When we try to lose weight (note – I mean lose body fat when I say lose weight but for ease of writing I’ll stick with lose weight), we sensibly address our diet and exercise habits. However, often times there are other underlying factors that are stopping us from losing weight and some of these might actually surprise you….
So without further ado, here’s some food for thought (yeah I’m pretty funny too).
PROBLEM: You’re living in an obesogenic environment.
Our environment dictates so much about how we feel, how we think and how we act and if our environment is obesity promoting, then not surprisingly, it can be hard to lose weight.
Take this as an example: over the years, I have lost track of the number of women who, have started working in an office job or in a job where there’s large social teams, and gained significant weight (i.e. 10kg+) very rapidly. When your work environment is a continual rotation of lunches and morning teas and readily available sugary treats, you can bet your bottom dollar people will gain weight. Adding to this, if your social groups like to eat and drink as their major social activity, you’re also going to run into strife. And you absolutely need to consider your home environment. Is there easy access to tempting foods? If there is, you’re seriously undermining your ability to succeed.
Your food environment is only half the problem though. If the people in your workplace, social groups and family are not particularly health and fitness oriented, you can end up standing out like you know what! And we’re social creatures who like to fit in and we tend to become like those around us. Unfortunately that can often mean that our determination and resolve wanes when we’re not getting support and encouragement from those in our close circles.
SOLUTION: This is a tough one as it’s not as simple as just changing jobs but you can bring healthier options along to the events and try and encourage others to do the same. You can also encourage healthier social outings like hiking, morning walks etc. with your friends and in your home, chuck out all the food that you know will be your undoing. Put that extra blockade in place and set yourself up for success.
PROBLEM: Your family and loved ones are hijacking you.
How often do we announce that we’re changing our diet and starting a new exercise routine and the naysayers come out. You know the comments….“Another diet? Which one this time?” “We’ll see how long this lasts.” Then there’s the teasing and ribbing that the diet isn’t working at every social event. But even worse than the comments and the lack of support is the feeding. Once upon a time I used to think “feeders” were reasonably harmless but I’ve now come to see them in a different light. They are often insecure and so they sabotage your efforts, ever so subtly. They’ll make the comments like; “a little bit of dessert won’t hurt you” or “you don’t have to be strict all the time” or “you only live once”. And on top of this, they put food in front of you that they have made or bought you because they “love you”. I’ve decided that this is not love at all as these actions come from a place of fear. They’re afraid that if you lose weight and get healthy, they will have to address their own poor health and lifestyle choices. A light is suddenly being shone on them that they don’t want. Your choices are making them feel uncomfortable so if they can cause you to fail, they can continue in their own unhealthy comfort zone.
SOLUTION: You need to set boundaries and explain to your loved ones why what you’re doing is important. If they can’t understand or accept this, then you need to consider whether you start doing things where you control the food
PROBLEM: You’re not getting enough sleep
This is pretty simple – sleep is important. We’re not 100% sure why we sleep but what we do know is that it is vital to our health. While we sleep, our bodies get to work recovering, replenishing and restoring from the day that was. If we don’t sleep well, we don’t start the day completely recovered from the day before. That’s obviously not a good start. We also know that lack of sleep tends to lead to poor food choices; partly due to tiredness and partly due to excess cortisol being produced, enticing us to eat sugar-laden goodies.
SOLUTION: Aim for 7-8 hours each night and don’t stay up and hit that second wind
PROBLEM: You’re too stressed
One of the biggest problems of our modern life is our stress levels. Stress is actually one of the greatest underlying risk factors for developing heart disease (the world’s number one killer). Stress messes with our psychological and physical health. It causes anxiety, depression, weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation, gut problems and more. Stress is absolutely a killer. But what is really awful, is that stress can quite literally stop you from losing weight. Stress causes us to produce hormones that are normally associated with precarious situations. In an acute situation these hormones are very useful and can help save our lives. The problem with stress however, os that the body thinks we are in this dangerous situation all the time, and the hormones that would normally protect us, start causing harm. The effects on the body include blood glucose dysregulation, chronic (low-grade) inflammation, dyslipidaemia (high triglycerides, low HDL), weight gain on the stomach, high blood pressure, increased appetite for sugary foods, poor sleep and more. For many people, until they can reduce their stress levels, weight loss is going to be a huge battle!
SOLUTION: When it comes to stress, the ideal solution is to remove/get away from whatever is causing the stress (easier said than done of course). If it is your work, then you need to ask yourself if it is worth your health and sanity. If it is a person, don’t give them so much access to you (if possible). If it something that you can change, you need to do this. Otherwise you need to look into ways of managing your stress levels before it has fatal consequences. Exercise, sleep, meditation, breathing techniques and massage are all great options.
PROBLEM: You’re dehydrated
We rely on fluids to send electrical signals from our brain to our body. We also rely on our blood (which is 80% water) to send hormones around our body. If we are not adequately hydrated, then both nervous and hormonal signals are not going to be sent effectively. This will effect every single cell and every single process and function in the body. Considering our appetite is controlled via the nervous and hormonal system, it would be reasonable to think that dehydration may in fact affect your appetite. You may not realise that hunger and thirst originate from the same part of the brain and there is an idea that if you’re thirsty, your body may drive you to eat. It could be that to increase your fluid intake the brain makes you hungry, or that the brain “mistakes” hunger and thirst. Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be any scientific evidence to suggest that our brain does these, however, an absence of research does not mean it’s not true. What we do tend to do, is drink a lot of our daily fluids with our meals. This doesn’t mean then we’re eating because we’re thirsty; there are of course a few reasons for drinking at our meal times. 1) it’s convenient 2) when we eat, drinking helps us swallow our food and 3) eating makes us thirsty. However, there is some research that suggests that people who eat high fat, high sugar foods are less sensitive to thirst signals. And this is something I would tend to agree with, and not just in relation to thirst. When we eat a crappy diet, it affects our appetite also and a highly processed diet tends to leave us in perpetually hungry state.
SOLUTION: Keep drinking water all day to stay hydrated – don’t wait until you’re thirsty. You can buy water bottles that have a time on the side of them to let you know where you should be up to at each time of day.
PROBLEM: Your lean body mass and metabolism is on the low side
Thanks to the eat less and move more movement, people have been trying to lose weight with super restrictive diets and lots of cardio for decades. The disastrous result of this is a loss of lean body mass and hormonal alterations reducing metabolic pace. The good news is that this is reversible with the appropriate diet and weight training. In the meantime, just know that until you build both of these back up, you may not notice any weight loss and you could in fact gain weight. Don’t stress, awesome body composition changes are on the way!
SOLUTION: Eat good nutritious food packed full of protein and lift heavy weights.
PROBLEM: You are actually losing weight but the scales don’t show it
STEP AWAY FROM THE SCALES. Nothing derails a person faster than hopping on the scales and seeing nothing happening. The problem is of course, is that fat loss can be happening in the absence of weight loss. If you’re weight training, then you’re likely building muscle which will mask fat loss on the scales.
SOLUTION: Get a DEXA scan or bioimpedance test done every few months to chart your progress. In the meantime, go by cm not kg.
PROBLEM: You follow a routine blindly
We all have a gut feeling when something isn’t working but instead of trusting that feeling, people seem to ignore it when it comes to following a program. This isn’t how it’s supposed to work. A program is only a guide and can only guesstimate (at best) how your body will respond. You need to take ownership and put yourself in the driver’s seat. The number of times I see people eating because the plan tells them to, despite not even being hungry, is staggering. Additionally, training when sore (because the program says it’s a training day) is also common place. It seems like common sense is checked at the door once these plans are put in place.
SOLUTION: Re-engage your common sense. If you’re not hungry, don’t stuff food in for the sake of it and if you think the program isn’t working, you’re too sore or something feels off, trust your instinct and get some assistance.
PROBLEM: You didn’t give yourself enough time
Habits and routines take time to be established and more often than not, we stop doing things before we can get any real effect from them. It’s also likely that you need a full year of doing something before you can consider this to really be your new norm and research indicates that if you can keep weight off for a year, you’re more likely to keep it off for good. So you need to ask yourself, have you ever stuck to something for a year? For most people, the answer is no, so I want you to think about this. Consider athletes who are training for the Commonwealth Games or Olympics. They recognise that the fulfilment of their goal is years and possibly a decade away. They know that they will experience disappointment, defeat, discouragement and injuries along the way so they are not deterred when this happens. They are clear on the time it is going to take to achieve their goals, so they are not worried about slow progress. We need to think more like an athlete!
SOLUTION: Commit for 12 months. Whinge, complain, bitch and moan as much as you like but stick to it for 12 months! You’ve got this!
PROBLEM: You didn’t set any goals or have a plan and vision for yourself
Friend: “Hey Naomi. Let’s go on a road trip to Spencer St Wishart. We’re not using a roadmap, or Google Maps and I’ve never been there before but I hear it’s pretty good. So, I’m just going to follow the traffic and see where we end up.”
Good plan yeah? Nah. You would scoff at your friend and tell them their plan is ABSURD…. But this is precisely what you’re doing when you decide to undertake a new lifestyle with absolutely no goal setting or planning in place. You might have an idea of where you want to go, but you have no idea how to get there, no markers to check your progress and you’re planning on just following other people; without knowing what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and where they’re going. As our coach Yarna says, “don’t think you can begin a life-changing journey with no clue of the route to your destination.” And she hits the nail on the head. It’s not good enough to just know where you want to go. How the heck are you getting there? I cannot even begin to stress how important it is to have goals and a plan! But what you also need is a vision! Who do you want to become? What are the attributes of this person? What does this person do? Do they eat well? Do they train regardless of stress, time and energy? Do they make time for what is important? Do they say no to things that don’t align with their goals and vision? And if you can’t answer these questions, then you are absolutely setting yourself up for failure.
SOLUTION: Reverse engineer your goals. Who is it you want to become? Who is your ultimate person? What is their fitness like? What are their habits? What is their diet like? Then work your way back from how long you think it will take to achieve these goals. Set yourself weekly and monthly goals and find someone to be accountable to. Each month, check in and make sure you’re on track.