself the Travel Gym and have every piece of exercise equipment in it placed around my office. Everything is already set up a various places so when I walk around my office [I tend to pace when I think or talk on the phone], I can pick up the resistance band and do a quick 1-2 minute workout. By the end of the day I’ve probably done 15-20 of these mini-workouts and unexpectedly worked out 20-40 minutes. Not everyone can leave stuff lying around of course; depends on your office. Even I put everything away when I have a meeting. But I can keep the bands in my drawer and pull them out guerrilla style when no one is looking!
So yes, your body has a Fear of Weight Loss and yes you can beat it. When a new comfort zone is established and your body loses the fear, your body will lose weight and, more importantly, will lose the weight permanently. Why permanently? Because you’ve actually done more than lose weight, you’ve created better lifestyle habits for yourself. Take me for example, I may have another 7-10 lbs to lose but, as I mentioned, my weight oscillates between 207 and 210 lbs. Not 213-220 lbs! That means I am eating well and getting somewhere! I'm conquering the Fear of Weight Loss! Even if it is taking longer than I expected.
Next step is to get my weight between 200-206 lbs...