Lately, with increased awareness about health and diet, we are being bombarded by health tips. Some come from family, some from friends, some from social media and some from diet quacks. As a layman, it is natural to try to follow all of them at the same time. Generally speaking, most of them (rightly so) focus on the importance of healthy diet, regular exercise and avoiding junk food. We often come across many people (or sometime, we ourselves too experience this) who whine, "I exercise regularly, eat healthy food, do not eat junk food but I still am not losing weight".
It is important to note that there can be multiple hidden factors that are pulling you back or giving slow results or, in some cases, not giving any results at all.
Together, let's decode these factors:
1. Balance in meals:
It is very good that you identified the need of switching to healthy meal habits. Kudos !!! Here, you have won the first step of the battle. It is really important to skip junk food & switch to homemade food and / or healthy food. But in addition to that, while planning your diet, we dietitians / nutritionists see to the ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins & fats) in your daily diet. We even take care of the factors like choosing complex carbohydrates over simple, meeting the protein needs, selecting healthy fats (and not running away from fats - they are not our enemies). We know the importance of different micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) in the weight loss journey. From dieticians' perspective, meeting their requirements is equally important.
2. Gap between two meals:
Usually, people tend to neglect this factor. But meal gap significantly affects weight loss. Longer gaps between two meals (i.e. eating only one meal or two meals a day & not eating throughout the day or skipping meals to reduce calorie intake) sends signals of starvation to the brain, leading to reduced metabolic rate. Few people do exactly opposite of that. They eat very small frequent meals. But munching in a bite or two every now & then can increase Insulin resistance making the weight loss difficult ('they' say that it is to prevent overeating). This also increases risk of Diabetes.
A qualified dietitian does not run behind such timely trends. While planning your diet, they consider these factors.
3. Eating meals that are far different from one's traditional / cultural meals or the meals that are not sustainable
There are so many 'crash diet' trends available in the fitness industry. They are cast out of the same mould for everyone. Each & every individual is different (even two people from one family are not same). The aspects of differences are many, to name a few, physical, cultural, climatic etc. Therefore, these diets do not suit everyone. And if they are far different from one's cultural & traditional meal pattern or not suitable for the climatic conditions of the place of one's residence, these diets cannot be followed for long run. Hence, the results achieved (if any) are also not sustainable.
4. Social inconvenience in meal choice
We love sharing mealtime with friends & family. And when you are on some strict dietary restriction (I actually want to say 'some weird fancy crash diet'), it becomes socially inconvenient or difficult for you to follow these restrictions. Imagine that your friends / family members are eating your favorite dish, which is not a part of your 'fancy diet plan' or these are your fasting hours. In this situation, you are left with no option than to stare at their dishes. Or, you can concede defeat to your temptation and fail at your diet plan and feel guilty.
5. Track what you are losing, fats or muscles?
Skipping meals, following crash diets / liquid diets, taking some magic(???) shakes instead of meals are some trends lately. They are popular because they give results. It is quite obvious. Low calorie intake leads to weight loss. But is that a healthy weight loss? What are you losing? fats or muscles?
The answer, here, is 'muscles'. Yes, you are losing your precious muscle weight. And when you lose your body muscle weight, it leads to reduced metabolic rate. Secondly, your muscles hold your skeleton in place. If your muscles are weak, they cannot provide support to your skeleton. The least that can happen is body posture changes & sagged skin.
We can not only focus on calorie intake. We need to consider the expenditure as well. The simple logic is: Intake < expenditure leads to weight loss.
However, it's a mistake to just keep on reducing the intake. Calorie expenditure also needs to be increased by increasing physical activity. For this, the key is consistency in appropriate intensity of exercise for sufficient duration. Exercise also helps us accelerate our metabolic rate. Hence, regular physical activity is mandatory to reduce weight.
7. Clinical factors
There are many other clinical factors such as Hormonal imbalance (like PCOS, Thyroid etc.), chronic diseases (like Diabetes, Heart diseases, High BP etc.) which can lower the rate of weight loss. In such cases, our first aim should be to get these clinical factors under control & weight loss goes hand in hand. We just cannot focus on one factor & neglect the other.
If your health adviser is only focusing on the numbers on the weighing scale, think twice before following those fancy diets. I am sure that you do not want to end up in additional health issues.
Last but not the least; consistency is the key to stay fit & healthy. For that, one must accept healthy lifestyle. Anything that is temporary (let that be a diet or activity) doesn't give sustainable results. Before following any diet or lifestyle change, ask yourself a few questions:
- Can I follow it for long run or is it a temporary change?
- Can I merge this change in my routine / culture etc. making it sustainable?
9. Is the weight loss achieved sustainable?
The answer lies in all the points discussed above. If you do not meet daily requirements of macronutrients and lose muscle weight instead, this leads to reduced metabolic rate (calorie burning capacity). And if the diet you are following is not going to sustain for long run (far different from your traditional diet), when you switch back to your traditional meals, weight bounces back rapidly. And in most of the cases, you gain more weight than what you had lost.
It sounds too much after reading.
How can I do it??
It's simple.... just visit a qualified dietitian and let them (him / her) handle it. They will give you a tailor-made diet chart that is for 'YOU'. Choose your dietitian wisely. And most importantly, just stay consistent & believe in yourself. YouCAN do it.