Because of the work I do, I always have my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the weight loss world. Even if I don’t agree with or recommend a new weight loss approach, program, or book, I want to know what my patients and what all women are being exposed to when it comes to the sensitive topic of losing weight.
One of the big red flags I see all the time is the strategy of advertising “before” and “after” photos for quick weight loss programs. They always make a point of saying that these are “real people” who have achieved these results. You know what they don’t show? Those same people, a year or two later. Many studies have shown that most fast weight loss strategies or diets, even if they “work”, cause us to gain all of the weight back (sometimes even more) within a couple of years.
Here’s the thing: we are human beings, not craft projects! There is no fixed “before” and “after”. On any given day, there are dozens and dozens of factors that are going into how we feel and how we are processing nutrients and responding to food, exercise, and stress. Maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being is a lifelong process, not a short-term project that ends when we hit a certain number on the scale.
Don’t get me wrong… losing weight quickly can be really great if it’s done in a healthy way! But the speed should not be the point. The work doesn’t stop even if you reach your weight loss goal, and drastic, rapid weight loss plans are not sustainable in the long term. Not only do they not allow for long-term, healthy, sustainable weight loss, but drastic diets can actually cause more harm than good.
I’ve helped so many women lose weight the healthy way (and keep it off!), and I want to help you, too, by showing you how to transition from a rapid weight loss mindset to a healthy, sustainable weight loss mindset.
The Problem with Drastic Diets for Rapid Weight Loss
Fast, obvious results might feel good for a short period of time, but when you stop to think about it, what you really want is results that last. Think about it like the difference between getting a huge, one-time bonus at work but then spending it and going back to your regular financial situation, or getting a more modest raise that over time will actually end up being worth more, and will result in more security and stability.
Rapid weight loss, if not done in a healthy way, can also lead to other health concerns, as adapting to the sudden changes puts a great deal of stress on your heart and the rest of your body.
If you’re going to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, it’s important to work with your body, helping it to adapt to changes so that you can thrive.
Here are some of my best strategies for getting yourself into the sustainable weight loss mindset, and finally reaching your goals and feeling your best!
Think of Weight Loss as Part of Your Larger Picture
Struggling to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight is one of the most common concerns I hear from my patients. But I rarely see women who say that it’s their only concern! Most women tell me they are also struggling with some combination of fatigue, difficulty sleeping, irritability or mood issues, feeling stressed all the time, hormonal imbalances, skin issues, digestive issues…
One of the biggest problems with trendy diets is that they make it seem like your weight is this one, isolated issue to tackle. In my experience, being overweight or having weight loss resistance is one symptom of a greater imbalance, often related to hormones and/or adrenal fatigue. Addressing the whole picture is so important when it comes to unlocking weight loss for an individual, and I also find that it really helps for women to start to view their weight loss goals this way: as one benefit of a lifestyle change that will improve their overall health and wellness, from head to toe.
Address Emotional Blocks
We don’t always think of food as being an emotional thing, but when you really stop to think about it, I think you’ll find that certain eating habits, preferences, or patterns are tied to very personal things. Whether you have turned to food as a coping mechanism in stressful situations, you grew up in a family or culture that expected everyone to eat large portions, or you have been teased about your eating habits, exploring and addressing underlying emotional blocks or traumas related to food and weight can be very helpful when it comes to setting yourself up for sustainable weight loss.
We made dozens– even hundreds– of tiny decisions related to food every single day, and we make most of them without even realizing it. I’ve found that it can make a huge difference to start to become more mindful about our food choices, and how they will affect our health and our goals. Keep in mind, the mindful eating approach is very different from a strict calorie-counting or restrictive diet approach, in which you punish yourself for eating something that is “off” your diet or “cheating”.
Instead, I want you to be conscious and thoughtful about how the things you choose to put into your body either nourish you and have a positive impact on your health (and weight), or they don’t.
Focus on Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Principles
The best “diet” is one that you can maintain. So, rather than turning to a popular diet that restricts major food groups and is impossible to sustain, turn your focus to revising your regular food and lifestyle habits. Some of the most important healthy eating principles, like eating lots of vegetables (especially dark, leafy greens!) seem “obvious”, but when a weight loss program is more focused on complicated, restrictive lists and rules, it can be easy to forget the basics.
The thing is, sustainable weight loss is only achieved by making those long-term, “simple” changes to your habits! Make sure your diet consists of lots of vegetables, plenty of healthy fats, and clean protein; cut out sugar; get regular exercise that you enjoy; get enough sleep. There are also some diets, like the Mediterranean diet, that promote balanced, whole-food eating, and can be used as general guidelines for healthy eating.
Address Underlying Imbalances
If you have taken the time and effort to make healthy lifestyle changes, but you are still not feeling your best or reaching your weight loss goals, chances are there is an underlying imbalance that’s making your body resistant to weight loss. Often, this is a hormonal imbalance, adrenal fatigue or dysfunction, a gut imbalance, a nutritional deficiency, or some combination of these.
Hormonal imbalances can cause all kinds of trouble when it comes to weight loss. One common example is leptin resistance, which essentially keeps your brain from realizing that you’re full. Hormonal imbalances and adrenal dysfunction (which go hand in hand) should be investigated and addressed as part of a comprehensive weight loss plan.
Another common imbalance is within the gut. If something is off in the gut, whether it’s an imbalance of bacteria in the microbiome or a leaky gut, your body won’t be able to properly process the nutrients you’re taking in. This can lead to all kinds of health problems, including weight loss resistance.
Ditch the “Calories in, Calories Out” Idea
The concept that you can lose weight by counting the number of calories you take in and comparing them to the number of calories you burn off is overly simplistic, dated, and just plain wrong!
We process calories from different foods in very different ways, and the quality of the calories you take in is way more important than the quantity. If you have a low calorie intake but that intake is made up largely of processed foods, whether or not you lose a little bit of weight in the beginning, you will run into problems in the long run, including nutritional deficiencies, higher chronic disease risk, and a higher likelihood of hormonal imbalances and adrenal dysfunction (all of which will, among other things, make it harder for you to lose weight and keep it off in the future).
One of the other (many) problems with eating processed food is that when our bodies don’t get the nutrients they need, we will feel hungry much sooner, because we are still searching for those nutrients.
The “calories in/calories out” approach also doesn’t take into consideration how our bodies are using the calories we’re taking in. Calories that are burned and used as energy are different from calories that are stored as fat. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will help to direct the right calories to the right places.
Of course, it’s not that portion size doesn’t matter. But it is just one factor in a much larger system.
Move Away from the Dieting Mindset
Here’s one big strategy to summarize the rest of them. The best way to lose weight, keep it off, and be your healthiest self is to establish new, long-term dietary and lifestyle habits, a new relationship with food, and a new mindset about your wellbeing. Focus on consistency and stability in your healthy living and weight loss choices, rather than deciding that you’ll be “on” a diet one month, and “off” it the next.
Keep in mind that there are all kinds of factors that go into shaping your internal environment, response to weight loss efforts, and overall health. In addition to food and exercise, sleep, stress, hormonal and neurotransmitter balance, gut health, and genetics all contribute.
It all starts with choosing healthy habits that you can not only commit to but embrace, long-term.
When you take the healthy, sustainable route towards weight loss, you can also expect to lower your risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and to feel overall healthier, happier, and more vibrant.
Focus on making sustainable changes to your everyday diet and lifestyle, as well as resolving any underlying imbalances that might be contributing to weight loss resistance and any number of other health issues. Don’t be too hard on yourself– stress only contributes to weight loss resistance and hormonal imbalance! Work with your body, believe in yourself, be mindful, and you will get there. I’ve seen it happen, time and time again!
Consider Getting Genetic Testing
The one size fits all approach does not work when it comes to maintaining your weight. I have used genetic testing for years to determine if you are someone that needs low carb long term, low fat long term, mediteranean long term or balanced long term. There is a big difference between the plans and this is another important way to keep the weight off long term. And if you think about it, it really makes sense after all we are all different, are we not.
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD