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Finding What Works for You

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I wasn't overweight as a child or teenager. I was probably a bit scrawny. I became overweight after college. Perhaps that was why I didn't fully accept that I was genetically doomed. Bad choices put me where I was; perhaps good choices could put me where I wanted to be.

When I talk about what I discovered works for me, I am not making a blanket statement that everyone should do it. If the standard American low-fat diet works for you, then I am happy for you. Honest.

My belief is if the way you are eating and exercising gets you results, then it is the right thing for you. Keep going.

If you're getting results by doing something like a HCG or Twinkie diet, my opinion is, it's your life. You're an adult and can make your own choices. I may not agree with your choice, but I can still like you, respect you, and we can be friends. My opinion, though, is that you'll lose the weight and gain it back because you took a 'magic pill' route. Losing weight is tough. Finding what your body needs is tough. If you take an easy way out, then you haven't learned anything. You still don't know what your body needs to be happy, healthy, and running in harmony.

I respect all of you and your choices, and I hope you can do the same for me.

I've been a member of Spark since 2007. If you go back through my blogs, you'll see that I was the biggest enthusiast of the low-fat diet. I believed it was the healthiest way to live, and supported by science.

My shift came around last year in 2011. It was a paradigm shift. I changed everything I thought I knew. Paleo diets I once dismissed as a fad became the centerpiece of my fitness goals.

When I write my blogs, I am writing to people who were like me. Exercised regularly, diligently counted calories, eliminated fast food and sugary drinks, and yet were hopelessly stalled. If that worked for me, I would have had no reason to look elsewhere. If regular exercise and counting calories alone is enough for you, then you have no reason to change what you're doing. My blogs are not directed at you. If it works for you, I don't want you to change what you're doing. Keep going.

For those whom it is not working, then maybe you might be able to take something away from my experience. Maybe there are pieces of information that fit. Take it away with you, adapt it, and find your own uniquely you formula.

Finding what 'works for you' requires you to be completely honest. Before proceeding, check these off:

- Exercise moderately minimum 3x per week
- Count calories and stay within limits
- Not constantly hungry. If you're eating what your body needs, you shouldn't feel hungry. Hunger doesn't mean you're losing weight - it means you're hungry.
- Not eating fast food
- Not eating junk food: cookies, crackers, potato chips, cakes, etc

If you could not answer yes to all of these, then focus on fixing that first.

If you answered yes to all of these, then here's what I suggest:

- COLLECT DATA. A food tracker is an essential tool. Tracking lets you know what your body responds to. If you answered 'yes' to the calorie count question above, then you are already doing this. Keep doing it. But instead of focusing on the calories, focus on the composition. Track your carb, fat and protein grams. The Zone diet ratios are a pretty good start point to experiment with composition - 40c/30f/30p. I use many of Spark's tools, but I also keep offline logs. I prefer the raw data so I copy to an excel spreadsheet frequently, but Spark's tools are just fine.

- TAPE MEASURE. Take measurements regularly. Fat under your skin is very dense. If you're burning fat, you'll shrink.

- TRACK BODYFAT. The bathroom scale will not give you an accurate picture of your body composition. If you don't know your lean mass, then you won't really know if the changes are working. If you don't see changes on the scale and give up, you'll never really know if you were succeeding or not. Pick a method of tracking bodyfat and stick with it. It doesn't matter if it is the most exact or precise. It just needs to be consistent. Calipers are the cheapest, but tricky to use. You'll get better with practice. I use a handheld bodyfat monitor. I don't care if it is less precise than other methods. I only need for it to be consistent so I can tell I'm making general improvement. Pick a method, then track it. Spark's measurements don't have a bodyfat field by default, but you can add one.

- GIVE IT TIME. Changes don't happen overnight. One day is not enough to assess whether you're making progress. I give any major change 30 days to definitely say whether something was 'successful'. However, if you don't see at least some marginally positive progress in 2 weeks, I question whether any significant impact was made. With no change in 2 weeks minimum, I'd reassess and tweak.

- LOOK AT WHOLE PICTURE. Progress is one or more components improving. If you're tracking weight, tape measure, bodyfat, blood pressure, pant size, etc, then you have multiple components to compare general improvement. If all remain static, reassess your strategy.

- TAKE NOTES. Write in your food logs how you feel regularly. For example, one of my notes said, "Hungry after eating an orange. Unusually moody." Does that mean oranges are bad for me? No. Oranges are extremely delicious and packed full of vitamins. However, if I'm snacking, the idea is the food should leave me feeling sated. Thus, an orange isn't the best snack idea for me.

It doesn't matter if it was within calorie range - if it doesn't leave me feeling satisfied after eating it, then I need another choice. It's intuitive, but it didn't hit me in the head until I started taking notes.

Couple other examples:

"Feel ill after drinking milk" - I'm lactose intolerant. I should not do this.
"Ate spaghetti at noon and I'm ready to eat my shoe at 1:30" - Pasta kills after-lunch productivity.
"Ate salmon salad, and didn't need afternoon snack" - Salmon salad keeps me full - eat more of this.

Pretty straightforward. Learn what your body is communicating with you.

Do what works for you.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    You have some FABULOUS blogs.

    I really needed this one this AM. I feel so stalled and I've checked off all your list. I know that lower carb is good for me. I get positively narcoleptic after eating baked potatoes. No joke. I eat a potato, I take a nap!! LOL

    Over the last few years, I have changed the overall composition of my food pretty radically, but I'm not 100% consistent. Being half Italian, pasta and pizza can be hard to avoid!

    Thanks for the pep talk and giving me something to shoot for!
    2047 days ago
    I agree with everything you have said. We each have to find what works for us. Some can simply do calories in/calories out and get weight loss. Some need to work with macronutrient ratios and others need to reduce foods that disagree. The important factor is to feed your body plenty of nutritious food.... something that most people need to improve on. Scrap the processed foods and eat whole!
    2048 days ago
    This is a win on so many levels (I read the previous blog too.)

    I think we get scared into never investigating our nutrition. Calorie counting HAS to work. Cutting fat HAS to work. Exercising X minutes at Y intensity Z days per week HAS to work, and if it doesn't, then you're just not doing it right AND YOU WILL DIE OF A HEART ATTACK TOMORROW. Isolating variables is never considered even though it applies so well to every other aspect of life.

    Car running rough? Try different gas. Air your tires. Check your shocks.
    Feet hurt? Try different shoes. Change your socks.
    Itchy skin? Change your soap. Soften your water.

    We learn as kids that if something doesn't work, then try something else. We apply it as adults. Some of us make jobs out of this advice (I'm talking to the engineers, here). This applies to our health, too, and if what we're doing doesn't work, we must try something else.
    2048 days ago
    Great methodology! I feel like it has taken me 2 years to fine tune my body so I know things like optimum heart rate when working out (through and HRM), my ability to load up on different weights for different body parts.

    The issue has been that working out has given me free license to eat, but that is so not true....the calorie in.calorie out math has not been adding up, so now I hunt the nutrients.

    I'll look into the note taking thing, but that might be a bridge too far (why can't they just develop an app for scanning my food and allow me to record a voice tag for the meal!)
    2049 days ago
    This is a wise, thoughtful and inspiring blog. I just finished reading a blog about listening to your body. Now I know what to listen for....
    2049 days ago
    Liked your check list and how you made notes on how certain food made you feel. I need to start that one since I'm stalled. Thanks so much for sharing.
    2049 days ago
    2049 days ago
    Remind me again pretty please how you're tracking body fat? Thanks! :-D
    2049 days ago
    NEILITHICMAN: That's great that you have a healthy relationship with food that you can enjoy a few items and still meet your goals. My point is that if some people think they are stalled on their weight loss, then they should try to eliminate the junk food to make sure that isn't a factor. Some people think a little here and a little there won't hurt, but it adds up, they're eating more than they think, and it's not really occasional at all. So if a person thinks their weight loss is stalled, then that needs to be eliminated as a variable at least short term.
    2049 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/10/2012 5:12:32 PM
    Good blog, I'm fine with all of them except the no junk food one. I used to beat myself up if I ate a little junk food in the weekends because I usually eat healthy during the week. But I've learned that the occasional chocolate bar, or hamburger in the weekend isn't too bad, so long as I don't go overboard with junk food, I'm still exercising regularly and I factor it into my calories so don't go outside my calorie limits.
    2049 days ago
  • CATH63
    Excellent blog - as always!

    So glad you wrote about the hand held body fat things. I've been really wanting to know what my fat percentage is but didn't want to waste money on something that might be inaccurate or erractic. I'm with you...if it's consistent then I'm not as concerned about accuracy as long as it's pretty close.

    Thanks for the great info!
    2049 days ago
    Excellent blog - again!

    I like your "checklist", especially the requirement that you find a way of eating that doesn't leave you constantly hungry. While human beings are tough enough to endure frequent hunger for months, even years, to reach a weight goal, NO ONE but a complete ascetic or a masochist can sustain that over a lifetime. At some point you have to find out what you can eat that allows you to get to and stay at your desired weight without feeling starved.

    This is all great advice!
    2049 days ago
    YES on the bolded suggestions (except I don't have a bodyfat method right now.... hmm, need to get on it!).
    2049 days ago
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