Weight Loss Stall
When you decide to lose weight, have made your plan, initiate the project, and stay focused, the weight comes off nicely. As you see the scale number improving, you feel more motivated and focused. You become even more intent on seeing this project through. You are excited and have a strong commitment level. This continues and you envision the day you will be at your ideal body weight.
Somewhere along this exciting journey, something happens. The weight loss number slows down and the initial excitement is interrupted with moments of doubt. Some fear that you may not reach your goal sets in. You re-evaluate what you're doing and it seems that you are adhering to the plan. Over the next few weeks, the program stalls and you are stuck at a weight loss level that won't budge.
What is Happening?
There are several things going on and it's hard to see them when you're the one fighting the battle. Let's review the possible issues that have stopped the weight reduction and made this more of a struggle than an exciting endeavor. The list of things that may be going awry are:
1. Carbohydrate Drift
2. Portion Creep
3. Dropping off Important Habits (logging)
5. The DIP
6. Lack of Clarity on Original Goal
7. Failure to Recognize the Disease
8. Short Term vs Lifetime View of the Problem
It's very likely that in the initial phase of the dietary plan you became too rigid in restriction of carbohydrates. I see a lot of patients who start up on a Keto Diet or an ultra-low carb diet trying to get less than 25 grams of carbohydrates a day. At first they do quite well. Unfortunately, over a few weeks, our cravings for certain foods magnifies. We start to drift and add a few carbs here and there. They are usually high sugar or higher calorie carbs, although we justify it by limiting the quantity. "It was just two Hershey's Kisses".
The problem was not the two Hershey's Kisses, it was our psychology that is justifying the drift. Next, it was a small dip of ice cream. Then it was a few potato chips. Over time, we have allowed the dietary program to drift and this has stalled out the weight reduction.
Solution: To prevent Carbohydrate Drift, we must first address it at the beginning of our new Diet plan. We should avoid excessive restriction up front. I make sure our patients can eat healthier but balanced snacks. These snacks should have a balance of carbs, fats, and proteins. They taste better, are more satisfying and don't leave a sense of deprivation. Any diet that eliminates a macronutrient will not be sustainable over the long haul. Yes, there are some people who can do this, but just accept that it's not you and it's not me.
Portion Creep is when we start to allow a bit more volume of even the healthy foods onto our plate. We rationalize that this is healthy for us and has been a part of our weight loss plan, so we start to increase the portion size. The 4 ounces of lean meat becomes 6 and later 8 ounces. The 2 tablespoons of salad dressing becomes 3 or 4 tablespoons. The protein shake with 15 grams of protein is switched to one with 30 grams of protein, because if 15 grams of protein is good for us then twice as much must be even better.
The other type of portion creep that occurs is going back to the old habit of eating only 1-2 meals a day. At these meals we increase our calories because we have not given ourselves adequate fuel throughout the day. Old habits are definitely hard to break. We teach eating 4-6 times a day with smaller snackmeals so that the body has fuel to process throughout the day. The habit of being too busy to eat something during the day will sabotage the weight loss formula.
Solution: Preparation is the key to having enough snackmeals to eat throughout the day. If we don't have these smaller portion controlled snacks around, we will either not eat and be hungrier later or eat the wrong things like something from a vending machine. Getting on a regular schedule of eating 4-6 times daily is critical to success. Learning this as a lifetime behavior will allow for lifetime maintenance of our best weight.
Dropping Off of Important Habits
When we are beginning a regimen to lose weight, we are in fact attempting to change old habits to new and better habits. We are eating smaller portions multiple times a day. We are drinking more water. We are more physically active. We are taking any needed supplements or medications. We are working on changing our thinking. It takes time to create new habits and extinguish old ones.
In the beginning of our weight loss efforts, we write down and log all the details. This takes time and commitment. Over a month or two we forget to log some days and eventually we stop logging our daily performance tasks. When this happens we begin to stop performing these same tasks. We don't drink as much water. We eat a few more calories. We miss some exercise sessions. A mentor of mine once taught me, if it's important enough to do, then it's important enough to write down.
Keep writing and logging. It seems difficult and seems redundant but logging our focused activities each and every day has a purpose. When we write things down, there is a link from our hand to our brain. This link magnifies our ability to learn, memorize, and repeat certain activities and behaviors. We are working to develop new habits and writing them down day after day implants these habits into our brain more effectively. Think about it. We always write down things that are important to us. If getting to that lean, fit, healthy body is as important as we say it is (and it is), then logging the details of the journey will be well worth the time and effort.
As we go through our weight reduction plan we start out drinking lots of water. This not only helps our body process the elimination of excess body fat, but keeps our stomach and digestive tract full and helps decrease hunger. Getting used to drinking water as our primary drink takes time. We all prefer or have been conditioned to prefer flavored beverages. Most of these beverages have additives and can be less useful for hydration.
In the case of drinking water and getting into the water drinking habit, the only answer is to just do it. Make sure you have a handy supply of clean, fresh water to drink. Keep bottled or filtered water around you throughout the day. It's hard to go from no water to 10-12 glasses a day. Start out by drinking 2-3 glasses daily no matter what and track and log it. Next week raise the goal by one glass. Over a few months you'll get to a well hydrated state which will make you healthier and turn your body into a weight loss machine.
In anything that requires time to learn or change a behavior there is the Dip. If you've tried to learn a new language or play a musical instrument, you understand. At first learning a few words and phrases in a new language is exciting and motivating as is learning a few notes and cords on an instrument. But after this initial victory comes the long hard work. Learning grammar, spelling or musical notes and notations and timing takes time, practice, and frustration. It is in this lengthy and often repetitive grueling period when people quit. This is the DIP.
The DIP is like a valley. When we first start to lose weight, it comes off fairly easily and we are up on the mountain. Then, when it becomes more difficult and time consuming, we dip into the valley of hard work and emotional frustration. If we persist through the DIP, we continue to get more fit and the weight loss picks back up until we reach our goal. The same happens with our new language or the new musical instrument. We finally feel like we are making good progress and in fact our progress becomes faster and sustained. Back up the mountain of excitement we go. This time we have learned the full lesson and can continue to enjoy more progress. Whatever you do, Don't quit in the DIP.
Lack of Clarity on Original Goal
We set goals when we want to get leaner and more fit. At first we say, I want to lose weight and I need to get fit. That's not specific and lacks clarity in our mind. A goal has no power unless it is specific, measurable, and time dated. If we don't know exactly what we are shooting at, we will never hit the target. If your goal is to lose some weight, then your brain will think you're done when you've lost 10 pounds (some weight). Get Clear on the Goal and that will push you on in trying times.
Set a very specific goal that can be measured and put a deadline on it.
"It's October 31, 2021 and I have lost 30 pounds." This is specific, time dated, and measurable. It's also stated in the present though it may be 3 or 6 months out. Post the goal on your desk or phone or mirror. Make sure you are reminded daily of the clear and important goal.
Failure to Recognize the Disease
If we believe that weight loss is a one time event and we will never need to worry about it again, we are destined to repeat the gain / loss process. Only 3% of significant weight loss patients keep the weight off for a lifetime. This is consistent with a disease state. We don't cure hypertension or diabetes, but can manage it and put it into remission with treatment. The same holds true for Overweight Syndrome and Obesity.
We must understand that this is a life-long disorder and if we don't see it that way, we always go back to our old behaviors which have genetic and biologic tendencies. We can not solve a long term problem with a short term solution.
Change our thinking. Make sure not to fool yourself into believing that a one time diet will solve a weight problem forever. Learn new behaviors and implement them for a lifetime. This is the only long term solution to weight maintenance.
Short Term vs Life Time View of the Problem
This is a repeat of the last issue. Why the repeat? Because without changing our thinking and understanding of the problem, we will never gain control over it. This is not bad news. It's great news. This is not your fault. It's embedded in your DNA and magnified by our current life environment. Accept this and get to work on living life in a moderately modified way. Eating smaller, being more active, managing metabolic and hormonal imbalances, and constantly improving our thinking and attitude about this disease and it's treatment.
Review these reasons for stalling out or quitting the weight loss process. I think you'll find that one or more of them has been at work each time you've attempted to improve your weight and your health. When we know better, we can do better. It's our time to Do Better. Start Today.
Dr. Gregory Oliver