he struggle is REAL! Genetics, environment, peer pressure, fast food, big boned – we have so many things working against us when it comes to losing weight & keeping it off. And the diet industry knows it! In 2014 it was a $64-billion-dollar industry! That’s with a B people!
Thankfully, we’re slowly catching on. “The percentage of women reporting they are on a diet has dropped 13 points over the past two decades, according to research firm NPD Group.” Sales have been on the decline across the board from diet programs to diet soda. We’re finally learning that a more holistic approach works best.
And yet, there are a few myths lurking in the shadows that seem to persist. Let’s make 2016 the year these disappear!
#1 WEIGHT LOSS = MORE CALORIES OUT THAN CALORIES IN
While on paper this seems to work, in a complicated combustion engine, that is our human body, this proves to be a problem. I think back to the 1990 Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder (yes there was actually something of value in that movie). Cole (Cruise’s character) learns the lesson that driving fast but reckless burns through tires thus causing more pit stops. While driving a bit slower and in control equals less pit stops = WINNING! The same goes for losing weight. It seems that calories in < calories out should do the trick. But what if you save all your calories for strawberry pie a la mode @ 10 pm? What does that do to the inner workings of the body? How much stress might this cause and how much cortisol is produced in the process? What if we’re eating primarily empty calories and we stay in a state of hunger all day? What if we are eating inflammatory foods? It’s crucial to learn (or work with a skilled coach or nutritionist) how the body functions and eat accordingly. Here’s where common sense comes into play; small portioned low glycemic, anti-inflammatory foods eaten every few hours to keep blood sugars balanced will help the body do its job efficiently and without adding undue stress. An unstressed, well running engine will lose weight. How’s that for a simple equation?
#2 EXERCISE IS KEY TO LOSING WEIGHT
Let’s start with the obvious disclaimer – MODERATE EXERCISE IS IMPORTANT AND NECESSARY FOR WELLNESS. The problem lies in adding the RIGHT type of exercise. Many add exercise but actually hinder their weight loss progress. A month and tons of sweat later, there’s no movement to the scale, discouragement sets in and they give up. Sound familiar?
RIGHT TYPE OF EXERCISE. At what level of exertion does exercise begin to hinder the weight loss process? Let’s put the pieces together.
#1 Cortisol hinders weight loss: “The stress hormone, cortisol, is public health enemy number one. Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease… The list goes on and on.”
#2 High intensity exercise releases cortisol: “There was a significant increase in the level of salivary cortisol immediately following the high intensity exercise session. There was a significant difference between the low intensity and high intensity exercise session immediately post-exercise. The low intensity exercise did not result in any significant changes in cortisol levels.”
#3 What is considered moderate/high level exertion? Moderate: A raised heart rate but you’re not out of breath. High: Vigorous effort, heart is pounding and you feel winded. You can see this has less to do with the type of exercise and more with the shape a person is in. For some, just walking from the gym parking lot into the gym could be considered high level exertion! We tend to be “all or nothing” in our thinking and the media’s “no pain no gain” message has influenced this harmful paradigm. And yet, walking around the block every day for a month might be all that it takes to help us reach our goal this month.
Putting the pieces together: If you haven’t exercised in a while and/or if you have quite a bit of weight to lose (35+ lbs.) focus on healthy eating until your body has had time to adjust, usually about 3-4 weeks. Once your body has adjusted begin with NEAT exercise (non-exercise activity thermogenesis); parking further away, using stairs instead of elevators, standing during a meeting instead of sitting, etc. Once again, work WITH your body’s chemistry, not against it.
#3 ALL I NEED TO DO IS SUMMON MORE WILLPOWER
“Whether you think you or think you can’t, you are right” “If only I had more willpower, I’d be able to stick to a diet” “I saw that chocolate cake and I lost all willpower” – the magic of WILLPOWER. Turns out, some of us have it and some of us have to learn it!
Remember the Marshmallow Study by Walter Mischel? He gave 5 year olds one marshmallow but told them if they could wait until he came back into the room they could have two marshmallows. The findings were amazing. The overall life success rate of the 1/3 who had “delayed gratification” followed them throughout their years. These children/adults performed better academically, earned more money, and were healthier and happier. They were also more likely to avoid a number of negative outcomes, including jail time, obesity, and drug use.
Following this experiment Mischel and his colleagues began instructing both children and adults how to learn mental distancing techniques to strengthen their self-control. They even consulted on “Sesame Street,” in which Cookie Monster underwent a self-control transformation. Willpower, self-control, delayed gratification turns out to be like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets. 
If you’re one of the 2/3 of “children” who hasn’t flexed their “delayed gratification” muscle in a while, the good news is IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO LEARN. Shoot, if Cookie Monster can do it, you can!