Monday 14 January 2013

Weight Loss: How NOT to do it!

(If you're looking for "how to do it" go to this post.)

Part I - But I'm eating practically nothing!

It's a common cry; "I'm eating practically nothing, I'm starving, why am I not losing weight?", most usually heard part-way through a weight loss regime that involves reducing calorie intake.

Quite simply, the human body is pretty clever.  Have you seen those documentaries on anorexics who survive on 600-800 kcals a day?  They, even though they weigh very very little, exist on way below the number of calories required to maintain their weight and yet it takes significantly longer for them to lose any further weight than it should do given the deficit they're in.  OK, they're a pretty extreme case, but it does illustrate what the human body can do when put under those kinds of conditions.

If you restrict calories significantly for a period of time (the length of which appears to be dependant on the individual) your body starts to become more creative about using those calories.  The one I noticed more than anything else while I was losing weight was that I got cold.  Not just because I had less fat to keep me warm but because my metabolism slowed down!  My body decided that rather than using up fat (oh yes, and muscle too!) to fuel my needs, it would cut down on generating warmth.  It wasn't a huge amount of temperature drop and I was still losing some weight but there was certainly a trade off there and I got oh so very very cold and had to wear many layers more than I was used to just to stay warm.

Other ways your body will adjust to the continued lower calorie intake is to stop laying down as much glycogen for ready energy for your muscles, so you'll get fatigued more quickly when doing anything physical; like getting out of bed in the morning perhaps... And you'll just not feel like being active, your brain will stop you from wanting to expend energy; you'll feel lethargic and unenthused by activity.

Part II - Complete deprivation is rarely the answer

One of the main reasons many people "fall off the wagon" on a calorie restricted diet is because they have placed extreme restrictions upon themselves in their quest to lose weight.  How many times have you heard "I'll never eat cake again" or similar?

But calorie restricted diets usually dictate denial of some form or another.  I don't mean just cutting down on the overall calorie intake, but cutting out specific foods completely; diets that tell you to cut out all carbs, all fats and sometimes (but vanishingly rarely) almost all protein.  These are just crazy and pretty bad for you if you follow them for any long period of time.  But there are the ones that -seem- sensible, like not eating any butter, fried foods, chocolate, cake, biscuits, chips, red meat, bread, potatoes...

Intolerance-finding diets aside; the problem with completely denying yourself something you really like is that the cravings get stronger and stronger and at some point it's very likely that you'll crack, give in, and binge.  Because we are only human after all and there's only so much denial you can take.  And then, because you've binged, the common thought is "well, I've ruined it all now so I might as well give up" or "I clearly can't do this diet thing, I'm so rubbish, I give up", maybe not right away, but certainly drifting that way and all of the hard slog to date is pretty much for naught; if not worse.  So have a little bit of what you fancy every now and then, plan to have it and plan to have a small bit of the best kind of whatever you really really like maybe once a fortnight or once a week or, if you're one of the lucky people who really like something that's not all that calorific, plan it in as even a daily treat!

For me, I thought it was going to be cheese.  I LOVE cheese.  Really.  Lo-o-o-o-ooooove it.  But, I didn't get cravings for it at all during my weight loss phase.  What I really REALLY wanted after some time of not having it was bread.  Crusty, fluffy, white baguette, to be specific.  Remember, I was on a calorie restriction diet when I lost weight.  Having stopped having sandwiches for lunch; as I just couldn't keep my daily kcals down low enough and still have sandwiches for lunch and a meal in the evening that meant my partner at the time didn't waste away totally as I liked to have the same meal together in the evening (though he always had twice the carb portion as I had and still lost weight!); I changed to salads for lunch.  The salads were tomato based with some tangy bits added for flavour.  But no bread or crutons with lunch salads and no bread or crutons with any soup, as bread is pretty calorific for the portion size.  After 3-4 weeks of that all I wanted to do was buy a whole baguette, or even just a baton, and stuff the whole thing into my face.  Thankfully, I nipped that in the bud by having a small piece of baguette with salad or a soup at the weekends for lunch.  Yes, I still wanted bread with a vengeance, but I got a little top-up of bread every weekend which I'm pretty sure helped me not to go nuts with a baguette at any point.

So, if your thing is cake and you're trying to lose weight by calorie restriction and stay on the wagon; have some cake!  Really!  Just make sure it's a small piece of really nice cake and only do it once a week, tops.  And savour it; enjoy every tiny morsel and lick the plate at the end!  Doing that isn't going to ruin your overall progress and it is very likely to stop you wanting to buy a whole Victoria sponge and scoffing the lot then hating yourself and potentially convincing yourself you can't do this weight loss thing.  But be careful that your definition of a small piece doesn't drift bigger and bigger ;o)  (And make sure you log it in your food diary and that it doesn't put you over maintenance calories for the day.)

But, if you're looking to lose/manage your weight by the carbohydrate restriction method, you will find that you don't get cravings.  Once you have gone through the first few days (which varies from person to person) of adaptation, the cravings simply don't come.  Period.  If you find you are getting them after a couple of weeks, then you've not managed to sufficiently lower your carbohydrate intake, or done it for long enough.  Check what you're eating and if you're not making it yourself, double check the labels for the nutrition information and ingredients.  If you're seeing any of the below in the ingredients list, or if is it labelled "diet" or "low fat", it's likely to have too much carbohydrate in it for your purposes.

Ingredients watch list:-
  • <anything> starch  
  • Sugar 
  • <anything> syrup
  • <anything>ose
  • Potato
  • Sweet potato
  • Most root vegetables (except turnip and celeriac)
  • Rice 
  • Flour (except coconut, almond or other nuts [remember peanuts are not nuts!]) 
  • Couscous
  • Wheat
  • Semolina
  • Any other grains
  • Any fresh fruits (except berries, an then only in small quantities)
  • Any dried fruits

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