I’m on autopilot

Date: May 23, 2012my favorite autopilot from "Airplane: The Movie"

Weigh in day. No loss and no gain for the week.

A quick internet search of “weight loss plateau” reveals numerous articles that readily blame our bodies for adjusting to the initial, easy weight loss we experience when starting a new diet. The increased efficiency in our metabolism, if we’ve been diligently exercising, explains why it becomes harder and harder to lose weight the longer we diet. Plus, as we lose weight we need fewer calories to maintain our current weight. Common knowledge assures us that muscle weighs more than fat and the more we exercise the better our bodies get at working more efficiently.

That all makes sense, and there’s a lot of truth in that. Plus, it makes me feel better to hear science blame my “enhanced physical condition” (about.com) on my stalled weight loss rather than my pathetic lack of willpower or accurate awareness of what I’m eating every day.

The following suggestions for getting beyond weight loss plateaus, listed on several different websites, include:

1. Changing up your exercise routine

2. Cutting back on carbs

3. Increasing low fat protein intake

4. Lowering stress levels by doing yoga or meditating

5. Incorporating more weight resistance into workouts

6. Drinking more water

7. Getting enough sleep

A few sites go on further to suggest that after an initial loss, we start using “fuzzy math” to track our calories or we get a bit complacent and need to re-focus on our goals. That’s the message that resonates with me. Rather than blame my body’s increased efficiency and my awesome athleticism (ha), I need to get real with myself and admit my math skills are lacking when it comes to counting calories.

This is my typical pattern: I easily lose the initial four or five pounds, my clothes fit better, and I feel like I’m cruising to my stated goal and can switch to autopilot. That means I ease up on my efforts to track my food intake.

While I’m still diligently following my workout plan, I have to admit that I’ve quit tracking what I eat and I’ve quit being as pro-active in planning my meals. During the past two weeks I’ve simply eaten what my teenagers are eating, thinking that portion control alone will work. The problem with that strategy is that my teenagers mostly eat like crap and it’s much harder to reign in portions of the kinds of super yummy, high-fat, calorie-laden foods they enjoy guilt-free.

I like this article, from the Huffington Post, “The Truth about Weight Loss Plateaus.” The article points out that the true reason for a stall in weight loss is most likely due to the fact that, after dieting for some time, we simply have a natural tendency to revert back to our old eating habits. Quoting the lead author of recent research that was published last year in The Lancet, the article reveals, “It would take the body three years to reach a metabolic plateau. If you stick to a diet exactly, you should expect your weight loss to continue for years, albeit not at the same rate.”

And, “while it’s easier for our psyches to blame a waning metabolism than a lack of willpower, [the study’s] findings showed that most people who experience a weight loss plateau…are reverting back to pre-diet behaviors.”

Guilty. And while the study points out that most people revert to their old habits after six to eight months, I’ve reverted after just over a month. Guess that means I’m an overachiever.

The article continues, “It’s more disheartening to have false expectations set up. More often than not, we’re going to backpedal, sometimes unconsciously, and undo some of our dieting success. So accept that you’re going to have a few slip-ups, but be honest about where those pitfalls lie instead of pointing a finger at the scale. It’s the first step in recovering from a dreaded plateau and working toward your ultimate fitness and weight loss goal, whatever that may be.”

So my reminder for the week is to stay focused on my goal and brush up on those math skills.

My main motivation for reaching my weight loss goal? Once I hit my goal weight I’ll be able to finally quit posting these very public weekly weigh in confessions.

I can’t wait.


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