If you’re struggling to lose weight, you might think the answer is simply to eat less and move more: the whole calories-in-calories-out method. But in fact weight loss, and particularly lasting weight loss, is far more complicated than that. Moreover, if you make yourself hungry by reducing the amount you eat, and then stimulate your appetite further by exercising, you’ll find yourself in a constant state of semi-starvation – which is no fun, and not a state you can maintain long term. That’s what causes yo-yo dieting.
So before you start trying to reduce calories further to kick-start your weight loss, check that you’re not making the following mistakes:
Not eating real food
Diet foods, “lite” foods and low fat foods are not real food. They are highly processed and often full of refined carbohydrate. In order to make foods “lite”, manufacturers remove the fat (generally replacing it with something less natural) and whip or bake in plenty of air and water. These foods aren’t satisfying and they are nutrient poor. So a reduced calorie ready meal for dinner might seem like a good move, but it’s not nourishing your body and as it’s mainly carbohydrate it could be promoting fat storage, not fat loss.
Instead, think about choosing foods which are as close to nature as possible. A baked or grilled salmon fillet or chicken breast with a big pile of stir fried or roasted vegetables won’t add up to many more calories than a calorie controlled ready meal, but it will be much more satisfying and contain far more nutrients. There’s also no sugar to play havoc with your energy levels, and plenty of protein and good fat which takes longer to digest than carbohydrate and will therefore leave you fuller for longer.
Fuller for longer means you won’t find yourself searching for more food only an hour after a meal, and more nutrients mean that your body can function better and burn fat more effectively.
Using exercise to burn off calories
Exercise shouldn’t feel like a punishment for eating! Exercise should form part of a healthy lifestyle, but try not to get overly reliant on exercise as a means of burning off calories. In the longer term that becomes counterproductive.
Here’s an illustration of how exercise is not the answer: say a piece of cake contains 500 calories. You’d need to go running at a moderate pace for about an hour to use up that amount of calories as energy. If you already exercise regularly, that’s another hour you need to find in your schedule, not to mention the time to get to the gym, or to change into your kit, and get showered afterwards. So for every treat you have you’ll need to find time for another workout – it’s not going to be long before you just don’t have any more time to burn off the food you wish you hadn’t eaten.
Moreover, proponents of the calories-in-calories-out method generally say that to lose 1lb of fat you need to create a 3,500 calorie deficit. So to lose only 1lb per week you’d need to run 7 hours per week!
And the really bad news is that the more cardio you do (cardio being the exercise most people turn to for calorie burning), the more efficient your body gets. Which means that your body uses less energy (ie. calories) to perform the same amount of exercise. Unfair but true, meaning that in order to burn the same amount of calories you’d have to do more and more cardio over time.
It’s far more effective to improve your eating habits than trying to correct those habits using exercise.
(Tip: If you really want to use exercise for fat loss, choose resistance-based exercise. Build up a little more muscle and your body will use extra calories all day long)
Not getting enough rest
Don’t be so focused on what you’re eating and your activity levels that you forget to relax and get enough sleep.
Sleep regulates and resets the hormones involved in fat metabolism and appetite levels. If you haven’t had enough sleep you’re likely to feel tired and hungry, making any efforts to eat healthily and avoid sugary snacks much harder.
Be kind to your body and give it enough rest, and don’t forget to do things you enjoy – pleasure is a nutrient too. Smile and laugh as often as you can!
If you recognise any of these behaviours, try making some changes. If you eat well, avoid punishing yourself with exercise and relax, you shouldn’t have to reduce your calories to break through a weight loss plateau. And if you don’t have to reduce your calories, you won’t feel so deprived, so weight loss won’t feel like such a struggle.