Five reasons you’re failing to achieve your ideal body and how to fix them
Most people who diet for weight loss, regain the weight they have lost. And for many, they gain more.
Regardless of the degree of initial weight loss, most weight is regained within a 2-year period and by 5 years most people are at their pre-intervention body weight (National Health and Medicical Research Council, 2013).
To maintain weight loss, less energy is required for the body, and now being a smaller body with less cells to fuel, consequently has a lower metabolic rate. Larger bodies need more fuel to maintain. For weight loss to be permanent, there needs to be a long-term behavioural change.
Energy deficit is an absolute requirement for weight loss and we know that there are endless ways to achieve this. To simply consume less energy, restrict food, foods groups and even times of the day and week we are ‘allowed’ to eat can result in an overall lower energy intake.
Weight loss is often celebrated as a sign of success, determination and health but there is a big difference between heathy and sustainable weight loss and just weight loss. A healthy and sustainable weight loss includes sustainable behaviour changes and a diet that provides all 35 essential nutrients (or tools) to support the body’s key functions. In addition, for optimising health and happiness, your diet must also support your core values, lifestyle and goals. You can be fit, consume a “clean” diet and be very unhealthy, with your hormones out of balance and feeling very miserable. So, although weight loss is about energy in versus energy out, there are many factors to consider if we want to feel and function well – and sustain it!
External food and diet rules take us away from being intuitive to our appetite awareness and our hunger and fullness cues. If we are ignoring our body’s messages and signs, how are we not to find ourselves in a confused state?
The “thin ideal” in our society fuels our economy – especially in the weight loss, fitness, cosmetic and fashion industry. These industries thrive off our insecurities. When intentional messages constantly bombard us that we are not good enough how we are, and that we need to change, we can fall in to the trap of looking externally and buying in to products to fix us, that are perfectly positioned and ready for us.
Before you read further about the reasons your failing to achieve your ideal body, ask yourself what is your underlying motive to change or for many, lose weight?
Complete the gaps. I want to lose X (amount) weight because Y.
Where has the X came from? Why is it this number?
Can Y be achieved only if you achieve your weight loss goal of X?
For example, if you want to lose 5kg so you will feel happier or more confident, are you 100% confident that weight loss is truly the solution? If there is doubt, then you ought to stop and listen.
Apart from fluctuating weight, dieting can have many physical and psychological negative side effects.
Restrictive dieting and deprivation can lead to intense food cravings and over-compensatory behaviour such as bingeing. Feelings of shame, guilt, failure, a ‘lack of self-control’, low self-esteem, poor body image and obsessive thoughts and behaviours surrounding food are common.
Dieting can slow the body’s metabolic rate (rate it burns energy), reduce muscle tissue, cause insomnia and fatigue, reduce the body’s appetite awareness and knowledge of when we are full or hungry, and can also contribute to hormonal imbalances, especially in women where they stop menstruating. This can reduce bone mineral density, increasing risk of osteoporotic fracture and effect fertility.
Did you know?
– Women who diet frequently (more than 5 times) are 75% more likely to experience depression. (Mond, Hay, Rodgers, & Owen, 2006).
– Did you know dieting is the number one risk factor for developing an eating disorder, a serious psychiatric illness with the highest mortality risk?
– In 2012, eating disorders were estimated to effect 9% of the Australian population. (National Eating Disorders Collaboration, 2013).
– One in five people with obesity also present with disordered eating, mainly in the form of binge eating, but also evident in episodes of strict dieting and purging. (National Eating Disorders Collaboration, 2013).
– Adults with eating disorders experience significantly higher levels of anxiety disorders, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, depressive disorders, neurological symptoms and suicide attempts. (National Eating Disorders Collaboration, 2012).
Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and they are an illness that no one wishes to be and feel trapped in.
The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of our obsession to change our body, to become curious of our underlying motive to change ourselves, be able to identify intelligent marketing and its effect on how we perceive ourselves and how these ‘answers’ to fix ourselves are often intentionally and conveniently positioned, the serious consequences on our physical, social and mental health, and also the impact on those around us such us our friends, family and partners.
If your failing to achieve your ideal body here are five possible reason why and how to fix them!
1. Your goals are based on your ego and identity, rather than how you feel and function.
The more you look externally rather than internally, is when you lose connection with yourself. Basing your goals on what you perceive others may think of you or how you will fit in are likely to lead to a poor self-esteem and self-confidence. No matter how much you change or how much weight you lose, these thoughts are unlikely to disappear. Your goals need to be based on you, not your identity or ego.
HOW TO FIX: define your goals as ones that support your values and lifestyle, and that are sustainable. If your goals don’t support these, then they won’t serve you!
2. You have lost you appetite awareness.
An appetite awareness scale exists from 0-10 where 0 represents ‘empty hungry’ and 10 equalling ‘stuffed full’. External food rules such as adhering strictly to prescribed portion sizes or eating times, and banning food or entire food groups are common and force us to ignore our internal appetite cues and often leave us feeling irritated when they don’t support these ‘new rules’.
With perseverance and the encouragement from others we can, for the short term, ignore our internal cues, adhere by our rules and congratulate ourselves for our efforts. This behaviour reinforces this pathway and we can lose connection with our appetite and what hungry, satisfied and full feels like. Those who have good appetite awareness and can respond to their bodies cues and sit in the middle e.g. 3-7 most of the time and are able to maintain their most healthful weight.
Those who find themselves empty-hungry by not being prepared or adhering strictly to external rules often swing to stuffed full and then experience feelings of regret, guilt, shame, and are more likely to feel a lack of control and engage in dangerous compensatory habits such as further dietary restriction or over exercising. These people often fluctuate with their weight and find weight piles back on faster due to its negative impact on their metabolic rate.
HOW TO FIX: Get back in tune with your appetite. Identify what empty-hungry feels like, your signs and symptoms, when you last experienced this and what this lead to. Do the same with identifying a time where you felt satisfied and then stuffed full. Understand what these cues feel like and respond appropriately. Trust that your body wants to sit at a weight that is most healthy for you and by eating more mindfully, mainly whole, unprocessed foods your body will tell you how much it needs.
3. You are restricting your calories too low and for too long.
Our bodies are smart! Restrict your energy for a long period of time and your body will find ways to survive. It will do this by switching of ‘non-essential’ bodily systems to become more energy efficient. A common example is in females losing their periods (amenorrhea). These actions lower your basil metabolic rate (BMR) and to hold on to and conserve the energy it is given, it stops the monthly cycle for women as deemed unsafe. This also has an impact on our bones where a lack of estrogen is produced, which act like a transporter vehicle for calcium into your bones. When that ‘line’ to maintain an energy deficit is lowered, less energy is now needed to be consumed to lose further weight and it’s now easy to go ‘above the line’ into a positive energy balance where weight gain occurs.
HOW TO FIX IT: If you have a weight loss goal, follow a diet that allows you to meet all of your nutrient requirements in a safe energy deficit way, no less than 6000kJ/day for most (this number differs between individuals based on body size, gender and activity levels) or in deficit of 2000-4000kJ/day. In fact, a weight loss of 0.5-1kg is a healthy overall rate where we limit the amount muscle mass lost. After an 8-week energy deficit period, proceed with a 2-4 week rebalance period where energy in equals energy out, to take the stress if your body and hormones. It’s ok to gain a small amount here e.g. 1kg. Your body, health and metabolism will thank you and then if you have further weight loss goals,continue this protocol. Your focus here is to ensure than everything you do is sustainable. Don’t give up socialising and doing the things you love, or you are only setting yourself up for failure.
4. You over doing cardio.
Too much cardio with inadequate rest time can cause stress on your body producing cortisol, causing muscle break down. Your muscle is active tissue and is vital for a speedy metabolic rate. Becoming ‘energy efficient’ is commonly seen in athletes or those that overtrain and is a similar response seen with chronic dieting where some normal bodily functions can be disturbed or stopped to stay safe. It is also common for those that are over trained to significantly reduce their incidental activity (e.g. cleaning, walking to a location, etc.) which can reduce their overall energy output as their body wants to conserve energy and be sedentary between intense training sessions.
HOW TO FIX: If you are feeling chronically tied and struggling to pull yourself off the couch or out of bed, simply take more rest. If you are not already, introduce strength training into your training program to help promote growth of lean muscles mass that will increase your metabolic rate as well as have endless positive impacts to health, posture and performance. NOTE: Don’t just add more strength training on top of your cardio, find a way to get a balance based on your goals.
5. You are overdosing on superfoods.
Just because something is ‘healthy’ doesn’t mean it’s going to make you lose weight. Sorry, but there is no one definition for a superfood, we can call anything a superfood and a superfood can vary between individuals depending on their goals, circumstances and needs.
For example, breast milk could be superfood for an infant, a sports drink for a triathlete delivering easy to digest carbs, electrolytes and fluid, but for an overweight type 2 diabetic high intakes could be very problematic.
Many ‘superfoods’ or ‘clean food’ recipes contain ingredients that are high in fat, yes they are mostly ‘heathy fats’ meaning they contain ‘essential fatty acids’, or they are claimed to help improve your blood cholesterol profile, but as they are high in fat they are very energy dense.
Fat is the most energy dense macronutrient providing 37kJ/g. Carbohydrate and protein provide just 17kJ/g and water although not a macronutrient but a significant component on many foods structure, provides 0kJ/g. So, something that has a high water content such as fresh fruit and non-starchy vegetables which contain at least 90% water are less energy dense. A food that is 100% carbs and 100% protein yield the same energy. A food such as oil providing 100% fat will provide much higher energy (37kJ x 100g =3700kj).
No matter if the fat is saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, it is still a fat and is energy dense. Consuming high intakes of high fat foods can easily contribute to a positive energy balance and weight gain.
Some common foods seen in practice with clients with weight loss goals include high inatkes of avocado, nuts, oil, nut butters and recipes made with these foods.
Half an avocado for example contains around 1100kJ the energy equivalent to 2-3 slices of bread. 1 cup of nuts provides about 3200Kj equivalent to 7-8 slice of bread and 1 tablespoon any oil contains around 600kJ. These foods are easy to consume in high intakes and you won’t feel the satiety (fullness) effect straight away with the lag effect when eating fast as they are small! They also don’t fill up much room in your stomach and psychologically it doesn’t feel like you have eaten much.
HOW TO FIX: If you have weight loss goals, don’t go nuts on nuts!
Enjoy your healthy fats moderately. For example, use more baking and steaming methods that don’t require added oils and fats. For salad dressing, mix extra virgin olive oil with lemon to dilute the amount used. Use avocado as spread on bread rather than huge heaps or mix it in with cottage cheese for addional protein and calcium. For salads enjoy avocado as a topping rather than a bulking ingredient. For nuts, enjoy a handful as a snack and pair it up with a big juicy fruit. The high-water content, fibre and size of the fruit will take longer to eat, fill up more volume in the stomach and allow your body the time to recognise it is satisfied. NOTE: Don’t delete these fats from your diet as they do have essential role, e.g. for hormones, heart and brain heath.
– Daee, A., Robinson, P., Lawson, M., Turpin, J., Gregory, B., & Tobias, J. (2002). Psychologic and Physiologic Effects of Dieting in Adolescents. The New England Journal of Medicine, 1032-1041.
– Mond, J. M., Hay, P. J., Rodgers, B., & Owen, C. (2006). Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDE-Q): Norms for young adult women. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 53-62.
– National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2012). An Integrated Response to Complexity . Crows Nest: The Butterfly Foundation .
– National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2013). Eating Disorders in Australia. Canberra: National Eating Disorders Collaboration.
– National Health and Medicical Research Council. (2013). Clinical practice guidelines for the management of overweight and obesity in adults, adolescents and children in Australia. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing.