Getting Unstuck: Breaking out of weight loss limbo
It’s an old and infuriating story. You’re trying to lose weight. It seems like you’re always trying to lose weight — you’ve been trying for a year, or five years or three decades.
Aren’t you tired of it? I know I am. I’m exhausted by my own internal monologue rambling on, “Someday, somehow I’ll lose the weight.” Can we pause for a second, take a look at the obvious causes, and change one of them? Just this once? Can we set aside the drama, and make a concrete, behavioral change?
If you are anything like me, one of the following statements may be true:
A. You are stuck and always have been stuck;
B. You lost some weight but now you are definitely stuck;
C. You are killing yourself at the gym and are still very, very stuck.
Is the fat you are trying to lose actually fat (and not just skin that you are irrationally fixating on)? Are you carrying an extra 10 pounds or more? Are you are getting exercise on a daily basis? Are you are doing everything right, yet you still can’t lose weight?
Well, it’s your diet.
It’s almost impossible to maintain weight loss without exercise. It’s even more impossible to lose weight in the first place if you’re eating too much junk.
Junk food is a powerful thing. We have physiological responses that keep us coming back for more sugar, salt and fat. As a result, trying to transform your whole diet can be overwhelming. Measuring every meal — calories in vs. calories out — can be exhausting and self-defeating.
Sometimes it is much easier to choose one unhealthy ingredient and cut it out entirely. Is there something that sends you careening down the rabbit hole of a late-night binge? Find it, and banish it. If you can do it for two weeks, you will lose weight. If you can do it for three months, you will keep the weight off and begin to wonder why you were so married to it in the first place.You are looking for your trigger food.
Here are a few common culprits to consider:
- Sugar — This demon that haunts us in the night is the number one trigger for most women. It’s everywhere, but you can cut it out to varying degrees. You can simply stop eating dessert, which is enough for some people, but if you want to go further, look for added sugar in cereal, salad dressing, juice, bread and just about everything else that comes in a bag, box or bottle. Seek it out, and shut it down. Soda, of course, falls under this category, too. If you drink non-diet soda every day and you stop cold turkey, you’ll cut out thousands of calories a week.
- Wheat — Go gluten-free, or at least wheat-free. This will automatically remove bread, crackers, pasta, cookies, cake, brownies and candy bars. You can find alternatives —rice bread or rice, corn and quinoa pastas — but they are not nearly as available or as tempting. And while I’m not talking about a low-carb diet, it’s unlikely you would eat them frequently enough to replace all of the calories lost by cutting out wheat. There many healthy carbs in the world, but wheat flour is so prevalent that cutting it out almost guarantees weight loss success.
- Alcohol — Sadly, alcohol has lots of empty, pointless calories. Most of my clients have no interest in refraining from drinking, so a less extreme option is to go alcohol-free during the week, Sunday through Thursday nights. If that means you are skipping one drink per night, five nights per week, you’ll create a calorie-deficit of 1000 calories per week. You’d lose a pound every three to four weeks. Also, alcohol tends to lower your resolve for cutting other things out (like fat and sugar), so if you avoid the alcohol, you might do a better job turning down other tempting substances in your life.
Other culprits include fried food, chips, cheese, cream in coffee, and high-calorie smoothies. Any food that is dense with calories that you eat a lot of on a regular basis is worth evaluating, especially if it is a food that triggers you to eat even more.
I speak from experience. I have been stuck for years at a time. I have worked out like a mad-woman, watched my diet and wondered how I would ever break through. I finally cut out wheat and got incredible results.Then I hit another plateau and had to decide if I was happy there or if I wanted to take it a step further. I was still eating dark chocolate and miniature peppermint patties every day. I cut out the sweets and, within a week, went sailing past that very stubborn plateau with very little effort.
After avoiding wheat for four months and sugar for two weeks, I went on a trip and ate bread and desserts again. I couldn’t believe how awful I felt. I’m talking nausea and headaches, lethargy and depression. I knew these foods were addictive before I quit, but I didn’t realize how much they were dragging me down.
I still crave sugar after dinner, but I have found that if I can get through an hour without giving in, I can make it through the night. I might be grumpy about it in the moment, but the payoff is priceless.
If you are stuck and unhappy, be honest with yourself. Find the one food that is most problematic in your diet, cut it out for one month, and watch what happens. At the very least, you will learn that you are not a slave to your cravings. At best, you’ll wake up in the morning feeling light, fit and ready to radically unstick other parts of your world.