The majority of the clients who come to my door at RevFit are coming for weight loss. Maybe they’ve heard about my coaching style or they’ve seen the results of my clients or they just did a random local Google search and came across our website to find out more.
The problem (and this will always be a problem) is that weight loss is more than just numbers. It’s more than meal plans, it’s more than mental readiness, it’s more than willpower, it’s more than simply the “desire” to lose weight.
Inherently, dieting is a stressor. It also requires disruption in the status quo. No matter who you are, how old you are, what gender you are and what unique characteristics you bring to the table, what led to you gaining weight requires effort (often conscious, sometimes unconscious) that will change the way that your life and your relationship with food operates.
The older you are, the more diets you’ve tried, and the more calloused of an opinion you’ve developed about dieting, the more difficult it may be to see the results you’re seeking.
Not to mention, the legitimate, clinical disorders around eating (binge eating, anorexia, orthorexia, etc.) which can also complicate the path to the goal.
Recently, a client of mine shared a meme in one of my closed communities expressing the sentiment that I used to title this week’s article (Thanks, M!)
So, my goal this week is to do my damnedest to unpack this one. If you share the feelings of my client, and you really want to lose weight but you really don’t want to “do the thing” and that frustrates the bejesus out of you, you’ll want to read on.
If you can spend some time focusing on these areas of life, not directly related to weight loss per se, you might invariably find yourself in a place where wanting to lose weight and actually taking the steps towards doing so aren’t as difficult to do.
Get comfy, this won’t be a short read.
Maybe Now Is Not A Good Time
This is a very simple, albeit temporary pass that even though you want fat loss, that when you take stock of all the things happening in your life right now, you actually would be putting yourself at a disadvantage to try losing weight. For instance, maybe you’re a caretaker for an elderly/sick relative. In addition, you might be a parent, spouse, full/part-time employee and you just can’t manage another task on your plate. This is not only okay, it’s 100% normal. The question to ask yourself is: If not now, when? The answer depends on how you’re currently handling the stress that’s on your plate. Let’s face it, the responsibilities of just being a parent, a spouse, a caretaker or an employee can be monumental all on their own. Learning how to meal prep, staying in a calorie deficit, fitting in an exercise regimen and getting consistent sleep might just be more than you can handle (for now). If you don’t see your status as parent/spouse/employee/caretaker changing anytime soon, ask yourself if there is a better time in the foreseeable future that you can revisit your weight loss goals and start implementing the steps it takes to get there. The fact of the matter is that we ALL have stress and some of that stress is good, healthy stress and some is absolutely life-altering negative stress. How YOU react to that stress day in-day out, week in-week out, is what determines your success rate. If now is not a good time to focus on weight loss (but you still want to lose it) cut yourself some slack and look at what you are currently trying to manage. If you see a light at the end of the tunnel, make a commitment to yourself to revisit your weight loss goals then.
You Have Unrealistic Weight Loss Goals/Timelines
Often, I find clients have these hard set numbers about how much weight they want to lose and how long they think it should take to get there. The numbers are arbitrary and while they may have emotional weight to them, a client might not realize what they will have to sacrifice/compromise and for how long to actually obtain those numbers. Let’s assume you have 50 pounds to lose. Let’s also assume that due to life stressors (see the point I mentioned above) you gained that weight steadily over a period of 3 years. How long do you believe it should take you to lose it? 6 months, 12 months, 3 years? Here’s the answer: it could be any of those (but you should consider the reality it might be longer than you want it to be). A more helpful (and realistic approach) would be to look at what you can change immediately that will net you a short-term weight loss result. In other words, what could you change in your diet and lifestyle that would result in say, 2 pounds of weight loss in the next week or two? Once you’ve determined that, can you replicate those behaviors for the next week or two? Now, let’s extrapolate that. If you can lose 2 pounds this week, by making some reasonable changes to your diet, you’d be (theoretically) at your goal weight in 25 weeks (approximately 6 months). If we slow down that rate of loss and say that you can only realistically lose 1 pound a week, you would be at your goal weight in less than a year. A tactic would be to “forget” that you have 50 pounds to lose and just see what changes you can make where you continue to whittle away, 1-2 pounds/week without doing something obnoxious and unsustainable with your diet. Due to our collectively annoying habit of wanting big, sweeping dramatic results rightthisverysecond, I’ve seen clients do fantastically bizarre things with their diets just to say they lost 5 pounds in a week only to gain it back two weeks later because (SURPRISE!) that Grapefruit/Detox/Cleanse/Colon Flush was not a sustainable plan! Add some sanity back to your plan and be ready (but willing) to accept slower weight loss as long as the scale is trending over time. Note: as you lose weight, a “smaller” you requires fewer calories. If your weight loss stalls, you may have to keep looking at areas in your diet and training to make progress on.
You Might Need Therapy (And/Or A Change In Medication)
Here’s a hard truth: many of my clients are in a place where they need to lose weight because food is their only (or main) coping mechanism for stress. As an extension of that, some of my weight loss clients actually eat well (respective of their goals) but they consume too many liquid calories. This could be defined as sugary drinks, too much creamer/sugar in their coffee/tea, calorie laden energy drinks/juice, or alcohol. Consider talking to a therapist about other outlets which might benefit you so that food/drink are not the kneejerk response to everything good (or bad) happening in your life. Food can be love and food can be joy and food should be celebrated but a sentiment I shared with my community and on a recent podcast was that “not every problem requires a food solution”. In addition, if you are currently on medication for things like depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, etc. you may need to consider that some of those medications can raise your hunger signals. So, even though you may “want” to lose weight and you believe you’re “eating right”, the medication itself may be influencing how and how much you eat. Fortunately, there are many alternatives which could have a “weight neutral” or “weight loss” effect by comparison. One of my favorite books on this subject with an excellent reference section at the end of it is The Fat Loss Prescription by Dr. Spencer Nadolsky. You may find that a change in medication or an outsider’s perspective on your coping skills can be the solution you need so that weight loss is not as elusive.
You Eat Well During The Week And The Wheels Come Off On The Weekends
Oh, if I had a dollar for every client who “eats well” Monday through Friday and then spikes on either Friday night, Saturday, Sunday or all three…well, I wouldn’t be able to retire but I’d have a lot of dollars! Here’s the thing: for a lot of people, eating appropriate to their goals through the work week is easy, it’s predictable and it’s not fraught with resistance. What happens, more often than not, is that by time they get to the end of their week, they are tired, they are stressed, they don’t want to prepare a home-cooked meal, and they believe that the “reward” for another week of survival is a night or two or three of dietary debauchery. I’ve seen two very stark, very real realities with this. One, is the person who eats “well” all week, has one night/day of a cheat/splurge and undoes a week of positive effort. I see this happen more with women than with men (some exception). The other, is the person who has the same “good” week and takes the same cheat/splurge, gets a case of the ohfuckits and then just cuts loose the rest of the weekend and proclaims: I’ll start again on Monday. The problem is, Monday comes around and by time the weekend is here again, it’s basically the same rehash as the previous week. To change this, start proactively planning your weekend eating. This obstacle is so common that I heard another fat loss coach recently say that (in his experience) Saturday was the worst day of the week to diet. If that seems to be the general consensus, determine how YOU will make Saturdays different so that you don’t succumb to the statistic. I should also mention that you DO deserve a social life however, how you strategize that social life is key. Want a quick tip (albeit not one that I’ll gain new fans on)? Eliminate/reduce cheese and alcohol. Do with that tip what you wish…
Oh, About The Alcohol…
My wife and I are both bourbon drinkers. Being very frank, we have bourbon each night. How are we able to keep our bodies at a maintenance weight while still imbibing? Easy: I measure the pours. And no, we don’t hit the cardio hard the next day or next week to beat the calories off ourselves. There is a caveat to this (as there is with nearly every tip I could give you). We rarely ever go over the portion of the drink. Referencing the tip I gave just above, when are my clients most likely to overdo the alcohol? On the weekends. And what typically happens when they drink? They eat (often with absolutely no regard for portions, quality of food or the additional alcohol they will consume after eating food to absorb the alcohol). Funny how that cycle works! You’ll want to ask yourself (or a trusted loved one) what the reality is of your alcohol consumption. Warning: be prepared for an answer you don’t want to hear. Alcohol is so delicately intertwined into our society that it can be hard to distance ourselves from it. As I mentioned in a previous point, some clients actually have their food dialed in quite well, it’s the drinking that throws them off the path. Ask yourself if you need to temporarily (or permanently) abstain from alcohol OR see if someone can measure your servings for you. One of the toughest things about this is 1) the choice of alcohol 2) who we typically drink with. I’ll address point 1 first. When you buy a 6-pack of beer, you crack one open and you finish the bottle. You then elect to go through that process again: throw the empty away, retrieve another, crack it open and repeat. However, it does require a process and some effort. Wine, is a decidedly different story. Most wine doesn’t taste as good the night after it’s been opened (unless you have a very fancy corking process that reduces oxidation). So, that opened bottle is easy access to continue working at until the bottle is gone. How does liquor differ? Well, for one, it’s much higher alcohol content than wine or beer, so if you drink for a given feeling (say a buzz or a drunk), you’re going to get there much faster by comparison. In doing so, you’re making a judgment call on if you want to push the envelope for another pour. For a quick reference: 12 oz of non-craft beer is about 100 calories (craft beer is typically 2-3x that amount of calories for the same size), 4 oz of wine is about 100 calories, 1.5 oz of liquor is about 100 calories. Several of my clients go through periodic bouts of sobriety or “drying up” as a way to control their daily calorie intake. It also bears mention, that depending on the person, while alcohol may help you fall asleep, it can actually contribute to a lack of quality, well-rested sleep.
Yeah, We Need To Talk About Sleep, Too
If you’ve been reading through my articles for awhile, you’ve seen a lot of recurring themes: support systems, therapy, eating appropriate to your goals, and sleep hygiene. There’s a reason for that. Number one, I never know when/how/who someone will be reading my work and the message will have a degree of consistency to it. Number two, sometimes we aren’t ready for some bits of information until the time is right (or stars aligned if you’re into that kind of thing). Number three, sometimes we just need a reminder/refresher before we say “Oh yeah! That part of my life has been slipping!” So, here’s the deal. You need quality, restful sleep. It’s not a question of if, it’s my professional suggestion that you make it a non-negotiable. That means, your family needs to be “in the know” as well. Some very general tips: cut off caffeine consumption by noon (unless you work third shift), limit alcohol intake (see the point above), use the bedroom only for sex and sleep, get the room as dark as humanly possible, get the environment as quiet as possible (unless you sleep better with a sound machine/ambience), keep the temperature “cooler” as opposed to warmer, and turn off all electronics 30-45 minutes before bed. If you have chronically poor sleep (or if your snoring is disruptive enough to others that they can’t sleep), please consider consulting a sleep lab to see if you have sleep apnea. In many cases, weight loss can reverse sleep apnea (this is not direct medical advice, consult your sleep lab tech/representative for more accurate information). Ultimately, your ability to get quality sleep has a direct correlation to your next day’s eating behavior. If you’re suffering from poor sleep, there is a very good chance that you are overdoing it on caffeine/sugar the next day and dealing with one crash after another. If you find that you can’t control your cravings for hyper-palatable foods that are way too easy to overeat, sleep may be the culprit. Myself personally, I normally take 1mg of melatonin each night but this does NOT work every single night and some people may either be non-responders or hypersensitive to this. While this isn’t a general rule…having sex before bedtime might help you sleep better too. You’re welcome!
Your Default Response To Dieting Is Too Restrictive
It’s not uncommon to see dieting behavior that is cringe-worthy at best. People have a tendency to get so frustrated with the scale and so impatient with their progress that they result to methods which I wouldn’t even ask my enemies to try (thankfully, I don’t have a lot of enemies). However, if you alternate from your “standard diet” (aka the one that led to the weight gain) to something that is 180 degrees different, you’re begging for trouble. Actually, let me rephrase that: you’re begging for a rebound. I don’t know a soul on this planet who embarks on a diet with the goal of: I really want to lose this weight just so I can regain it all back (and then some!) The reality is something not far off, though. I recently sat down with a client who is trying to embark on a healthier diet. They also had identified not only binge-eating episodes but they are also on anxiety medications because of a delicate combination of stress around food and low self-esteem. A recent conversation went like this:
Me: How do you eat on the weekends?
Client: Like crap.
Me: Can you be more specific?
Client: Well, we’re typically on the go and we end up going through a drive-thru and getting fast food which isn’t good.
Me: Where do you usually go?
Client: McDonald’s or something similar, also Chipotle.
Me: Cool. Can you tell me what you typically order from McDonald’s?
Client: Sure. A double quarter pounder with cheese, a large fry and a large Coke.
Me: Sounds good. Do you mind if I pull up the calories on those? I want to try something with you.
Client: Sure, no problem.
Me: Okay, the burger is about 750 calories, the fries are about 450 calories and the drink is about 300 calories. If you were to make a healthier choice, what would you change?
Client: Well, maybe I would grab a water rather than the Coke.
Me: Awesome! I think that’s a great choice, it’s a really easy way to remove 300 calories from the day. Would you do anything else?
Client: Maybe get a single quarter pounder as opposed to a double?
Me: That’s not a bad idea, however, I’d love for you to keep your protein high. What if you reduced or removed the fries? Is that reasonable?
Client: Yeah, I could do that.
Me: Great. Just remember, we’re not focusing on food virtues here. I want to try and help you shift the thinking about “good food” versus “bad food”. We’re just looking for ways to reduce calories without making you feel too deprived or that you’re not making a positive, progressive step. Now, how about we look at Chipotle. What do you typically order?
Client: I usually get a bowl: black beans, brown rice, corn salsa, double chicken, cheese and sour cream.
Me: Do you order chips?
Client: No, not usually.
Me: Okay, how would you improve it?
Client: Take off the cheese and sour cream?
Me: I think that’s a great choice. It’s a super easy way to cut back 200-300 calories. Would you change anything else?
Client: Does corn salsa have a lot of calories?
Me: It does not. I think you’re good with that. Can I make a suggestion?
Me: Make a choice between brown rice OR black beans, maybe not both. There’s nothing wrong with either, we’re just trying to make small reductions. If it were me, I’d pick the black beans because you get more protein and fiber there. Ultimately, it’s your choice because you might have a taste for one over another.
Client: That makes sense. I can do that!
I use this example for a few reasons. 1) I don’t want to completely alter the style of my client’s diet. I want to illustrate choices that result in caloric reduction but also allow a client to live their life. 2) I want my client to feel empowered (but educated) on decisions that can influence the direction of the scale. 3) I don’t make food judgments, EVER. There is no inherently good or bad food. There are the foods we can moderate the amount of and foods we have less control over (which might cause overconsumption). This does not include foods that individuals have a legitimate allergic reaction to.
I also want to note that I’m not trying to take someone who could realistically lose weight on, say, 2500 calories and tell them they need to eat something closer to 1500 just to get to the goal faster. That’s a recipe for disaster and lack of adherence.
The Comparison Trap Is Killing Your Progress
One of the upsides/downsides to being in this industry is my presence and involvement in social media. Facebook is my platform of choice and, all too often, I see a comparison trap that drives me insane. It goes something like this: How does he/she get to eat all those calories and gets to look like that? I have to eat (something much lower) and I’ll never have that body! Dear reader, you can add this to all the things in life which are undoubtedly “unfair”. The tough thing with social media is that people can post any damn thing they please and it’s to be accepted without context or validation of truth. Assume for a moment that you saw a picture of me shirtless. I have visible abs, visible muscle definition and if all you had was a picture to go by, you could make assumptions of how tall I am, how old I am, how much I weigh, how often I work out, how active I am, how genetically “gifted” you think I am, etc. etc. The reality of all those assumptions would be that you’re probably wrong about all of them. If I really wanted to mess with you, since we can create any picture we want on social media, is that I could give you any calorie/macro goal to shoot for (as if it were my own), I could overestimate how much (or how little) I train, and if I really wanted to be a dick about it, I could pour some extra salt in the wound by telling you: if you want it bad enough, you’ll be willing to work for it. *puke* One huge place where I see clients get completely derailed is by gauging their calories, their rate of weight loss, their ability to increase strength or see definition and stick it alongside the efforts/results of someone else. This is a HUGE, HUGE mistake. I can’t even accurately compare two people of the same gender, weight, and age and determine rate of progress. There are just too many unknowns and variables that will ultimately result in different outcomes. My best advice to you is to focus on you. Be inspired by the efforts of others, sure. But, truly, let YOUR progress and YOUR efforts determine the path you’ll follow. When you hear the adage that you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, the person you’re comparing against may be struggling with something that the gym (or the mirror, or the camera) cannot divulge. Focus on what you CAN control and influence and have measuring sticks for how the data is quantitatively working in your favor.
You Have A Support System. A Very Faulty, Unreliable Support System.
Try this: Ask yourself who the 5 people in your life are that you spend the most time with. Make the list. Now, ask yourself if their goals are the same as yours. Let’s assume weight loss is that goal. Are all of those 5 people actively trying to lose as well? If so, are they succeeding? If not, how do they actively (and accurately) support your goals of weight loss? Do they help you with grocery shopping, do they help with meal prep, do they emotionally help when you are feeling weak and vulnerable and more susceptible to dietary indiscretions? Do they know the words/terms/phrases to say that help you feel empowered and driven to succeed? On the weekends (when things have greater potential to go awry), do they help you make choices that align with your goals or do they offer foods/activities that ultimately sabotage your efforts? If this circle of 5 is not as supportive as you might need them to be, can YOU help them understand how to better help you OR who else can you elect to be an advocate/support for your goals? Word of note: this might be the MOST beneficial exercise you do if you answer openly, honestly and do the work.
Burning The Victim Card
“I’d lose weight if it wasn’t for my (insert friend/loved one here)!” Like the comparison trap, and as alluded to in the support system point, blaming your success directly and completely on the influence of someone else is a minefield. I will say this: You determine how you react to the actions of those around you. However, the influence of others is a true problem. If you find that the same people are routinely sabotaging your efforts for success, you have to come to the conclusion that their actions may not change but your reactions to them must (if you want to succeed). You are not a victim in the weight loss game, you are simply a player. Whether you want weight loss to be a game of checkers or chess depends on your perspective. Stated more clearly, and to revisit my thoughts on support systems, you have to be willing and able to have sensitive, uncomfortable and often heated conversations with those closest to you so that they are clear about the areas in your life where you are most susceptible to their influence. I’ll use alcohol consumption as an example. If you are trying to sober up for an undetermined/pre-determined amount of time, who is most likely to sabotage you? How do you plan to change that? What conversations will you have with that person so that they know how to be more supportive? What events/occasions will you be most likely to be vulnerable around where alcohol will be present? Now, flip the circumstances and assume that certain foods in your diet are just as difficult to navigate as alcohol might be for another. When you play the victim card, you relinquish your power over your efforts (and your results).
Curate For Success
I’ll finish with this and it’s a point I’ve made before. You may or may not be aware of the influence that social media, email correspondence, commercials, advertisements and journalism have on how you treat your body. Now may be a time that you need to go through your social media channels and unfollow people who don’t make you feel better about yourself. Unfollow food pages, recipe blogs and “influencers” who do not have a direct relationship with you and don’t specifically understand how their messaging and posts can have a detrimental effect on you being successful with your diet plan. Unfollow and hide “friends” who have nothing but negative things to say on social media. You might try and make a claim that it’s entertaining (in the same way that watching soul-sucking reality TV is entertaining) but you don’t give enough credit to the fact that other people’s drama can have a negative effect on your psyche and feelings of self-worth. I unfollow/hide every possible person that I can who doesn’t bring me joy/happiness/peace when I see them. I don’t have the time, effort, energy for vampires who take more from me than they leave me with. As an extension of this, stick emails into your spam folder that might be tempting options of savory food and/or recipes so that you’re not inadvertently being influenced when you least expect it.
I’m going to go against the grain of many (not all) of my fellow coaches and reiterate that losing weight, can be a constant, relentless struggle. When done right, it is a short-term endeavor that you are not custom-built for rehashing for decades on end. When you recognize the influence of not only your mind, your environment, your friends/loved ones, and your job, you can start to craft a foundation of influence that better supports your goals. When you can build this foundation (or rather, rebuild it) you won’t have to worry about things like willpower and motivation because the factors that contribute to their limited value won’t speak as loudly in your life.