By Coach Stephanie Clookey
Who doesn’t want to see a little more weight loss after the holidays?
Every month we meet with dozens of people who want help becoming healthier, happier, and stronger. For most of these new members, one of their primary goals is weight loss. After the holidays, this number increases dramatically! Every gym-goer and nutrition coach is all too familiar with the January influx of new, highly motivated members.
Usually, these January weight loss goals have a sense of urgency surrounding them. It’s great to be highly motivated and ready to make changes, but before jumping in with two feet, I think it’s worth your time to understand the emotional context around your profound sense of agency.
Is your guilt about binging on Christmas cookies and loafing around in your PJs for two weeks manifesting in the form of NYE motivation (aka panic)? Is this Whole30 or Paleo January solely serving as a punishment or a “detox” for your carefree holiday pleasure?
If the answer is yes, I’m here to tell you that there is no need to do anything radical. If 50 weeks of the year you are exercising frequently, eating well, and taking care of yourself in a way you deem adequate, then all you need to do is get back to your routine! The extra water weight and fat (if any) will “fall off” after a few weeks without any extra effort on your part. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your holidays, or any other festivity throughout the year. Be kind to yourself, and be patient, and get back on track.
However, if this isn’t a knee jerk reaction to holiday cheer, you’ve come to the right place. If you haven’t already, it’s worthwhile to take time to assess if this goal is appropriate and to create a fool-proof strategy that will ensure your success.
Nutrition Related Resolutions are CHALLENGING
In my opinion, all New Year’s Resolutions, nutrition, and weight loss goals are by far the most difficult, for several reasons:
- There is no immediate gratification. Nutrition goals require an inordinate about of patience and consistency.
- This goal requires adherence 24 hours a day (we have to eat or not eat all day long after all!)
- Countless practical, social, and biological hurdles can get in the way. For example, managing cravings and food preferences, living in our obesogenic environment, navigating confusing nutrition information, dealing with social pressure to eat or not eat, food access, the list goes on and on!
But, despite all of those hard things – you CAN crush your nutrition goal. I have spent years manipulating my body weight and composition for athletic performance, and I’ve devoted the entirety of my professional life to understanding metabolism and nutrition. Through my personal experiences and that of my clients, I’ve learned the key to nutrition success is having the right mindset and appropriate expectations right from the get-go. For most of this article, I will reference weight loss goals because they seem to be most common, but these same concepts are appropriate for weight gain, or any other goal you may have!
Mindset and Expectation Management
When it comes to weight loss, I’ve learned the hard way that success requires the 3-Ps and a good ol’ E: patience, process, preparation, and EMPOWERMENT (I wish I could find a fancy acronym or something far catchier, but alas- this is what you guys are stuck with).
Weight Loss is a Marathon
Before embarking on this journey, recognize that nutrition is a marathon, not a sprint. Anyone who tells you that you are going to lose a bunch of weight quickly and keep it off is just taking advantage of you. You need to prepare to be incredibly patient and process-oriented mentally, or you will drive yourself BANANAS and quit! Double whatever preconceived timeline you have in your head for results and start thinking long term, more like six months- one year down the road. You want a strategy that is relatively easy and sustainable for you. Slow and steady is critical for making long-lasting lifestyle changes and preserving lean mass. For some reference, the general recommendation is 1-2lbs per week.
There are so many factors that can influence your rate of weight loss, such as sleep, stress management, age, sex, etc. Furthermore, progress is never linear for long! For most people under most circumstances, it is not appropriate to have rigid expectations and strict timelines. Weight loss will take longer than you expect, so be patient.
Focus on the Process
It’s essential to keep track of your progress with outcome measurements (measurements, body weight, photos, etc.); however, success requires the patience and discipline to not rely on them solely while assessing progress. You need to also keep track of your performance on your process goals: How many days am I compliant with my chosen nutritional strategy – for example, counting my macros, following my nutrition template, eating lots of vegetables, etc. Are you 80% compliant with your process? 90% compliant? Regardless of the outcomes, it is critical to celebrate when you are sticking to your process goals!
That’s because, quite frankly, weight loss can be emotionally draining if you are solely outcome-focused. For example, if you are using bodyweight as your outcome measurement, it is normal to have periods of rapid loss, plateaus, and weight spikes, EVEN IF YOU’RE 100% COMPLIANT! You can randomly be up 2-3lbs out of NOWHERE! Most of these fluctuations are due to variations in hydration status, sodium and carbohydrate intake, and stool in the bowel. Most of the time, you didn’t gain fat, as it is estimated that an excess of 3500 calories is required to gain 1lb of fat.
Regardless, if you plot your daily body weight, it will often look more like a seismograph than a straight line with a downward slope, and that can be incredibly frustrating. Resist the urge to invest in day to day outcomes like bodyweight. Focus on the behaviors you can control, and your results will be a byproduct!
Prepare for Weight Loss Success
Success takes work and preparation. No one has ever just stumbled on success. Nutrition-related success is no different! When making your nutrition strategy, take time to anticipate challenges that may come up and brainstorm solutions. For example, how will you continue to progress towards your goal while traveling? What about when you eat out at restaurants? How will you combat waning motivation? Planning is key! Maybe you want to bring healthy snacks for the plane, pack a lunch to work or pick a restaurant with healthy options. Perhaps you’ll get your friends and family on board to support you in this big goal when you feel like giving up. Whatever it is, there are countless ways to handle roadblocks if you anticipate them and prepare accordingly.
However, when you do go off track (and you will, most of us aren’t perfect 100% of the time!), refrain from beating yourself up about it. Take time to learn from those experiences so you can tackle that hurdle better next time!
Embrace Self-love and EMPOWERMENT
The biggest mistake I see is people making nutrition goals out of self-loathing. You can be dissatisfied with where you are at and aspire for improvement without coming from a place of punitive thought. Trust me; it is best to approach this goal from a place of self-love and empowerment. Weight loss should be about improving your relationship with food, being the BEST and healthiest version of yourself, or becoming a stronger competitor. A negative approach will often cause us to choose STRICT diets that are unsustainable, binge in a moment of weakness, and destroy our relationship with food and ourselves. This mindset is often the catalyst for vicious cycles of yo-yo dieting.
Even if you are successful in your weight loss goal while being a self-loathing nancy, this approach comes at a cost. If you spend twelve-plus weeks starving yourself, isolating yourself from social events, and doing hours of cardio in the relentless pursuit of success, you will likely hit your goal weight and still be miserable. Weight-loss is too often our red herring for body confidence. Even if they are sometimes related, one does not necessarily cause the other. Body confidence starts now. See your process as fueling the only body you’ll ever have. Make lifestyle changes because you want a quality life for the next 50 years. Pursue these goals to feel empowered through health and fitness. Take this nutrition journey head-on because you deserve the confidence of knowing you can do hard things and crush it.
If I can help you with this journey in any way, shoot me an email and let’s get together for Coffee with a Coach!
Article by Coach Stephanie Clookey
Stephanie Clookey, MS, ACSM-EPC, USAW-L1