Let Go of the Yo-Yo
Ali Othman, NSCA-CPT®
Summer is here, and that means many things. Among these is the sudden urge to drop ten pounds by some unrealistic date for an upcoming event. Four to six weeks of reduced carbs or maybe two weeks of a liquid diet might work, but what comes next? Eventually carbs and fat find their way back into your diet, and the weight rushes back quicker and more efficiently than the last time you tried the cabbage soup and grapefruit diet.
More astounding than any machine or new technology is the human body, which regulates its own temperature, hydration, fuel levels, weight, fat, and so many other processes that take place behind the scenes. For example, before you become dehydrated, the brain sends a signal saying “I’m thirsty!” at which point your mouth gets dry and you begin your search for a drink. The same is true for weight. At a certain point of weight loss, the brain signals that it’s time to eat. These signals come in the form of cravings, usually for high-fat and calorie-dense foods. These cravings eventually become irresistible, even to the strongest will. It’s ok, though, because that’s how the body keeps itself functioning properly.
Yo-yo dieting is an easy way to develop less-than-ideal eating habits. In a situation where you’re trying to lose weight, proper eating habits make all the difference. Rather than depriving or starving yourself, eat small portions of a well-balanced selection of foods, including your favorites. Never fill your plate with foods you can’t stand, unless your doctor has asked you to.
People like to win, even when battling themselves. Imagine you’ve tried a few times over the last few years to lose fifteen pounds. With each attempt, it becomes harder to motivate yourself. In the back of your mind, doubt has been brewing about your ability to take on this challenge. Reverse that cycle with some lifestyle changes. Instead of an unrealistic diet, create a meal plan that gets you involved in your nutrition and culinary selections and gain confidence knowing that you’re eating in a way that can continue indefinitely. Eventually your weight will level off and become less of an influence on your lifestyle.
Now that you know you’re in it for the long-haul, consistency and moderation are the way to go. Set a routine that promotes these concepts in your calorie intake, sleep, and daily activity. Look at your dietary plan first because your caloric intake is responsible for roughly eighty to ninety percent of your weight management. The consensus in the nutrition community is that restrictive diets are neither sustainable nor realistic. Instead, the most logical and successful dietary plans have you eating some of your favorites nearly every day.
Whenever I on-board a new personal training client, the first assignment I give them is to keep a three-day food journal. Every science-based dietary plan starts with a food journal. A properly completed journal is like a cheat sheet for designing your dietary plan. You can understand your daily calorie intake and how many of those calories are from protein, carbohydrates, or fat. Sometimes, adjusting your intake ratio of these macronutrients is all you need to achieve a steady loss of ten pounds over the course of a year. Those ten pounds are much less likely to sneak back than ten pounds lost hastily by the latest fad diet.
Next, you can take a step deeper and look into the ingredients of each of your meals. Figure out which ingredients are the most calorie dense and reduce the amount of these you eat. These are your packaged desserts, fast foods, oils, fatty red meats, fried items, and the like. Look for nutrient-rich substitutions that are less calorie dense. These types of ingredients are usually higher in water and fiber, like vegetables. They fill the space in your stomach and allow you to feel full without contributing too heavily to your caloric intake. They also take longer to digest, leaving you feeling satisfied longer than a diet high in simple carbohydrates or fried food.
This next recommendation comes straight from the gut. Cut your portion size by twenty-five or thirty percent and add a fresh salad, fruit, or a bowl of leafy vegetables. In addition to being great space fillers and water sources, fruit and leafy vegetables help stimulate digestion. One of the signs of a healthy gut is the steadiness at which food moves through your digestive system, sometimes called regularity. For those who’ve been plagued with digestive issues, a bit of regularity might be worth the change all on its own.
A well-balanced diet will have some other unexpected benefits as well, namely on your sleep quality. As you get closer to the evening, try limiting caffeine and high-fat, spicy, or acidic foods. Reducing these foods in the evening allows your body to rest more comfortably throughout the night. Increasing the amount of sleep you get and its quality can have profound effects. Being well-rested is a boost for your immune system, mood, memory, and muscle recovery. You’ll have more energy to spend on daily activities, which will make you tired just in time for bed. Just like your cell phone, you need to recharge overnight because a rested mind and body operate efficiently and help you balance your cravings.
While you’re making substitutions within your meals, take a look at your favorites that may be calorie dense but are essential to your mealtime happiness. A piece of cake or bag of chips might have 300 to 400 calories. Since the remaining ten to twenty percent of your weight management comes from your daily activities and exercise, you can directly connect your intake of these to exercise.
The first thing that consistent exercise does is give you a boost of confidence. It takes about six weeks of consistent exercise to develop a pattern that’s both mental and physical. Start by exercising two, three, or four days a week with your short-term goal being to keep it up for six weeks. Moderate your intensity at the beginning to make sure you don’t overdo it and bow out early from extreme muscle soreness.
Everything you’ve been doing for the past month and a half has been training for your new lifestyle, so just keep going. Be sure to set some realistic short- and long-term goals. It doesn’t matter if they’re health-related or superficial as long as they keep you motivated and moving towards your goals.
After all of this, you’re armed with some new confidence in your ability to set and reach wellness goals, your calorie intake has become pretty steady, your exercise routine is set in your calendar as well as in your mind, and you are sleeping better. Now is the time to look back on your lifestyle over the last six to eight weeks and ask yourself if the changes are sustainable. Stick with the ones that are and leave the others behind, along with past disappointments and sadness.
If you’ve been thinking about changing your lifestyle, start with a trip to your physician to be cleared for exercise and always remember to aim for consistency and moderation to let go of the yo-yo.
Ali Othman is an NSCA-certified personal trainer with over fifteen years of experience in the health and wellness industry. He also works in the Technical Department at IFANCA and manages IFANCA business activities in South Korea.