We live in weight focused society. In a typical week as an outpatient dietitian and personal trainer, I see between 20 and 30 patients a week (that’s 960-1440 / year). Most want to adjust their weight (usually down) in a quest for health [and the others struggle with disordered eating...] The majority have been losing and/or gaining weight for most of their lives. So why can’t we “get it right?”
I became a dietitian and a personal trainer because I wanted to know the “secret” to weight. I assumed there must be a reason why some people are smaller than others. But over 15 years of counseling has taught me the true secret, and it's not what I expected.
So read on to understand how food and movement affect our body and what we can do about it.
What is weight made up of?
Weight isn't as clear as it seems...
How does weight loss work?
The traditional formula is to eat fewer calories (a unit of energy) than what our body uses in a day. The theory then states that your body will “make up” those calories by using body fat for energy.
So for example, if your body needs 2000 calories per day and you only eat 1500. The theory is that your body will use 500 calories of body fat each day. The theory goes on to state that there are 3500 calories in 1 lb of body fat. SO if you create a 500 calorie deficit per day by eating less and/or moving more, you’ll lose 1 lb per week.
However there are a holes in this overly simplistic theory. . .
But isn’t there a weight that I am “supposed” to be?
Clients usually come with a request to weight a certain number. My follow up question is, “how long would you like to maintain that weight?” I’ve helped a lot of people lose weight by counting calories and exercising in order to achieve a certain physique whether it’s for a wedding or a bodybuilding competition or an athletic event. It's what I was originally trained to do. However, for all of these people, the results are short lived - for a day, a week, maybe a month…. After that, the body and mind shift to survival mode - because bodies are not meant to starve.
In response to severe and / or prolonged starvation, a body will...
And here’s the thing. The first time we restrict food (aka, starve), the body cooperates. But the more we try to starve, the better the body becomes at fighting it and subsequently the more weight you gain.
Just because you achieved a specific weight in the past, does not mean you can (or should) return to this weight again.
Additionally, you cannot tell if someone's body is being starved by looking at them. I have many clients in bigger bodies trying to eat fewer calories than a 30 lb toddler.
Yes, there is a “healthy weight” for you but it cannot be determined by charts and graphs such as BMI (body mass index). BMI is not a foolproof system to determine body fat percentage OR health. But it is the easiest and least expensive way to compare bodies - but that doesn’t mean it’s accurate...and it's unclear what value there IS in comparing bodies. BMI cannot account for genetic differences in frame size and body composition.
Instead, we have to consider the definition of a healthy weight from a behavioral perspective.
So what am I supposed to do?
I’m not saying fat loss is impossible. But instead of focusing on weight or BMI as a measure of success, my job is to help clients find a balanced way to :
What's right for your body and mind may not work for someone else (and vice versa). We need to find a place with our behaviors that works for where we are, right now.
behaviors > weight
Am I balanced?
The authors of Intuitive Eating (a system I’ve found tremendously successful to help clients find a non-weight based definition of health) outline a few helpful questions to understand if changing your behaviors might result in weight loss:
Here are some additional questions I consider in counseling and helping clients find a healthy path:
How people answer these questions dictate the extent of change that right for them at this time.
The moral of the story. . .
Stay nourished friends!
a small nugget of research. . .
DISCLAIMER: The information presented here is meant to be for general education. If you want individual guidance to reach your unique health goals, please contact me or a local dietitian directly
Dietitian, personal trainer, mother, wife, runner, and triathlete staying healthy one bit and bite at a time