Sat on the rugged surface of the wooden chairs in my dinning room. Without a peep from the outside world because it's 5am on a Saturday and no one is nearly crazy enough to wake at this time, I'm feeling reflective.
I've come a long way from the sport and exercise graduate who did some personal training on the side around 10 years ago. Back then, I had a foundation level of knowledge surrounding nutrition. I had completed some modules at University and had done some further reading on my own but I was far from an expert. A fact that can sometimes make me cringe when I think back to how I really didn't know the ins and outs of nutrition back then.
I certainly would not have been able to dissect a diet where the client had plateaued despite seemingly eating healthily. A fact that is also salient when patients and clients tell me they have seen personal trainers or nutritionists who can't understand why their weight has plateaued. A degree in nutrition and/or dietetics and years of experience is key.
I've had lots of patients in the past, particularly when working as a weight management dietitian, who could not understand why their weight was not coming down, despite making a number of changes.
And this is where experience has really made a difference. Experience I want to share with you today.
The vast majority of peoples weight is purely the result of how we live our lives in regards to dietary intake and physical activity. Your weight tells no lies. At the simplest level, your weight is the direct result of how much energy your body requires compared to how much energy you give it. This can result in your being under, normal or overweight.
The reasons for being under, normal or overweight may vary depending on whether there are mobility issues, medication, some hormonal imbalances or maybe you just eat more/less than you require. Regardless of the reason, your body has a daily energy requirement and if you want to have a 'healthy' weight, you need to eat to that requirement (of course if hormonal or medical - which is rare - I would also suggest exploring corrective therapy with your GP).
If you are overweight, you eat more than you need. Granted for those who may be overweight and seemingly eating little, this can be a harsh reality but the fact remains, your body just doesn't need many calories for your current situation.
I've had some very disheartened patients in the past because the weight loss is not fast enough or even stagnating. However, it's not necessarily about what you think the weight should be doing, it's about what it is doing. If you're not losing weight, that is just feedback from your body telling you more adjustments are required.
One patient who springs to mind is a gentleman who cut all sweets and cake out of his diet and thus expected dramatic weight loss results. However, what this gentleman failed to understand was all food has calories whether it's healthy or not.
Therefore, you can overeat on healthy foods. What he had actually achieved in this instance was to stop gaining weight because the other foods in his diet added up to a significant calorie intake. In his mind, he should be losing weight but this was not the reality. He had been gaining weight over a number of years and therefore had an excess amount of calories in his diet. What he had achieved was to cut out the excess calories.
This is a prime example of weight loss stagnation. If this sounds like you, don't take it personally, it's just feedback. Not all dietary changes result in weight loss. However, one thing I can guarantee is for every change you make, it is one step closer to losing weight.
Another way to look at it is this. A person may be consuming 2500kcal/day but then decides to cut out chocolate, reducing their daily intake to 2000kcal/day. In their head, the weight loss should begin. But, lets assume this person, based on their body type, height, age and physical activity levels, only requires 1600kcal/day for them to begin to lose weight. All they have done is slow down weight gain because the total calorie intake is still higher than their body needs.
Changing your diet does not automatically result in weight loss. It might just mean you are gaining weight at a slower rate or you are no longer gaining weight.
If you have made a number of changes to your diet but your weight remains stable, that is not the time to give up and scrap all the changes you have made. It is instead time to build on those changes and look at other areas of the diet or physical activity patterns you can make changes to.
Generally speaking, if all of the above sounds like you, here's what to do.
1) First, track your daily steps. This is a good indication of how active you are outside of formal exercise, if doing any at all. Formal exercise is great but most people do not do enough for it to be the difference. 1-3 gym sessions per week, which I find fairly typical of my patients if exercising, although a terrific thing to be doing, won't necessarily be the difference between weight loss and weight stagnation. It will be just one of a number of tools to help with weight loss.
Most people I speak with who stagnate with their weight achieve less than 6000 steps per day. This means they are burning an insignificant amount of energy each day.
Although an arbitrary figure, 10000 steps is a good goal. If this is completely unachievable, just aim for more steps each day! BUT if you're under 5000-6000 steps per day, chances are your calorie requirement is going to be quite low.
2) Check your portions. It doesn't have to necessarily be a complete diet overhaul but instead think about how much you are eating. If you finish meals completely full up, even uncomfortable, that's a sign you have over eaten. Pleasantly satisfied is the stage you want to stop eating at meal times for weight loss. You will be surprised how quickly this response this kicks in if you just slow down and get in tune with your hunger signals. This leads us onto 3.
3) Slow down your eating. Use smaller cutlery at meals to slow you down. You'll find as you slow down your eating, you'll become more in touch with your satiety signals.
4) Change the proportions of your plate. If vegetables is not the dominating feature on your plate, it leaves carbohydrates, protein and fat to make up the bulk of your meal. This is where the calories are. If you hate vegetables, choose lean cuts of meat to base your meals around. From experience, even those who say they dislike vegetables, like some varieties.
5) Think about snacks. Snacking on things like toast or bars will add lots of calories to your diet. Choose fruit, vegetables, protein foods (meats, beans, pulses, lentils, handful of nuts or fish) for healthier and more filling snacks.
And that's it. Five easy steps you can achieve today without radically overhauling your diet. Give it a try and I wish you luck.