Weight Loss: Really Easy, Really Hard

Tuesday, February 1, 2011
By melza

How you bee doin'?

Here’s the bottom line on weight loss: unless more calories are being used than consumed, no weight loss will happen. There’s no magic. There is plenty of confusion and struggle, however. Simply eating less backfires and it’s because of hormones. Your body really doesn’t want your weight to change. Oh, you’re eating less? Ok, we’ll just slow everything down to make sure you don’t waste away! To win you need to maintain a high metabolism. You have Calories In on one side of the equation and you have Calories Out on the other, but Calories Out comprises your total burn rate, not just how many minutes you stayed on the treadmill. Increase that total burn rate, i.e., your metabolism, and you’ll get way farther ahead. Here are six key actions to take to lose weight.

  1. EAT REAL FOOD! Real food is what grows in the ground or has a mother. Does this mean never eat a potato chip, cookie, or cake again? Of course not, you’re allowed treats. But the majority of the time, eat REAL FOOD! Your body thrives on real food. You’ll feel satisfied from the nutrients, it will minimize cravings and you’ll naturally find your weight doing what it should do. You won’t last in weight loss by simply eating less of the crap.

  2. EAT PROTEIN! Be sure to get protein every time you eat. Healthy fats (olive oil, nuts) and proteins (peanut butter, nuts, lean meats, eggs, beans, dairy products) keep you satiated longer and enter the blood stream at a much slower rate. This means you use up the energy (calories) as you need it rather than having it broken down and into the blood stream right away. Which is what happens when you eat something that’s all carbs.

  3. EAT FREQUENTLY! Eat 4-5 mini meals a day, about three hours apart. Long periods of time without eating cause hormones to slow down metabolism and majorly increase the chances you’ll be ravenous and eat more. And don’t eat within a few hours of going to bed. Your body’s not ready to use calories then. It’s winding down and you’ll only store them as fat. (UPDATE 2014: We’re not so sure about this anymore! It may technically be true about hormones and whatnot but it’s a second-order effect. The first-order effect is simply how much you’re eating. So any meal you skip or delay, that’s overall a win for weight loss!)

  4. EAT ENOUGH, but not too much! Metabolism will respond negatively to undereating. Eat to satisfaction and when you feel hunger again, eat to satisfaction again. Think of a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 is starving and 10 is really uncomfortably full. If you tune in to true hunger feelings (stop and assess before just grabbing something!) and try to eat when you’re at a 3 (first physical feeling of hunger) and eat until you hit 7 or 8 (satisfied/content), you’ll stay in the right range for maximum metabolism and you’ll find you have to eat every three hours to stay in that range. (UPDATE 2014: See update to #3.)

  5. EAT VEGGIES! Having trouble with #4 above? Then eat more vegetables (the green, the leafy, the carrot — this is not a call to eat all the potato you want). Think of them like packing peanuts for your stomach. The more veggies you eat, the less room for other stuff. If you struggle with getting enough veggies, try heating up frozen veggies with dinner and lunch. Serve yourself tons of veggies and eat them first; you’ll be satisfied without getting seconds of the other stuff. Finally, don’t fret about putting olive oil on them, or salt (it’ll be less than the amount of sodium you’d get from the canned equivalent, for one). The fullness to calorie ratio in the veggies will more than compensate for the calories in the olive oil and the heart healthy fats are good for you.

  6. MOVE! The more intensity, even in small bits, the higher your metabolism will be. (Higher metabolism means more calories that you’ll burn during and after the workouts.) Completely turned off by intense workouts? Take walks, play, clean the house, etc. Do anything that gets you moving because any extra calories burned will help.

Whatever you do, don’t feel overwhelmed by the information here! Take one call-to-action away with you and work on it for a while. Don’t expect to change multiple habits at once. Take one tip and experiment with incorporating it into your life. Come back later and try another. Also, take it day by day, thinking about what you can do to go in the right direction today. Worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Beeminder is a great tool for helping you focus on one day at a time. Just be on that Yellow Brick Road tomorrow and you’re all good.

by Melanie Reeves-Wicklow, HFS
Beeminder’s Resident Fitness Expert

PS: Related reading: “Unhappy Meals” by Michael Pollan.

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  • http://beeminder.com Daniel Reeves

    Do you think that “eat enough” and “eat frequently” could backfire? I suspect that for some people it’s just going to have a hurt a bit. What do you say to the people who insist that they’re doing all six of these key actions to a T with no results?

  • Melanie Reeves Wicklow

    @ Daniel, Our bodies are really good and finding an equilibrium and staying there so if the food and exercise have been the same for a long time, it’s time to shake things up .. namely, the exercise first. If this isn’t the case, then the balance is just still off a bit and they need to try a combination of moving more, more intensely, and/or eating a bit less. It’s super easy to eat more than you think you’re eating (and exercise less or less intensely than you think you are), so try tracking calories for a while with one of the easy apps out there like Lose It! for smart phones.

  • http://lmazy.verrech.net Raphael

    “Real food is what grows in the ground or has a mother.”

    I like that expression, but what about apples, tomatoes, corn, eggs, …? ;D

  • Melanie

    @ Raphael, apples, tomatoes, corn, etc grow on plants that grow in the ground, so that counts. Eggs would have mothers if fertilized so they also count.

  • Dliab2

    The best part of this article is actually at the end, about making changes slowly. It takes time to adjust your palate and to shift what your body wants too healthier choices.  You have to find ways to gently ease yourself into craving healthier options. Things that have worked for me:

    I snack on green beans. I take the bag out of the freezer and leave it in the fridge. When a snack attack hits I make sure there is nothing else in the house to snack on. You can just eat them right out of the bag. If you take them to work frozen they are usually defrosted by lunch or 3pm.
    Also, I add lettuce to everything. The idea of just having a salad, or even the work of making one is often too off putting, so I have a rule of adding lettuce to everything. It usually works just fine and doesn’t need any flavoring b/c the food I am eating  with the lettuce is so rich. You would be surprised how much lettuce you can put on a sandwich and still enjoy the sandwich. Although you should start gradually, go from one extra piece of lettuce to two or three. Also  you have to choose tasty lettuce. Iceberg doesn’t count. It does nothing for you, there is no fiber to fill  you up and no nutrients to sustain you.

    Also, I have a rule that I must eat SOMETHING raw with every meal. In general, I never want to eat raw vegetables. Comfort food is hot food. So I just require myself to eat one raw thing. Once I am eating it, I usually enjoy it, but there will still be some resistance with the next meal. The resistance to raw food does decrease over time, but it never really goes away. I still want hot, creamy or crispy food to feel like I have had a “meal”.