The Truth About Weight Loss: Factors Beyond Calories In and Out

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Each of my weight loss clients is fundamentally unique, necessitating a personalized approach. The widely preached “one-size-fits-all” strategy by many fitness and nutrition gurus has clearly been ineffective for most people. The common advice to “eat less, exercise more” is technically correct at a superficial level, but it’s far too simplistic.

Humans are not simple machines; we are complex beings influenced by our emotions, beliefs, and past experiences. It’s unrealistic to expect a single weight loss protocol to work for everyone. However, if you’ve found yourself stuck after following generic meal plans and trendy fitness routines, I have several deeper avenues for exploration.

Are you ready to dive in? Achieving real results demands significant effort. If weight loss were as easy as following basic dos and don’ts, we wouldn’t be facing an obesity epidemic in America.

This isn’t a miraculous one-size-fits-all solution but a practical roadmap for those ready to explore deeper issues. Overeating usually has underlying reasons, and finding the “why” is often key to discovering your path to a lasting, healthy body.

Macronutrient Balance, Micronutrients, Eating Rhythm

These practical starting points rooted in “nutrition” often yield nice results relatively quickly. For those who enjoy tracking their food—typically my type A control junkies—I offer some guidelines for setting your numbers. Protein is prioritized first, then fats, and the remainder are carbohydrates. I’ve settled on 1.5g per lbm (lean body mass) for protein, 0.4g-0.5g per lbm for fat, and the rest of your calories from carbs. Remember, these are general recommendations that I would customize to a client’s specific goals and health conditions.

If you despise tracking or it gives you anxiety, meticulous tracking isn’t necessary after an initial trial to understand what portions look like. Once you’ve got a handle on reasonable portion sizes, there’s no need to return to rigid tracking if it doesn’t suit you. General meal guidelines would be about 30-40 grams of protein to ensure muscle protein synthesis, a tablespoon of quality oil or a serving of whole food fat like avocado or nuts, half a cup of starch or a serving of fruit, and plenty of fibrous veggies. This setup is adaptable based on caloric needs, preferences, and activity levels, serving as a starting point if you’re still resistant to any form of tracking.

Micronutrients, including specific vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and other substances, are required in relatively small quantities for proper body function. A standard American diet often doesn’t provide all that you need, which is partly why various fad diets that increase micronutrients can show results—not due to avoiding a food group, but because of an increase in these essential nutrients.

There’s a minimum and maximum threshold for each micronutrient your body needs, highly dependent on your starting point, goals, genetic predispositions, and lifestyle. Chronic deficiencies and excessive oxidation contribute significantly to premature aging and an increased biological age. Addressing micronutrient deficiencies primarily through a whole food-based diet ensures a broad spectrum of necessary substances for better nutrient absorption and utilization.

When your diet lacks sufficient micronutrients, your body depletes its reserves to maintain function, eventually prioritizing certain systems over others, which can lead to breakdowns or reduced function in less critical systems. Often, micronutrient depletion goes unnoticed until unexplained symptoms begin to surface.

Regarding eating rhythm, constant snacking is discouraged in favor of set meal times, which can vary from three main meals to multiple smaller meals daily, depending on what supports your weight loss or health goals best. The right approach is highly individual—there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and if anyone claims otherwise, skepticism is warranted.

Slowing Down, Relaxed Eating, Breathing

Do you often find yourself eating quickly? It’s a common scenario—busy schedules, hungry kids, and the sheer pleasure of tasty food can make it tough to slow down.

Taking time to eat slowly can bring numerous health benefits, such as reducing stress, decreasing appetite by allowing you to tune into your body’s hunger signals, enhancing digestion, and improving body awareness. Think of slow eating as not just beneficial, but also as an act of self-care—slow is sexy. You deserve to enjoy your meals without rush, embracing a sense of ease and abundance.

Letting go of the stress associated with eating, and choosing to engage in a nourishing rather than punitive eating experience, can significantly alter your relationship with food. It reduces anxiety, quiets negative thoughts about food and body image, and lessens overall life stress, helping you focus on nourishing your body.

Remember, becoming a relaxed eater is a gradual process. Like any habit, it requires continuous practice and patience. Embrace mistakes as part of the learning process, and don’t be too hard on yourself if perfection isn’t immediate.

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, mastering mindful eating takes time.

The “No Diet” Diet

Have you been caught in a cycle of chronic dieting and binging for most of your adult life?

It’s time to consider enrolling in a “no diet” diet if this resonates with you. Let go of all attempts at weight loss, put aside any punishing exercise routines, stop counting calories and fat grams, and step away from the scale—especially if the number on it significantly affects your self-esteem (as it does for many). Instead, push all these practices to the back burner. Move out of the diet mindset and stop worrying about your weight, even if just for a month. Give restriction a well-deserved break and just let it go.

If the mere idea of not focusing on weight loss fills you with anxiety, it likely pinpoints exactly where you need to do some work.

You can always revert to your previous habits if you need to, but this break might allow you to concentrate on more important aspects of your life for a while. Often, people find that when they do return to their old routines, they bring a renewed sense of focus and drive.

Eating Environment And Moderation

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It’s undeniable that our environment significantly influences our eating habits and, consequently, our weight management success. For example, having hyper-palatable foods like peanut butter and cheese readily available can make it much easier to gain weight. This leads to the common question: Why can’t everyone just control themselves?

Moderation is often touted as a virtue in dietary circles, with many people believing they have mastered it and, by extension, viewing themselves as somehow superior to those who haven’t. This perception is both simplistic and dismissive. In reality, many find it far easier to give up certain foods altogether than to indulge moderately. There’s no universally right or wrong way—it’s about finding what works for your brain. Moderators who try to abstain might feel rebellious and end up binging. Conversely, abstainers who attempt moderation often spend excessive time rationalizing their food choices. It’s important to note that I don’t view all dietary restrictions as disordered or inherently bad. In fact, for some, a degree of restriction is necessary to maintain a healthy weight.

With both types, we often encounter foods that once we start eating, it’s incredibly difficult to stop. The foods that trigger this response can vary greatly from person to person, underscoring the importance of understanding our individual physiological, personality, and lifestyle factors when defining what moderation means to us.

Remember this—one person’s “moderation” can be another’s “bender” or “restrictive” diet. It’s completely subjective. Restriction only becomes problematic when it causes you to view your diet as all or nothing, leads to social isolation, or triggers significant anxiety around food. If you experience anxiety around food, it’s a strong indication that your approach may have moved into disordered territory, rather than being simply about discipline.

This personalized understanding emphasizes that dietary strategies should be tailored to individual needs and circumstances, recognizing the diverse ways people relate to food and manage their eating behaviors.

Pleasure

Conduct a pleasure inventory. What truly brings you joy? Many people on a weight loss journey struggle with a fear of pleasure, viewing it as a hindrance. This issue is often amplified by our “getting shit done” mindset, where we sideline our emotional responses to pleasure, justifying that it takes too much time and isn’t necessary.

However, it’s crucial to incorporate pleasure practices into your daily routine. This means allowing yourself to experience joy from food, though it shouldn’t be your only source of pleasure. Diversify your joy sources. Establish at least a couple of daily rituals that provide pleasure, whether it’s reading, walking, listening to music, or engaging in a hobby.

The challenge—and the solution—lies in learning to receive pleasure without guilt. Embrace the moments of joy that each day offers and allow yourself to enjoy them fully without remorse. This practice is both simple and complex, requiring a conscious effort to let go of guilt and openly accept pleasure into your life.

De-stressing in the Personal Realm

Lifelong childhood habits and unconscious programing push many people immediately into a physiologic stress response whenever they eat, or encounter food. Fight or flight at the simple sight of food. Food = Stress. This stress can cause unconscious restriction or bingy type of behavior around foods. This is a deeply ingrained psycho-physiologic pattern of stress surrounding foods.

Food often becomes an ideal coping mechanism when personal stressors are not addressed. The comfort of a “food coma” can seem like a quick fix to relax. Biologically, our bodies are programmed to crave salt, sugar, and fat during stressful times, which helps replenish energy reserves for potential challenges ahead. However, the issue arises when we are continually stressed and surrounded by hyper-palatable foods rich in sugar, fat, and salt. This environment, combined with chronic stress and the habit of using food for self-soothing, creates a perfect storm for unwanted weight gain.

At some point, you’ll need to confront the root causes of your stress rather than relying on ineffective coping mechanisms. It’s heartbreaking to see so many people struggling, their suffering intensified by a deep-seated desire to alleviate pain.

Depending on what the stressor is, the solution will be different.

  • Relationships
  • Work/Money
  • Family

Examine key areas of your life to identify the sources of your stress. Are these stressors choices you’ve made, or do they represent unavoidable, constant low-level stress? Understanding the nature of these anxieties can be crucial in addressing weight loss resistance. Writing a cost-benefit analysis can be particularly enlightening. There’s something about putting it down on paper that clarifies your thoughts and motivates you to find solutions. Sometimes, stressors that seemed non-negotiable can actually be adjusted or approached differently. This exercise not only helps in recognizing what can be changed but also in prioritizing actions to alleviate stress.

Achieve the End Results Now

What do you envision happening once you lose weight? It’s crucial to examine your expectations. Are you hoping that weight loss will bring happiness, love, or an increase in confidence and sexiness?

Here’s a tough truth: achieving a certain number on the scale won’t usher in nirvana.

Instead of fixating on a “magic” number or ideal body composition, start embodying your desired outcomes now. Feel sexy and confident today. Focus on cultivating happiness immediately. Embrace and practice your end goals in the present moment, without delay.

Harboring hatred for your current body and maintaining a negative self-image essentially conveys a rejection of the body you inhabit. It’s like declaring a war against yourself, feeling inadequate, unlovable, and undeserving of enjoying your physical existence.

Such feelings often lead to self-sabotage and extreme, all-or-nothing behaviors. Consider this: a negative body image keeps our brains in a constant state of judgment, harshly critiquing our appearance and engaging in punishing behaviors like excessive dieting and over-exercising. This continuous disapproval stems from societal pressures to meet unrealistic standards of perfection.

The path to overcoming this negative mindset isn’t through changing your body to fit an impossible standard, but rather through acts of self-love and acceptance of who you are today. Healing a distorted body image takes courage, self-reflection, and confronting painful emotions—and, of course, it takes time. Embracing who you are and treating yourself with kindness is both healing and a way to reprogram the damaging effects of body negativity.

Authenticity Practices

Authenticity is truly a lifestyle choice, rooted in deep self-reflection, moral integrity, and an unwavering commitment to uphold personal values, regardless of others’ opinions.

In our image-obsessed society, it’s challenging to remain genuinely authentic. Authenticity, like empathy or open-mindedness, isn’t black and white—it needs to be consciously nurtured throughout one’s life, and for many, it doesn’t come naturally.

Navigating authenticity in a world filled with judgments based on others’ biases is complex. We’re often pressured to conform and lose our authentic selves in the process.

Understanding and accepting your true self reduces the likelihood of judging others. This reduced judgment leads to greater self-acceptance. Our critical views of others often stem from our insecurities and perceived failures—recognizing this can shift how we see ourselves and others, positively affecting our body image.

Consider this: if you were truly content with yourself, why would you feel the need to tear others down? John Green encapsulates this with his quote, “The self-righteous scream judgments against others to hide the noise of skeletons dancing in their own closets.”

Presenting a facade to the world is often easier than living our true selves, driven by a desire to avoid criticism and meet societal expectations. This drive for universal acceptance and love can trace back to evolutionary needs for tribal inclusion but may now be counterproductive.

Embracing your authentic self is transformative, promoting a healthier body image and overall self-acceptance. It’s about radical acceptance and the courage to be who you are without compromise.

Creativity Practices

We’ve all experienced those moments where we find ourselves mindlessly eating out of boredom, even when we’re not physically hungry. This behavior typically occurs not because of a genuine need for food but from a lack of engagement in our lives.

Addressing this phenomenon starts with exploring areas in your life where creativity is waiting to be unleashed. What are you passionate about? Whether it’s business, music, art, travel writing, reading, dance, martial arts, working on a hot rod, gardening, or scrapbooking—these activities can significantly stimulate your brain’s dopaminergic system. This system is crucial for feeling pleasure and reward, unlike the temporary satisfaction that comes from food. Finding and engaging in your passions can effectively redirect the impulse to eat when bored, leading to deeper satisfaction and fulfillment. So, take a moment, explore, and find it.

Explore Sexual Wounding and Healing

This topic is taboo and uncomfortable for many to address. I get it. You’ve been conditioned to either see it as a private matter or ‘dirty.’

There are two areas where I find people struggle with their sexuality:

First, many people use weight to protect themselves—whether it’s to guard against unwanted advances or as a response to past emotional wounds from sexual abuse. This phenomenon is more prevalent among my female clients due to higher rates of sexual abuse, but it does occur in men too. Healing and transformation happen when you can learn to trust again. I know this is easier said than done.

Many individuals are shut down in a complete fear response around their sexuality, with food becoming their only source of pleasure. They use food as a way to avoid their sexual fears, immaturity, or embarrassment in this area. Until this core issue of sexuality is addressed, the weight will likely stay on. If you’ve been sexually abused and still struggle with it, please find someone who can help you work through this.

The second issue around sexuality is dissociation from the body. We tend to be alienated from our sexuality, afraid of expressing our deepest desires, shy about receiving pleasure, and inevitably end up sexually unfulfilled. Turning to food to fill the void of sexual unfulfillment is a band-aid approach and will never fix the root issue.

Self-expression is often a paralyzing thought for those who have rejected their body for carrying extra fat. If we don’t enjoy the body we are in, there’s a part of us that doesn’t want to be seen or touched. Let us remember, though, no matter how difficult it is, we need to embody our sensuality prior to hitting that perfect number on the scale. Integrating new sexual experiences into our life can have a profound impact on our body image and weight.

Take Home

The magic sauce here is that when we align ourselves with our greatest expression in life and become the person we are truly meant to be, healing our faulty perceptions, the body and its weight will have the best chance to become what it is truly meant to be—whatever that number or shape is.

When we stop fighting our bodies, hating them for carrying extra fat, hiding our passions, desires, and postponing experiences until we achieve a chiseled, flawless body, true and lasting mental and bodily transformation can happen.

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