Women and Weight Loss… 5 Common Mistakes

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Have you been trying to lose weight but not having much success? If so, you’re not alone, as approximately 50 million Americans try to lose weight every year and just 5 percent report keeping the weight off, according to the Colorado State University Extension. A lot of women attempt to lose weight while unknowingly making some mistakes along the way. These mistakes can slow down, halt, or even reverse weight loss progress which can be very frustrating. Are you making any of these common weight loss mistakes?

Under-eating

Under-eating amongst otherwise very fit and healthy women has become a bit of an epidemic. It is true that in order to lose body fat, you do need to be in a caloric deficit; that is, consuming less energy than your body burns. However, most women hear this and think that to get the best results it must mean that they need to eat the smallest amount of calories possible in order to lose weight effectively and quickly. Unfortunately, it is not as simple “calories out, calories in” as the low-fat diet gurus of the 1990’s would have had us believe. A lot of women think that as long as they are not seeing results at a certain caloric deficit, it must mean that they need to consume even less food; but this can backfire. Being in a caloric deficit is a stressor on the body and can cause your hormones to send signals to hold on to body fat if the deficit is seen as a threat to the body’s survival. The caloric deficit needs to be the smallest amount it can possibly be while still causing fat loss. This is the weight loss “sweet spot” and can take some trial and error to accomplish. This also means that the overall weight loss process may take longer, but it will be better in the long run because your body won’t perceive it as a stressful event and try to fight the process by down-regulating your metabolism.

Being under chronic stress

Stress is not always commonly linked to stalling weight loss efforts but I believe that it should be at the top of the list. This is, like I mentioned with under-eating, because the body perceives a stressful state as a time to keep body fat stores up and not release it for energy usage. When you are in a constant state of stress, your levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, are elevated which can interfere with normal metabolic processes. Cortisol binds itself to brain receptors which then stimulate a person to eat more high reward foods such as those high in fat and/or sugar. There was a combined Yale University/ UCSF/ Rockefeller University study published in 2000 on 59 healthy pre-menopausal women to see whether a high cortisol response to stress stimulated them to eat more. The study found that women who secreted higher amounts of cortisol both during and after stressors were applied consumed more foods that had high levels of fat and sugar. Anecdotally we can all relate to the term “stress eating”. It is pretty commonplace to witness someone we know, or maybe even ourselves; having a highly stressful day or experience and then wanting to soothe with comforting high reward (sugar and/or fat) foods. So, If your stress is chronic in nature, the likelihood that elevated cortisol is having an affect on your food cravings and choices is quite high.

Getting on the scale every day

It can be so easy to make the mistake of wanting to see if your weight loss efforts are working by constantly getting on the scale to measure your weight. I know that you want to see results and you desperately want some confirmation that your weight loss efforts are working, but unfortunately daily weigh ins, or even multiple daily weigh ins are not going to do the trick. A woman’s weight can naturally fluctuate up to 5 pounds daily just from factors like food and water consumption, bowel movements, perspiration and urination. Also, the scale can’t account for muscle gains versus fat loss, so it can be a frustrating tool to use when it can’t really give you the full picture. Not to mention, if you are too invested in an “ideal number”  above all other health markers, you can get discouraged very quickly. If you are set on using the scale as a measuring tool in your weight loss, then commit to using it only on a weekly basis at most. Using a tape measure or gauging the way your clothes fit is going to be a much better way to measure your fat loss.

Focussing only on cardio

A lot of women feel intimidated by strength training and envision themselves bulking up just by looking at a barbell; therefore they just stick to cardio. If weight loss is your goal though, I would advise you to add some weight lifting to your cardio workouts. On the surface, it can look like the caloric burn of a cardio session outperforms a weight lifting session minute for minute, but this is not taking into consideration what happens after both workout types. The EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) or better known as the “afterburn” experienced after an exercise session involving strength training will last up to 38 hours post workout according to a 2002 study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Combining your cardio and strength training into a HIIT (high intensity interval training) style workout may yield even better weight loss results. After a workout involving high intensity, the body needs to up your oxygen levels to compensate for the deficit it has just undergone. This process also involves using more caloric energy when repairing the muscles and re-upping your stores of glycogen. This on-going “afterburn” allows your body to burn more calories while at rest which can be an important weight loss tool.

Not taking nutrient density into consideration

It’s not just about making sure you stick to a reasonable caloric deficit but then eating whatever foods you might desire to get there. The more nutrient dense you can make your diet, the more tools your body will have at its disposal to help you shed unwanted fat. If you think about it, hormones get the say in when your body will store or use fat for energy, and if those hormones aren’t optimally supported by good nutrition, you really aren’t doing yourself any favors. Natural whole foods will also satiate you better and help you to feel full due to the fact that the body will be getting the nutrients it really needs.

Staying away from inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy can be a good place to start when attempting to embrace a more nutrient dense diet. Intolerances to foods can increase cortisol, which we have already discussed; and they can boost inflammation across the body. Also, making a priority of getting a large and varied amount of vegetables, fruits, well-sourced proteins and healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, grass-fed butter and ghee at each of your meals will ensure the nutrient density of your diet.

Another high in nutrient density item to think about including in your diet would be organ meats. Organ meats from pasture-raised animals, whether fresh or in desiccated form, are extremely nutrient-dense and pack more of a nutritional punch than the muscle meats that are so common in the modern western diet, containing some of the highest levels of Vitamin D and omega 3 fats than any other foods.

So, are you making any of these mistakes? Try some tweaking of your caloric deficit, stress management, workout style, weight loss measurement tools/frequency of use and nutrient density to see if you can improve your weight loss results.

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