Back when I first started training, I always thought people just needed some education on what to eat, and everything would work out. After doing this for a while now, education on what is good to eat, and what should be avoided, is not as much of an issue as I previously thought. People, for the most part, know what types of food aren't healthy just like a smoker knows that smoking isn't good for his or her health.
There are several other factors that hold our clients back from losing weight, and some of them are a lot more complex than a simple food choice. We'll touch on some of the most common roadblocks to success here. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but this will certainly give some of you something to think about.
1. Not Eating Enough
This is extremely common for clients that just start out training with us. "I don't get it. I've started skipping breakfast, only having a salad for lunch, and I've even cut out my carbs for dinner. Why aren't I losing weight?" This tends to be something many clients learn from past attempts to lose weight. The logic is there; if you intake less food, you'll lose more weight. Popular press has told people this idea for a while now. Calories in, calories out. The body isn't a math equation, which makes this a very flawed concept. The same quantity of calories from cake or a steak are handled very differently, and they each lead to some different types of effects in the body.
There are certain metabolic adaptations that happen when you continually restrict your calorie intake such as a lack of energy, disturbances to sex hormone production, reduced recovery from exercise, fewer calories burned at rest, and many more. It's doubtful you'll be motivated to exercise, or really do much of anything, when you feel this way. Your body wants to hold on to calories as a survival mechanism when food isn't as plentiful, as is the case for people who don't eat enough.
Unfortunately, these clients often keep their weight pretty steady. We need to get you back to a healthy amount of food. An easy fix for this is to begin by eating three meals per day. Start small, and slowly build to meals consisting of protein, vegetables, healthy carbohydrates (fruit, legumes, sweet potatos), and fat (almonds, avocado, coconut oil).
A very easy way to get a good breakfast, for instance, is to drink a shake consisting of 1-2 scoops of protein powder, a handful of spinach, a handful of berries, and half of an avocado. You've easily met all of your requirement for a meal, and it took about 5 minutes to make.
2. An Unsupportive Environment
The environment we are in everyday has a significant impact on how we live our lives on a daily basis. This is often one of the first things we look at when coaching clients on nutrition or other lifestyle factors. Being in an environment on a daily basis that takes a tremendous amount of willpower to live a healthy life is what can really hold you back.
First, your network is a huge part of your success. Do you have a spouse or significant other that is supportive of your goals? Are your friends on board? Co-workers? Sure, it's nice when an office-mate brings you a donut in the morning, but it just makes it that much harder to resist. Creating a clear line of communication with those that are able to support you can be key to your long-term success. Explain that you're taking some time and effort to focus on yourself and achieve a goal, and it would mean a lot to you if they also did what they could to help you.
Secondly, don't keep food in the house that you don't want to eat. This is a big one, especially for people who have a significant other that isn't following their way of eating, or if you have kids. I'm not suggesting you get a new boyfriend or wife. I am suggesting you speak with him/her and explain why you'd like to start making some better choices at the grocery store. There are usually healthier options of some common junk food that you can compromise on if you're not going to eliminate it entirely. Determine your go-to foods that hold you back, and look to eliminate these or replace them.
3. Using Food To Manage Feelings
This is really one of the hardest habits to break. Often, people use food as a way to self-medicate. It tastes great and can make us feel better temporarily. Food can also be connected to memories of childhood, travels, family, friends, and/or our heritage. Using food in this way isn't necessarily bad on it's own, but when done to excess, uncontrollably, or as a sole source of comfort, it can be very problematic.
One way to fix this and begin developing a healthier relationship to food is to keep a food and feeling journal. It's a great way to write down what you ate and what you were feeling when you ate it. After getting data over a week or two, you'll begin to see patterns. Particularly, look for links to hunger, anger/anxiousness, loneliness, or being tired. Often times, these are responsible for emotional eating. Even if you aren't able to change the behavior right away, it will still be beneficial to notice why you're doing what you're doing.
Next, when you are ready to start changing the behavior, take five minutes to sit with the urge when it comes up. Notice what you're thinking and feeling. It may be uncomfortable. After the five minutes is up, make the decision that you feel is right. Over time, being comfortable with being uncomfortable in this respect can allow you to not only tolerate it better, but also increase your confidence in yourself to self-regulate.
Lastly, once you have been able to recognize the triggers of emotional eating, and are able to take five minutes and think about why you're getting an urge to eat, coming up with some alternatives can help change the ritual involved (food). Some great options are calling a supportive person and talk with them about what you're feeling, going for a walk, doing some deep breathing exercises, or taking a hot shower/bath.
These three scenarios make up the majority of difficulties with which new and current clients struggle. Being able to take control of these is a huge step in the right direction toward optimal health and weight loss.
1. Berardi, J., Andrews, R., St. Pierre, B., Scott-Dixon, K., Killias, H., & DePutter, C. (2016). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Precision Nutrition.