I'm getting this question from a lot of women lately. It relates to why a particular approach to weight loss that worked in the past isn't working any more. For example:
"I've used the [insert name of mainstream weight loss program] to lose weight before and it worked great. But this time it's not working! My body isn't responding, and I'm eating SO clean/healthy/paleo/low-carb. What am I doing wrong?"
This is a tough spot to be in. I know because I used to live it. If someone was handing out awards for the cleanest, strictest, healthiest eating plan, I would have won ALL THE AWARDS. And yet, my body wouldn't budge. I worked out more and ate even cleaner. I even bought all those stupid "Eat Clean" cookbooks.
I was freaking killing myself and could't lose ONE POUND?! I was eating oatmeal with no sugar, putting skim milk in my coffee, and eating veggie burgers with no mayo on whole grain bread - because hey, it worked before! SO WHAT GIVES?
Haha. Sorry, I have to laugh because...well, I hated those blasted veggie burgers. But, have you been there? Or do you feel like this right now?
Here's something you need to wrap your head around:
Weight loss is not fat loss. Eating cleaner/healthier/more Paleo/no carbs is not the same as eating for fat loss.
The way you lost weight the last time was, in all likelihood, a weight loss approach (eat less/exercise more), not a fat loss approach. And yes, there's a big difference.
THREE REASONS YOUR LAST DIET ISN'T WORKING ANYMORE.
1. Weight Loss Diets Lead to Muscle Loss
You had great success with a certain diet plan, so why wouldn't you go back to it?
Your inability to lose weight on the same diet plan is likely because only some of the weight you lost was fat. Some of the weight loss was water weight, and some of it, sadly, was muscle.
When you don't eat enough (especially protein) and you exercise more (especially prolonged intense exercise) your body will break down muscle tissue and essential fat deposits for fuel. This process is known as "catabolism" and it slows your metabolism, making it less efficient. This vicious cycle of eating less and exercising more also increases stress hormone levels, causing your body to hold on to stubborn fat even harder.
Focus on losing body fat and improving your body composition, the ratio of lean mass to fat on your body. Focusing solely on the scale and treating body change like a math problem (calories in vs. calories out) does not lead to fat loss and improved body composition. Stop dieting and learn to live a fat loss lifestyle like the one we teach here and in our Fat Loss Cooking School programs: it preserves lean muscle tissue and ensures that only fat is lost.
We eat more of the right things more often, and shoot for at least a gram of protein per pound of lean mass, and often times much much more. Many of my female fat loss clients are shocked to find they've only been consuming around 60 or 70-some grams of protein a day, when they really need 100+ grams/day. They wonder why they're always hungry, craving everything under the sun, and feel like crap in their workouts.
Not eating enough and exercising too much will do that to a girl...
2. Your metabolism is not a fixed point.
Your metabolism is constantly reacting and adapting to everything around you: food (or lack thereof), exercise, stress, lack of sleep, environmental factors, and even your repeated efforts to lose weight/fat. When you exert force on your metabolism, it pulls back harder.
Think of it this way: It's like a game of tug of war that you will never win.
("Well that's depressing." I know. But hang on. Don't quit on me yet...)
The diet you went on 2/5/10 years ago to lose weight for your wedding, a vacation, after you had a baby, etc. probably won't work for you again because you're dealing with a different body now. This is especially true if you went on a too-low-calorie diet and worked out like a crazy person to lose weight. You are now dealing with a slower metabolism.
Are you older now than you were 5 years ago? (Obviously. Yes. We all are.) Then you're dealing with a different body now, because everything naturally changes, slows, and declines as we age.
Special Note To Fitness Professionals: You are also dealing with a different body now than the one you had before you became a fitness pro. If you're anything like me, you used to have a sedentary 9-5 desk job and took a few group fitness classes during the week. Now, you're teaching group fitness classes, training on your own or with a coach, and you're training others to help them achieve body change. It's your job to perform at a higher level. Now, if you want to get leaner, you will need a different approach than the one you prescribe for your clients as you are in two very different places. You need to eat, train, and think more like an athlete, and if you're already relatively lean (body fat in the high teens/low 20s), then getting leaner will require more focus and a solid plan.
Feed and train the body you have now. That may require you to let go of your opinions and biases about what works and what doesn't.
Learn how your metabolism works FIRST (it's no coincidence that this is the first thing I teach in Fat Loss Cooking School), and then eat and train based on where you're at right now. You may need to seek out the guidance of a personal trainer and/or nutrition coach to help you sort through all the noise and garbage you've read on the internet. (If it tells you anything about how important this is: I'm a personal trainer and nutrition coach and I HAVE A PERSONAL TRAINER AND NUTRITION COACH.)
3. Your Last Diet Actually Made You Fatter
"Um, excuse me Leslie Ann, but did you just call me FAT?"
Do not misunderstand what I'm saying here. I'm not calling you fat. I'm also not interested in debates about what's better or healthier or hotter: women with hard, muscled bodies or women with softer edges and more curves because frankly, I find all of that talk boring. I'm less interested in what other women look like (soft, hard, curvy, whatever) and more interested in how they feel and how they are leaving their mark on this planet. Some women "make their mark" with their bodies (models, actresses, athletes and such), but they are a very small percentage of the population.
The average woman I work with tells me she just wants to feel stronger and more confident in her own skin. She's tired of hiding under baggy clothes, wearing cover ups and shorts at the beach, and trying to suck it all in with Spanx. Other women tell me they've started lifting weights and they know they're strong, but their bodies are still holding onto fat. They want to look as good and strong and powerful on the outside as they feel on the inside.*
*Some of that is mindset work. You can change the outside all day long but if your mind is broken, you will never "be good/lean/fit enough." Women are so hard on themselves and often times cannot see the reality of what they truly look like. This can also veer into body dysmorphic disorder. If you're struggling with these issues to the point where it's having a negative impact on relationships and activities of daily life, please consult a licensed mental healthcare provider.
Restricted-calorie diets and hours upon hours of sweaty workouts may make you FEEL like you're getting super-fit and sure, it may make the number on the scale go down (at least for a while.) Eating a strict Paleo diet and joining a Crossfit box may make you FEEL like a bad-ass, deadlifting, box-jumping, rope-climbing cave girl, but it won't necessarily get you leaner.
Eating less and exercising more. Following diet plans with foods that only cavemen had access to. If your body shape isn't changing and if you're not losing body fat, it's not working. REPEAT: IT'S NOT WORKING.
Eating less/cleaner/more Paleo and exercising more doesn't necessarily give you a leaner body. For some women it does. That formula works for them. It may not work for you. So why would you double-down and try harder at something that isn't working? I'm as stubborn as the day is long (ask my husband), but if you're eating and training in a way that isn't getting you the results you want, why do you keep doing it?!
If you want to ditch the Spanx and feel confident in your own skin, the bottom line is this:
You have to stop dieting.
Your body is not a math problem or a calculator. Calories DO matter, and yes you need to exercise, but hormones matter even more and you cannot balance them by arbitrarily cutting calories and hitting the elliptical trainer for 45 minutes.
The best nutrition plan is the one you create for yourself. I call it:
The [Insert Your Name Here] Diet.
It's the unique way of eating and training that will work for you, that you enjoy and can do effortlessly for the rest of your life, not just the next 21/30/60 days.