Weight Loss: Why is it so damn hard?

You know it’s funny. People often ask me what my favorite type of client to work with is. I usually say something like digestive disorders or food sensitivities. You know why? Because there is generally a methodical way to go about figuring out the root problem and coming up with a well defined plan to see results.

What is not my favorite genre? Weight loss! And believe me, it’s not because of the clients themselves. I adore my clients. I have some of the hardest working and most motivated clients in the world. It’s just that achieving weight loss is hard. Damn hard. And it doesn’t always follow logic. Eat less + move more does not necessarily equal weight loss. It’s extremely frustrating not only for me, but ten times more for my clients.

weight loss

Last month I once again attended the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. While yes, there is a lot of fluff at these events (what do you expect with sessions sponsored by Nestle and General Mills), I do always have some profound take-aways.

This year there were several sessions on weight loss. I made it my goal to attend all of them and compare messages. There must be something I am missing, something I could glean that would turn the corner for some of my clients.

So I listened. And I compared. And I pondered. Do you know what I discovered? No. One. Agrees. You think the experts have a handle on this? Yeah no. Keto? Intermittent fasting? Calorie restriction? Intense weight training? All topics which were presented by very knowledgeable and well researched experts in the field. They all had very different things to say about the “best” way to reduce body weight.

Let’s take keto. I think I have written about this before. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the premise of the diet if done carefully and correctly, but you have to ask yourself: Is this sustainable? Do I want to live like this forever? If not, you have to choose another approach. Yo-yo dieting, especially on a very high fat diet, is dangerous. Plus, you can gain weight on keto folks. It’s still a calorie game.

What about intermittent fasting? Sure, studies show it may help people lose weight by improving fat burning, but is it because of the fasting or simply calorie restriction by limiting the hours in which you can eat? And again, is it sustainable? Do you plan to carry this on forever? Honestly I think many people can find a form a fasting that would work for them (I like the 12-13 hour overnight fasting idea), but you still have to commit.

Lastly, and with far less enthusiasm, I listened to the good ol’ calorie restriction + increased exercise folks. I was not expecting to be impressed…..but I was. I really appreciated how they took the boring old concept of eat less, move more, and described a practical, defined plan that produced maximum results.

The key, as I alluded to, is doing it right. And since I tend to agree with their premise and design, I’ll lay out the basics here and now for you to consider.

First of all, you do have to restrict calories….but not too much. The main take home point is that measuring metabolic rate is key. Us dietitians and every calorie tracking software out there are always basing people’s calorie needs on equations. Equations are equations, not actual people, and cannot take into account the nuances in everyone’s metabolism. If we guess too low, we put someone on too far of a calorie restriction and potentially decrease their metabolism further while making them feel terrible. If we shoot too high, we don’t see the desired results. If you want to lose weight, have your resting metabolic rate (RMR) measured. (see our next post for how to get this done)

Secondly, anytime you cut calories, your body will compensate by decreasing your metabolism. Tricky bodies we have, eh? How to get around this? Increase muscle mass. Yes, muscle is highly metabolically active. If you achieve a good calorie level while simultaneously increasing your muscle mass, you will boost your metabolic rate, burn fat, and build muscle. This creates the ideal conditions for weight loss and improved body composition over the long term.

Best of all this type of plan is sustainable, assuming you can continue with regular workouts and healthy eating, and you don’t have to do anything drastic like cut out all carbs or eat a staggeringly low amount of calories. You don’t even have to do long sessions of cardio. Incredible!

In fact, you need to be eating carbs to keep up your energy level (high quality carbs are best, of course). You also need very good protein intake to build muscle. You need a moderate amount of fat for general health. It’s almost like…..a return to the center. We need carbs, but not too much. Also protein, and a decent amount. And we need fat, but again, in moderation. And you need to exercise, but it needn’t be this long, drawn out event five days per week. 3-4 sessions of weights and you are good. Add in some cardio, but only if you wish.

But in reality, does it work? It seems to, at least in their clinics, assuming you work hard to build muscle and eat well. It is still no walk in the park, but certainly more achievable for most people, especially for those like myself who enjoy food and despise the idea of eliminating entire food groups! Plus you might even save time by cutting a few of those boring and useless sessions on the elliptical.

So if you are serious about losing weight or at least changing your body composition (swapping out fat for muscle), come talk to me! Let’s make a personalized plan that works for your lifestyle and lets you enjoy food in the process.

See our next post very soon about some fun new equipment in the office that we have for measuring body composition, plus check out some links for Seattle area locations where you can get your metabolic rate tested.

And….stay tuned for next month’s blog post where we will talk about the up and coming “Health at Every Size” approach. What if all this weight loss talk is actually damaging us in the long term, both physically and mentally? What if we could take away the stigma and focus around weight and just help people find foods and activities that make them feel good? Ooh, so many angles to consider!

About Danielle VenHuizen

Registered Dietitian, Certified LEAP Therapist