In the fitness industry nothing makes more money and sells more products than weight loss. It is a multi billion-dollar industry focusing on one common theme. It is going to be easy and anyone can do it if you only buy _______ (insert any number of crap products that don’t work). While it is 100% true that anyone can lose weight, it is 100% false that it will be easy. It is not easy. It is hard work. The bottom line to weight loss is how many calories you consume balanced against how many calories you burn. This is a universal equation that works for EVERYONE. While this works in the same way for every human being on the planet, it is not easy, there are no simple gimmicks, and there are many factors at play in determining the calorie in-out equation.
While there are NO magic tricks to losing weight and keeping it off, there are some key factors to consider when going down the 'path to the new slimmer you' (yes, that was an intentional catch phrase plug):
What are you willing to do in order to get to your goal? It is interesting to watch how frustrated people can get when they are not losing the weight that they want, but, at the same time, not making the necessary changes to get there. Don’t beat your head against the wall to get to the other side unless you have actually tried climbing it first. For some people the sacrifice required to lose the weight they want may be more than they are wiling to do. In this instance you have made the choice. You have decided that losing the weight is not worth sacrificing ________ (insert any number of guilty habits/time restraints). If you have made that decision, then it is time to simply keep exercising and being healthy while at the same time accepting the fact that your body is going to be what it will be. It is important to note that weight loss is not always a health issue. Most people want to lose weight for the look and not for the benefits to their health.
This is the big one. You need to exercise. I know it seems pretty obvious, but the bottom line is that most people "half-ass" their workouts. A few days a week they loaf about the gym with no plan and think they are going to see magical changes. That is not how it works. If you are working in a desk job, you probably need to be doing 6-8 hours of exercise per week. The human body was not designed/created to sit, stand, and lay. We are designed to walk, run, jump, and generally move. When we were more concerned with hunting and gathering our own food, we were burning somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 calories a day just to survive. Now we burn around 1500-2500. If you are only adding 3 hours of exercise a week to your sedentary lifestyle, it simply is not enough for health or weight loss. If you are thinking in your head “Who has time for that?”, please scroll up and read the section on commitment.
Again, this is an obvious category. Diet is HUGE when it comes to weight loss. You cannot 'out-exercise' a poor diet. There are NO magic shakes, pills, or anything else that can substitute for a quality diet consisting of lots of fruits and vegetables. Going into a lengthy discussion about diet is not what this post is about, but it is so important to weight loss that it CANNOT be ignored. Let's put this in perspective. If you are consuming 2 bottles of wine on the weekend, you are adding around 2000 calories per week. By the end of the month, you have added 4-5 extra DAYS of eating. How do you think this will affect your waistline by the end of the year? Wine, of course, is simply an example. This works the same way for anything. Always remember: calories in versus calories out. Some people will undoubtedly think, “Well, I am not going to give up my weekend wine. I have earned that”. Great, I could not agree more. I personally love wine, but, if you are not willing to make a change, then you should go up to the section on commitment and re-read. When it comes to the most impactful things in terms of weight loss, diet and exercise are the big ones. They are also the ones that require the most work and the most commitment. Ask yourself how badly you want this.
While hormones are an absolutely critical component of weight loss and should not be undersold in terms of their control and regulation of metabolism, they are also often used as an excuse. If you are doing the right things with diet and exercise for several months (not a week or two) and not getting the results that you are wanting, then perhaps going to a doctor or naturopath and getting a hormone profile done will help. It is possible, especially for women (see hypothyroidism), that your hormones are not in check and, thus, creating a slowed metabolism. If this is in fact the case, you are fighting an uphill battle. Since hormones are in control of almost everything, getting them back under control can be important.
Stress can play a role in weight gain. When we are chronically stressed out, our body starts creating cortisol instead of sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) and this causes fat production and storage. The production of proper sex hormones, on the other hand, helps with weight loss and energy levels (among other more fun things). Stress is an essay topic all on its own, but there are a few simple things you can do to help relieve your daily stressors.
Journal – try writing about your thoughts and feelings (may sound cheesy and lame but it actually works).
Debrief – at the end of your day, recap, either in person or on paper, what happened throughout your day, this will help 'unload' your mind.
To do list – keep a list of important tasks that you need to accomplish. Putting them on paper will help take them out of your overcrowded brain.
Day planner – using a day planner can really help with all the little stresses in life. While you probably have little control over big stressors (bills, kids, spouse etc…), you can reduce your overall stress load by simply eliminating some of the little stuff.
It is important to realize that, while stress will absolutely contribute to weight gain for most people, diet and exercise are the best ways to both reduce stress and lose weight. Kill two birds with one stone - and then only eat half of one of them (metaphorically speaking, of course!).
Stress and sleep go hand in hand. Our sleep cycles, like stressors, have a very strong control over our cortisol release. When we are chronically tired, our body is stressed and creates cortisol. If we are up in the middle of the night, it causes cortisol release (as it does at any point that we are awake). It is very important to address any sleep issues, especially major ones, when we are trying to lose weight. There are many different methods of helping with sleep out there so we won’t delve into them in this post, but it is important to note that proper diet and exercise are again some of the biggest factors aiding sleep regulation. Are you noticing a common theme here?
This post took on a bit of a life all its own, mostly because this topic is so popular and complex. Bottom line, though, is this: exercise, diet, stress, sleep, and hormones are what control weight loss and gain. We address these issues with commitment. We need to get after the big picture concepts of diet and exercise before we start blaming other supposedly contributing factors for our lack of success. It is easy to fall into the media trap and believe that it is going to be easy and all you have to do is drink the magic breakfast shake or sprinkle the dust on our food or any number of other money-making weight loss products and we will suddenly look like swimsuit models. We know with our logical brains that this is not true; all you have to do is look around at the lack of statuesque, exquisitely toned, tanned, and slim people in our midst to know the answer to the question. We still, though, fall into the traps because the traps claim to be so much easier than the alternative of hard work done consistently over a long period of time. Unfortunately that hard work is exactly what it takes. If you are at the point where you want to make this change, then you need to come to terms with the reality that it is going to take hard work. You need to be committed to addressing the major issues of diet and exercise and likely it is not going to be easy. When you see the changes begin to happen and learn how great being healthy really feels, however, you will realize that it was all worth it.