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Are you eating for health–or for fat loss?

May 10, 2010

I’ve heard it more than once:  “Gee, I’m eating a healthy diet–but I’m not losing weight!”

Well, a lot of things could be going on. Here are 6 reasons your “get healthy” diet might result in stubborn scale syndrome.

3 things you may need help with:

1. After age 50, hormonal imbalances enter the picture that can slow weight loss tremendously. The right sort of doctor can help you with those issues. I work with an alternative MD who does blood tests every 6 months to check my levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, vitamin D, etc., etc. I take biodentical hormones. Even so, fat loss is frustratingly slow. 

2. Food allergies can also stall fat loss.  It’s possible to discover suddenly in your 5th decade that you’re allergic to wheat or dairy–or something else!  If you suspect a culprit, you could try to address the matter yourself by eliminating that item from your diet for 2-4 weeks. Then see if your symptoms (such as gassiness, bloating, skin conditions, energy or abdominal discomfort) improve and fat loss accelerates.  

If you do decide to eliminate a specific food from your diet, make sure to find out what nutrients you may need to get elsewhere–from other foods or supplements.  Or consult a good diet book, such as UltraMetabolism, by Dr. Mark Hyman, or Fat Flush For Life, by Ann Louise Gittelman, PhD.  Alternatively, work one-on-one with a nutritionist or doctor.

3. Medications can pose another hindrance to fat loss, and can even result in fat gain. If your doctor prescribes a new medication, ask him or her what effect it might have on your metabolism. You can also Google the drug; be sure to get your drug information from credible web sites and doublecheck your findings with your doctor. He or she might be able to recommend some ways you can minimize fat gain. 

These 3 things–hormonal imbalances, food allergies and medications–can be hard to control or at least take some time to figure out.  You’re likely to need an expert to help you out.

3 things that you can address:

1. You’re taking in too many calories.

You’re eating well and trying to cover your nutritional bases. But you’re not losing weight–or you’re struggling just to maintain your weight!

  • Try tracking your calories. Make adjustments as needed. OR, scale back on your portion sizes a smidgeon. Be patient. You still might have other issues going on (see above), so keep track of what you’re doing so you can tell your doctor later, if you need to.
  • Don’t expect to cover all your nutrition needs in one day. Sure, you may need regular servings of dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegies (cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts), onions/garlic, berries, citrus, omega 3-, 6- and 9-oils, protein sources, carotenoids (yams, carrots, cantaloupe), starchy vegetable sources–but if you try to cram them all in on the same day, you may very easily exceed the number of calories your body requires at this moment to maintain or lose weight.  
  • Try spreading your choices out over 2 or 3 days. OR, simply scale back on portion sizes.  (I prefer to eat vegies fairly liberally, but have to check myself on the amount of dressing I pour on a salad or oil I use in cooking.)
  • And don’t overdo the “extras” that purport to be healthy. An ounce of dark chocolate that’s 71% cacao can be a nice treat with some health benefits–just don’t go back and finish the bar! And when a glass of Cabernet turns into two glasses–on a daily basis–that’s just too much!

2. Your food choices may not be as healthy as you think.

Clever ad campaigns can convince us that we’re making smarter food choices than we are. Don’t be misled!

Many commercial yogurts contain fake sweeteners or sugar. Foods labeled “low fat” or “low carb” are not necessarily “good” for you by virtue of being low in carbs or fat. And supermarket breads, full of additives and preservatives, aren’t a dietary boon, even when they are “whole grain.” Plus heavily processed soy burgers and “dogs’ can load your body with chemicals that thwart weight loss or cause water retention.

3.  Your diet may lack proper balance for you to lose weight.

Let’s say you’re eating 1500 calories a day and lifting weights 4 days a week. And let’s say you have NO other issues that could be causing weight loss to stall.

If you take in 15% of your calories from protein, 70% from carbs, and 15% from fat, you may be unable to get leaner because you’re not supporting your activity with the right nutrients to effect change. Perhaps you’ll need to tweak your macronutrient proportions a bit–say, to 25% protein, 45% carbohydrates and 30% fat.  Just an example, of course. Everyone is individual and requires a diffferent balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats. You’ll need to experiment.

I don’t think it’s wise to be overly analytical, though. That can backfire. 

What you can do without too much fuss is simply put an extra couple of ounces of protein on your dinner plate, substitute more vegetables and salads for starchy carbs, and drizzle a little real olive oil on your salad. 

Finally, realize that you may be getting leaner even though the scale is staying the same.

I know that can be frustrating when you’ve been conditioned to think scale loss is the goal, but gaining a bit of muscle mass (which is lean body tissue) is great. And if your clothes are fitting better and/or you see more definition when you look at yourself naked in the mirror, you can be sure you’re losing fat! I learned a long time ago that the scale is not my friend.

Bottom line, be patient. Once you make dietary adjusments, it could take a little while till you see results.

Avoid doing too much at once. I used to cut calories, change my diet (more protein, fewer starches), add more exercise AND take over-the-counter fat-burning pills.  I did get leaner, but it was a regimen I couldn’t, and didn’t WANT to, maintain.

These days, forget the fat-burning pills–they’re out!  Forget overdieting and overexercising. I prefer to take fat loss as it comes…slowly!

Flickr photo, top, sisppower

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