Contextualizing Weight Loss in Everyday Life
By Chris Zinn
It's got to be frustrating.
Listening to everybody tell you how they easily lost 20lbs on keto.
Or, that weight loss is actually really simple. You just need to eat less than you burn and it will be easy for you to lose weight. And, if you aren't doing that you are doing something wrong.
Or, they say you should count calories every day and if you do that, there's no excuse why you shouldn't lose weight.
You keep reading and hearing that weight loss should be simple if you do it right. "Just do X and you'll lose weight". But no matter how many times you try counting calories or eating less than you burn... it doesn't work for you. Leaving you to think your metabolism is broken and you should just give up.
But you know what? They're right. Technically. They aren't feeding you lies.
It does come down to basic physics in that if you expend more energy than you take in, you will use the fuel you have stored in your body and your weight will drop.
So why then, is it so damn hard for you to lose that weight if you are doing what they tell you?
Because that's not how weight loss works in practice. That's the difference between talking to a nutrition scientist and a nutrition coach.
Sure that's technically the truth. Eat less than you burn and you'll lose weight. Count calories and you will know exactly how much you are eating.
But, here's why that's not really helpful in practice.
You aren't a lab rat in an experiment, and there are sooooo many more factors that will influence your decisions. While all of that advice on how to lose weight is well-intentioned, it isn't always going to be helpful.
"Just count your calories every day, don't miss, and track everything you eat"
Okay, so the person gets off to a good start and is tracking everything they are eating initially. But they have a birthday party to go to next week and when they go, they eat more than they should and don't track it. Now they feel discouraged and "off track" so they don't continue tracking their calories even though they still have intentions of losing weight.
Well, since their only tool for weight loss is now gone, how are they going to make that progress?
People's behavior, emotions, relationships, stress, and environment matter very much when you are asking them to uproot their entire way of eating.
It's never as simple as eating less. There are emotional triggers, stress triggers, environmental triggers... the list goes on.
Here are some things I practice regularly with my clients that are manageable, and sustainable enough to make real progress.
Focus on Eating Whole Minimally Processed Foods
Rather than a specific diet that you strictly adhere to, focus on slowly transitioning your diet to mostly whole foods.
No, not the grocery store Whole Foods! I'm talking about shifting your eating to foods that are as close to their original form as possible. These foods are less processed and therefore better for you. They also are more nutrient-dense so you can eat fewer calories while still getting the same amount of nutrients.
Learn How to Read Your Hunger Signals
You won't always be able to choose the foods that you eat. This is where a lot of that advice will falter. Because if you live your life like a real human, you will be doing things, going places, and having fun.
Instead of having to say "Sorry, I can only eat things that have less than 10 net carbs" you can put this to practice.
To do this, you must learn to eat slowly and pay attention to yourself and your surroundings. Distracted eating will result in you missing some of these signals and potentially overeating.
This is extremely useful because when you can't control what you eat, you still will be able to control how much you eat.
Mindfully eating cake and stopping short of being satisfied is better than an all-or-nothing attitude towards food.
Have Some Compassion
If you do end up going off track, don't sweat it. Seriously. Nobody is going to nail a perfect 16, 12, or 8 weeks of dieting. It just isn't feasible, and since we're going slow and taking our time you don't want to make yourself insane by being overly strict with your eating.
Avoid the "I messed up so the rest of this week is toast. I'll try again next week" way of thinking. Weight loss happens on a large scale of time. Not day to day. We're talking week to week, month to month, year to year. So one day of eating something you enjoy, or accidental overeating will not derail you in the grand scheme of things.
People live real lives and do real things, so it won't always be as easy as it is in a controlled environment. That's why it's important to have the tools in your toolbox to be able to be flexible, make progress, and enjoy life.
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