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Weight loss and dieting: Reality Check - things to know before starting your diet

Thomas Secrest's picture
Thomas Secrest

Yesterday we discussed some of the things you needed to know before starting your diet and weight loss program, specifically your BMR and the number of calories you burn doing your normal daily activities (i.e. your BASELINE).

This is article 8 in my weight loss and diet series and today we want to do a final reality check designed to get you mentally prepared for the days ahead. Links to the other articles in this series can be found at the bottom of the page.

Before I dig in, I want to say, thank you, to the readers that emailed me questions. I enjoyed answering your questions and I put your suggestions on my list of upcoming diet and weight loss topics. Feel free to contact with any additional questions or suggestions (link at bottom of page or you can reach me at G+).

As you may recall, we said that starting your diet begins with a plan -- so many of you started your diet yesterday by establishing your BASELINE. I know you want to start losing weight, but we haven’t really gotten to those articles yet. I know you’re anxious to get started but I would ask that you do one more thing before you start making food changes. Before you begin, you need to answer this question: With your current eating habits -- are you eating more than your BASELINE, less than your BASELINE or equal to your BASELINE?

For this you will need to weigh yourself every day for several days (stay hydrated throughout) and see if you weight is trending up, down or steady. Knowing this is almost as important is knowing your BASELINE. It is critical to know if you are currently overeating. You need to know this because your current diet is what you’re going to modify -- remember this diet is not about eating grapefruit or celery. The next thing you need to do is approximate the number of calories you eat each day; now compare. There is no sense starting until all these numbers are in logical agreement.

For instance, if you calories estimate is less than your BASELINE, but your scale is trending upward, then something is amok. If your calorie estimate is over your BASELINE and your scale is trending downward, then something is wrong. It could be your BASELINE, your scale or your calorie estimate. Since these numbers are so important to the success of your diet, you have to find the problem and fix it. If you need help, you can contact me at the address at the bottom of the page.

Reality Check 1: Your body will not allow you to starve yourself as a diet plan. As we discussed in a previous article, your body will fight you every step of the way and IT WILL WIN!

Reality Check 2: It is clear that your current eating habits are part of the problem. However, they are habits, and as such they will be difficult to retrain. Retraining takes time. Identify your bad habits, make a list, then start to systematically retrain them. Be kind to yourself, you can’t retrain them all overnight, so don’t expect to. Start with the worst habits -- pick 2 or 3 and start making small changes until you have adjusted the habit. Then go back to your list and pick 2 or 3 more and repeat.

Retraining habits can take weeks or months. Don’t try to rush, slow and steady, wins this race. The key is to gradually reduce or eliminate your bad habits. If you don't get rid of them, they will contribute to you putting the weight back on.

Reality Check 3: You are going to have to be more physically active. I know exercise is a bad word, but your weight loss will not be sustainable without activity. Tomorrow with will focus on physical activity and discuss the advantages, and there are a lot. For now simply recall our discussion in the article “Why is it so hard to lose weight?”

Here is an example:

Method 1: If you adjust your calorie intake to be 500 calories/day less than your BASELINE, you will start to lose weight.

FACT: One pound of fat equals 3500 calories.

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As you can see, you will lose 1 pound every 7 days.

Method 2: If you increase your calorie output (calories burned per day) by 500 calories/day, you will also lose 1 pound of fat every 7 days.

What’s the difference? Using Method 1 your body will start to resist immediately and within 2 weeks your weight loss may actually stop, even though you continue to eat 500 fewer calories/day. With Method 2 your body does not fight you and you can continue to lose weight at this rate for months or years. That’s a huge difference!

Reality Check 4: You have to monitor your weight daily. In a day or two I plan to write an article on bathroom scales and offer some recommendations. However, what you need to know is that you must get in the habit of getting on the scale every day. It’s a new habit you need to form. It is imperative that you be able to see what is happening with your weight, daily.

Reality Check 5: You have to know how many calories you are eating each day. If it is a complex food (i.e. with many ingredients) you simply can’t guess.

Think of it like this: if your BASELINE is 2100 calories/day and you eat 2150 calories/day you gain 1 pound every 2 months or 6 pounds a year or 60 pounds in 10 years. You can’t afford to guess and when you count calories always round up, that is assume there are more calories than you calculated. You might want to try this FREE website that can assist you in tracking your calories and finding out the calorie count of various foods.

Reality Check 6: Set small goals. Then when you achieve your goal, move the goalpost. Psychologically setting and achieving goals is much more motivational than setting goals that are far away. I suggest 10 lb goals.

Reality Check 7: Expect slow, steady progress. Don’t hop on the scale looking for 5 lb changes. If you see a big change it is water weight and is meaningless. Don’t expect to lose more than 1 or 1.5 pounds per week. At least not until you have read the upcoming article on exercise and weight loss. After that, we can adjust these numbers a little.

Reality Check 7a: My guess is that many of you have already done the math in your head. You know how much you want to lose, you see 1 lb/week and you realize that you diet is going to last a long, long time. Yes, it’s true. For example, if you want to lose 50 lbs, your diet will last 50 weeks! Oouch!!

But wait! -- You’re thinking about this all wrong. You’re thinking about all those horrible diets you’ve been on in the past. You remember how you felt 3 or 4 weeks into the diet. Your brain had reduced you to stealing candy from babies, you were singing the baby back ribs song while looking at the family dog and you seriously considered eating that year-old french fry you found between the couch cushions. When you starve your brain, it will make you miserable and the idea of being miserable for 50 weeks is unbearable.

However, that not what this diet is about. The goal is not to be miserable, the goal is to fool your brain and if your brain is happy while you lose weight, then YOU are happy while you lose weight -- no matter how long it takes!

Reality Check 8: Stay hydrated! It turns out that your body NEEDS water to burn fat. It’s a biochemistry thing -- fats are stored in your adipose tissue -- to use them for fuel to power the body, they must be broken down through a process called beta oxidation. The resulting smaller fragments then pass through a process called Krebs cycle, where the fat is finally converted to molecules that can be used for energy and carbon dioxide, which you exhale. Water is needed at multiple points in these processes and without it, fat metabolism slows down considerably.

Another reason to stay hydrated is that you want your daily weight reading to reflect fat weight, not variations in your hydration status. There is NO penalty for drinking too much water. Your kidneys will eliminate anything above and beyond what your body needs.

Remember there are lots of people who want to lose weight and not all of them have stumbled onto this series of articles. If you think they’re useful, share them with your friends or maybe give them a thumbs-up for your Facebook page. I hope to see you tomorrow.

If you have any special questions you want answered as part of this series of articles, please let me know and I will address your question in one of the upcoming installments or email you an answer. You can email me at: Thomas Secrest