I have failed over and over again. I have created plans, set goals and missed them by miles. I’ve beat myself up, told myself off and thrown in the towel hundreds of times. You know what? It has helped me. That’s right: All those repeated failures gave me incredibly powerful information that all came together to allow me to change life.
From all those failures, I have the incredible benefit of knowing what DOESN’T work for me. I don’t have to try A, B and C because I already did and they didn’t work. For example, I know that money is not an incentive for me. You could offer me $300 for every 10 lbs I lose and that won’t be enough to keep me out of the bag of Oreos. I’ll argue with myself that tomorrow I’ll be back on track and I’ll still get that $300 because I’ll be “extra strict” after indulging in the Oreos. I am really good at lying to myself like that. From my failures I learned not to waste my time with incentives that don’t work. The only incentive I need is what I’m truly after: a fit, strong, healthy body.
The whole “super strict” thing? That doesn’t work for me, either. Yeah, I can do it for a few days or even a couple of weeks but I know, from failing a million times, that it’s going to end the same way: with a binge. All that willpower, restriction and deprivation ultimately makes me snap and go into a wild sugar frenzy. From my failures I learned that I need a more moderate approach. I need to build in enough margin to enjoy my favorite things every once in a while. Total deprivation makes me feel like a caged bird and the only thing I can think about is breaking free.
Too much exercise makes me a sugar junky. I messed this one up more times than I can count. A little exercise is good so as much as I can possibly fit into my day must be better, right? Uh, not for me. Never. This goes very wrong very fast. Over the last 20 years I have gone on so many exercises binges. I’d spend hours each day working out. I’d get up early, stay up late and “burn” as many calories as humanly possible. The result? I was ravenously hungry all the time. My cravings were out of control. My ability to resist the hunger and cravings was very limited and my eating would negate any potential benefits from all that working out. From getting that one wrong a few dozen times, I’m now easily able to resist the temptation to workout “more”. One high intensity workout each day is what is best for my body. No need to mess around with anything else.
I can’t predict what the scale will do. Oh my goodness. If you could see my planners and notebooks and spreadsheets over the last several years you’d probably think I’m Rain Man. I spent years obsessed with predicting how much weight I could lose by a certain date. I’d write it out, day by day, what my weight would be on each day and when I’d hit some certain arbitrary goal. It never worked. Weight loss isn’t linear like that. Fortunately, from dealing with frustrating and feelings of failure for years, I know that doesn’t work for me. Now, I embrace consistency. I don’t predict my results. I concentrate on my actions.
Don’t keep trying things that haven’t worked in the past. In fact, become a student of your failures. Are there strategies you keep trying even though they haven’t worked yet? Are there theories you hold despite proving to yourself that they aren’t true? Embrace your failures. They are the keys you need to make this journey a success! Within your failures is just about everything you need to make a total transformation!
There is very little more frustrating than hitting a weight loss plateau. The food choices and exercise that had been getting you great results for months all of a sudden aren’t getting you anywhere. Your weight isn’t moving, your inches aren’t changing, your clothes fit the same but you’re working as hard as ever! What the heck?!
Weight loss plateaus are very common and you should expect them, but that certainly doesn’t make them any easier to deal with!
Your body is built to seek balance. More often than not your body will be fighting against everything you do to lose weight. It’s going to work hard to adapt to the changes you make and you’ll find your body is less responsive over time. Sad, but true.
The easiest way to tackle plateaus is to create your weight loss plan in such a way that you always have another play in your book to keep your body guessing and reduce the chances that you’ll hit a plateau to begin with.
Think of your weight loss efforts as a continuum. On the far left you have reverse progress, or eating, exercising and living in a way that moves you away from your weight loss goals. Of course we want to avoid that.
A little further down the path is the minimum amount of changes required to see results. Maybe this is 3 workouts each week and eating clean 70% of the time. You continue down that continuum until the max point – eating clean 100% of the time and working out at your maximum amount of time and effort.
Sometimes we make the mistake of starting out guns blazing close to the far right of this spectrum. I am SOOOOO guilty of this! As our body adapts (and it always does), we aren’t left with much wiggle room to kick things into a higher gear. You put yourself in position where your only options are eat less or exercise more. That’s a bad place to be as both are likely to increase your hunger and decrease your energy. Not to mention that fact that you’ll probably be 100% miserable and unable to maintain that kind of program.
I made the mistake early on in my weight loss. About 6 months in I got super strict with my eating and workouts. I basically limited my intake to lean proteins and green vegetables. While that’s great for fat loss it certainly wasn’t the minimum effective dose and when my body adapted, I had very few options other than to endure several months of frustration. I had to take time off, settle for not making any progress and wait until my body was ready for me to try again. NOT FUN! (But totally my own fault!)
The best approach is to identify your minimum effective changes and gradually increase your intensity as your body adapts. Start making small, incremental changes and monitoring your progress. When you find something that works, keep doing it! Resist the urge to add more, eat less or up your intensity. Seriously. I know how tempting it is but that approach is very likely to backfire. Stay consistent with that small change for as long as you’re making progress towards your goals. When your progress slows or stops, add another small change that boosts your rate of progress again. Keep practicing it, keep monitoring your results, and continue to avoid the urge to go “all in” right out of the gate!
I love the phrase “When you know better, you do better”. Information is one of our most powerful tools. With it, we can create and achieve just about anything we want as long as we have the desire and commitment to go with it. Unfortunately, there is an enormous amount of misinformation on food, nutrition and weight loss. You can have the desire and the commitment but if you’re misinformed you’ll end up frustrated and defeated. No bueno. I spent years in this cycle getting nowhere fast. Often I had the commitment and desire but acted on terrible information. Othertimes, I floundered with good information and a solid plan but just not enough commitment or desire. Today, I want to tackle some of the major misconceptions about carbohydrates and fat loss to arm you with the right information for when you’re ready to start moving towards your fat loss goals. Don’t let some of the technical terms make your eyes glaze over….I’m going to break it down and hopefully share some things that help you see carbohydrates differently.
Wheat-based products are the cornerstone of the Standard American Diet. Conventional wisdom has encouraged Americans to cut fat and cholesterol and increase their consumption of whole grains. Where has that gotten us? Fat and unwell.
Wheat is a grain and is considered a complex carbohydrate. Complex just means that they are longer chains of sugar molecules linked together. When people think of complex carbohydrates they often think of whole grains. When they think of whole grains they think “healthy”. That right there is the misconception I want to address.
Carbohydrates spell trouble for fat loss because of their ability to raise your blood sugar quickly. The more quickly it raises your blood sugar the worse it is for fat loss. The story we’re usually told about this is that simple sugars (think tablespoon of table sugar) is going to break down really quickly and raise our blood sugar fast while something like whole grain bread is going to break down more slowly and not mess with our blood sugar as much. Guess what: that’s not exactly true!
The particular type of complex carbohydrate found in wheat is the most easily digestible and therefore has a more significant impact on blood sugar than even straight table sugar!! We refer to the ability of a food to raise blood sugar as the Glycemic Index (GI) – the higher the GI, the more the food raises blood sugar. Here are a few examples that might surprise you.
|| Glycemic Index
| Whole grain bread
| Shredded wheat
| White bread
| Table sugar
| Snickers bar
So what do we see here? Pretty shocking, huh? Whole grain bread raises your blood sugar MORE than straight table sugar or a Snickers bar? Yup. Same with shredded wheat. Not only that, but whole grain bread increases your blood sugar more than white bread!
So what does all this blood sugar have to do with weight loss? Almost everything, really, but we’re going to hit a couple of highlights today.
One of the primary determinants of hunger is low blood sugar. Well wait, if that’s true, shouldn’t whole grains keep you full since they raise your blood sugar? Nope, that’s the thing: grains send your blood sugar on a rapid roller coaster ride. It shoots up quickly and then plummets – this is why you can eat a big bowl of cereal for breakfast and find yourself starving an hour later. Of course you eat more to silence your growling stomach and the cycle repeats itself, keeping you in the vicious peak-valley blood sugar cycle. As Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly, puts it – wheat is an appetite stimulant.
These rapid surges in blood sugar also activate the release of insulin – the hormone that allows glucose to enter into the cells. Insulin is a major player in the fat loss journey. If insulin is chronically high, you CANNOT be in fat burning mode. It won’t allow it.
Here’s what goes down when we consume carbohydrates. After it’s broken down into glucose, that glucose is first fed to the muscles. Storage there is limited and is used when you have short, intense bursts of physical activity. If the storage within the muscles is full, it’s next sent to the liver for storage. Again, this is a limited storage area. When the liver storage is full, the glucose is sent to be stored in fat tissue – unlimited storage capacity. Your body perceives these as critical stores in case of famine and does not easily give them up. Energy is much more easily obtained from your muscle or liver stores. Fat storage puts up a fight.
Insulin is what allows excess glucose (or protein or fat) to be stored in fat tissue. When insulin is high, fat storage is high. When insulin is low, fat storage is low. High blood sugar results in high insulin and therefore accelerated fat storage.
If you want to access your fat stores, burn that fat and move it out of your body, you MUST regulate your blood sugar, avoid those dangerous peaks and valleys and that will regulate your insulin activity.
Wheat is one of the most dangerous culprits when it comes to increasing blood sugar (and insulin). It not only stimulates appetite but also fat storage – a very counterproductive and unhealthy combination.
By adhering to the Primal Principles of constructing your meals around protein and vegetables and avoiding processed foods, you’ll go a long way towards reducing your wheat intake. Start there and you’ll notice improvements in your energy levels, mood and body composition.
I’ve written here about the Primal lifestyle philosophy and the types of foods I eat for fat loss. I’ve read a lot about different Primal and Paleo guidelines and, combined with my own personal and educational experiences, I’ve put together my own list of Primal Principles for fat loss. It’s important to remember that the most effective plan is the one YOU will follow. This is not a challenge to over-commit yourself and bite off more than you can chew. You don’t need to dive headfirst into this lifestyle. You can start small and work on one thing at a time. Identify your low hanging fruit areas of opportunity and start there. Build some momentum then take on more once you feel comfortable.
Elizabeth’s Primal Principles for Fat Loss
- Focus on plants and animals
Build your meals around lean proteins, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables. If you do this, you shouldn’t need to worry about counting calories. Eat until your satisfied with your plate made up of plants and animals.
- Cut out grains
I know people don’t like to hear this but it is as much for health as it is for fat loss. If lasting fat loss is your goal, just do it. I promise that over time you’ll hardly miss them. It’s a tough transition but it’s necessary. It’s ok to start small and work on removing them one meal at a time.
- Minimize starchy vegetables
There is a time and a place for starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash and it can be different for everyone. When your goal is fat loss, you’ll want to pay close attention to how your fat loss results vary with your intake of starchy vegetables. For me, I’ve found that it works best to have my starchy vegetables either post-workout or at the end of the day. It’s important to remember that there is a difference between healthy eating and eating for optimal, healthy fat loss. Just because you consider something “healthy” does not mean it’s going to help you reach your goals. Throughout my fat loss journey I have emphasized non-starchy vegetables like cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, peppers and mixed greens.
- Limit processed foods – even “healthy” ones
If it has an ingredient list, it shouldn’t be a part of your daily diet when fat loss is your goal. Keep it as clean and simple as possible. If it’s in a box or a bag, proceed with caution. Protein bars are great convenience foods in a pinch and there are some good options other there – shakes are the same way. However, cleaner is leaner so keep that in mind.
- Walk as much as you can. Slowly.
Walking helps with fat loss, stress management and much more. Just do it. You don’t need to sweat or even get winded, just relax and go for a walk. Most of us spend far too much time sitting on our butts.
- Build muscle
Lift heavy things. If you want your body to be an efficient, fat burning machine that will require MUSCLE. Losing weight is hard on your body and you definitely don’t want to end up looking like a mushy bag of skin! Build a strong base. Lift stuff. I know women can be a little nervous about lifting but it’s SUCH an important part of fat loss and having a tight, fit body.
- Sleep more
I know it’s hard. None of us sleep enough. Find a way. I cut my TV time at night and started working less. Sleep impacts my mood, motivation and cravings in a major way. When you start getting more sleep you’ll find that eating clean gets easier.
- Make stress reduction a priority
Start small. Five minutes a day of quiet time or a bath before bed every night. Identify small changes you can make and do them consistently.
- Sweets are occasional treats – healthy or not
There are lots of recipes out there for paleo cookies and every sweet under the sun using whole foods like almond flour, coconut butter, etc. You can walk down the aisle at almost any grocery store and see shelves of gluten free cookies and brownies – heck, I think even Snickers is marketing a high protein Snickers bar. Do not fall into that trap. Eat foods in their original form. Sweets are treats – they are not daily staples when you are looking for fat loss. Limit them to special occasions.
- Avoid toxins
When you can, buy the highest quality produce available. When it comes to meat and poultry look for local, pasture-raised options. If that is not available, look for certified organic. Look for wild caught, sustainable seafood. Buy organic fruits and vegetables. This is important. Your health is worth it. If you don’t choose the cleanest options you can, you’re introducing hormones, toxins, pesticides and antibiotics into your body.
I know this might be a long, daunting list. It’s OK to start small! I started small. I gradually cleaned up my diet and lifestyle over time. Which of these 10 things seems the most achievable for you? Start there! Spend a month practicing that one item and then move on to another. This is not a race and there is no right or wrong way – only the way that works best for you!
My weight has always been a battle. I come from a long line of tall, thin women and I’ve always been an athlete but I have always struggled with my weight. I have lost (and gained) hundreds pounds while frantically attempting just about every diet craze out there.
I remember being on Weight Watchers in high school and eating all 30 of my points in fat-free microwave popcorn and sugar-free jello. Just so ya know, you can eat a freakin truckload of those things and stay under 30 points.
In college I went nearly 2 months eating nothing but protein shakes and chicken broth.
I’ve gone months eating nothing but apples and tilapia and others counting every.single.calorie while crafting my diet around fat-free ice cream and sugar-free cookies.
Then there was the purging. And the days I’d not allow myself to eat anything at all. The weeks and months of barely eating and spending hours a day in the gym. The doctor appointments I’d cancel because I didn’t want to have to get on the scale. The times I seriously abused both over the counter and prescription fat burners, diuretics and laxatives. Seriously.
I jumped from one “diet” to the next – reading about the latest food trend or guaranteed way to drop 10 lbs in two weeks. If someone said it was possible, no matter how weird, I tried it. When someone wrote that grapefruits burned fat, I’d go out and buy a dozen. When someone suggested that carbohydrates were the enemy, I’d eliminate them. I’ve followed low carb, high carb, low fat, no fat, high fat, high protein, low protein, low calorie, calorie cycling, carb counting, blah blah blah.
I was exhausted. I obsessed over food every day. If I was “on” a diet I wouldn’t go out with friends or my husband because I didn’t trust the food choices (not too many places you can ask for an extra large bowl of fat free popcorn and 6 cups of sugar-free jello, ya know?). If I wasn’t “on”….oh man. Bad times. I’d pick up Mexican food on the way home from work and eat it in front of the tv. I’d make a special stop at the grocery store and buy something to address each type of craving: salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy, chewy. Train wreck of epic proportion. No lie.
I spent most of my time and energy – literally years of my life – trying to find that one diet that would rip all the extra weight off me and keep it off forever. I was so obsessed with this pursuit that I walked away from college scholarship and transferred schools to study nutrition. After graduating with a BS in Human Nutrition, I got a job as a nutrition educator. I simultaneously started pursuing my master’s degree in nutrition. A few years later I got a job in product development working with dietary supplements and weight loss products….I devoted my entire life to finding the Holy Grail of weight loss….the product, the food, the food combinations, oh my word it was exhausting. And I was fat.
Even though my head was stuffed full of information from my degrees plus the bazillion books I read and the trillion blogs and news outlets I followed, I felt like I had no answers, no solutions and no way out.
I was miserable. I was embarrassed of my body. I didn’t feel comfortable going out with friends. I didn’t want anyone to see me – in any way, at any time. I hid from the camera. I’d avoid traveling home to visit my family because I was ashamed of my size. I was depressed. I isolated myself. I was struggling with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and infertility. I really felt completely hopeless.
One day my life changed. I get a lot of questions about how I was able to turn it all around. People ask what precipitating event made me able to transform my life. The truth is: it was an honest conversation with myself while I was driving home from work one day.
I started to think about my recent achievements. Up until this point, I had identified certain goals which I felt would make me happy and I tackled them with a vengeance. My husband and I paid off over $130,000 in student loan and other debts in two years. It took tremendous discipline and sacrifice, but we did it.
I had worked my tail off at work and received a number of promotions. Overall, I was regarded as a very hard worker – a smart woman who gets things done. I had the respect of my peers and of the Executive Management team and I was constantly taking on new responsibilities.
I had accomplished big goals that I felt would make me happy but I was still miserable. That day on the drive home I questioned what would make me happy. I was in such a dark depression that it was difficult to identify anything that might turn things around, but I did know that the thing making me unhappiest was my weight.
As I often do, I had a conversation with myself, aloud, in my car. It went something like this: “Elizabeth, you’ve totally let your health go. You aren’t ok with it. It stresses you out all day, everyday. You’ve harnessed tremendous discipline, will power and persistence in these other major areas of life but clearly they don’t matter to you as much as your health does. You have the knowledge. You have the ability. The only reason you haven’t conquered this battle yet is because YOU haven’t DONE IT yet. You’re the only one in your way.“
It seems so obvious, but in that moment I realized that I couldn’t blame anyone other than myself for my current state. It wasn’t that I lacked discipline or motivation – I clearly had demonstrated that in other areas. It wasn’t that I lacked an understanding of how to change – I knew what it would take. If it mattered to me more than anything then I needed to act accordingly. Starting that minute, getting healthy became my top priority.
I started walking. I bought a treadmill and put it in my home office. If I was on email for work at night, I’d do it from my phone while walking. If I was watching TV, I’d do it on the treadmill. I walked before work and I walked after work. I just walked as much as I could.
I started focusing on clean proteins: fish, chicken, eggs, salmon. I made sure protein was the center of every meal. If I wanted a treat, I’d write it on a list in my phone and promise myself I could have it at that weekend’s cheat meal. Yup, I had one cheat meal every week. Most of the time, by the time it rolled around I didn’t want 90% of the items I had written on the list throughout the week, but it was important to acknowledge the cravings as they arose.
I followed that plan for 3-4 months and lost 2-3 pounds each week but then found that I wasn’t bouncing back after those cheat meals. Not only that but they made me feel like crap. I wasn’t craving that food anymore and was eating it because it was part of my plan. I decided it was time to commit to lifelong health, not short term weight loss. I wanted to create a body that was a lean, strong, fat-burning machine. The solution was obvious – only whole foods go into this body. This is my life, this is my health and my goals are far more important to me than ColdStone Creamery (though that stuff is damn good, huh?).
I started doing some reading about a whole foods based lifestyle – not so much to learn but to find good recipes. It was the right time in my life – I had made the commitment, I was tired of complicated solutions and I wanted to change my body and my life…..it was the perfect time for me to find Primal.
Never heard of Primal? Paleo? Paleo is a little more mainstream and refers to a lifestyle that is aligned with the way our ancestors ate, moved and lived in the Paleolithic Era before the advent of processed foods. As Diane SanFillipo puts it in her great book (highly recommend) “Practical Paleo” – the dietary components of the lifestyle are simply about eating whole foods that fuel your body and avoiding processed foods. Pretty straight forward, huh? Food as nature intended it. It’s hard to avoid becoming a lean, fat-burning machine with the Primal principles.
I fell in love with the philosophy as I adopted it. My energy went through the roof. My skin cleared up. My mood and confidence improved. I was burning fat, building muscle and finally conquering the dietary demons of my past.
I was eating foods I love. I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t feel deprived. I was able to eat out and enjoy food with friends. I was exercising more intensely but for less time and seeing fantastic results. I managed to lose 130 lbs! I stripped all the clutter away. All the years of diet news, research, fads and get to the simple truth of a way of living that made me feel good, look great and get healthier than I’ve ever been.