I am not talking about a treadmill, or elliptical or even a stationary bike here! This is when we are frantically trying to make progress, busting our butts to move forward and we aren’t going anywhere at all! This is the most frustrating position we find ourselves in as we try to lose weight or become more fit. It’s even more frustrating than figuring out where to start, because at least in that situation, you have some kind of direction: how do I get started?
When we are ‘doing everything right’ and not making progress, it’s almost unbearable. Obviously, we aren’t doing everything right, but what is it we are doing wrong? Maybe it’s nothing we are doing but what we aren’t doing. Maybe it’s something external that’s affecting us. Maybe it’s a plateau. Maybe, maybe, maybe!! Still not helping us move forward!! What do I do? How do I fix this? Can I even be fixed??
I know you don’t want to hear this but the best way to figure this out is to slow down. We need to approach this like a detective or a doctor and ask a few simple questions to narrow down the culprit: 1) When did I stop making progress? and 2) What has changed since that date? If you are tracking your progress, this should be a matter of looking back through your journal or whatever you use. Of course there isn’t going to be a big red flag proclaiming: THIS IS WHEN YOU WENT OFF TRACK! so you need to look back at the last date you know you were on target and then move forward to the present. This is why you need to slow down, because even though it’s only two questions, there are a lot of things that come into play and if you aren’t tracking all of them, or at least making notes, then it’s going to be a little more complicated. Another big reason you need to slow down is that if you just start making arbitrary changes, like “I’ll eat more protein and less carbs!”; “I’ll add more reps/ time to my workouts!”; “I’ll switch up my workouts from cardio to weight training!”, you might not be addressing the problem. If the problem is too many indulgences, working out more might help, but not as much as cutting back on the indulgences. Also, if the problem is over-training, adding in more workouts is just going to make it worse!
Like I said, it helps if you are tracking and depending on your personality. I use the My Fitness Pal app but I also use a paper journal. The MFP app is good for nutrition calculation, water, counting calories and it’s awesome for support. I also use the Fitbit app for calculating sleep and activity and the paper journal is also where I track my food, portions, macros, calories and all the little incidentals that I don’t put in MFP simply because it’s easier to write a little note and it’s a whole lot easier to flip through. The paper journal I use is the DietMinder from MemoryMinder.com, although I get mine from Amazon. It’s two pages per day and it’s good for 90 days.
When you start looking at your notes or journal, what you want to look for are things like the obvious and then move on to some of the more stealthy culprits:
- Too many calories, even if it’s just creeping up or down by a few calories a day or are you not being accurate with your portion sizes?
- Macros (fat, protein, carbs)- did your ratio change?
- Activity- are you moving more, less or did you change your routine?
- Sleeping less? Or more? Not good sleep?
- Stress level: up or down
- Water- how much are you getting?
- Other changes in eating habits, like eating out more, eating more or less salty/ sugary/ different foods; or fasting
- Injury or illness: obviously if you’re hurt or sick, your body is going to put most of the focus on repair and recovery or it could affect your activity level
- Medication changes: this can have a huge impact on how your body burns or stores fuel!
One of the stupidest (and yes, I mean STUPID) statements I heard on My 600 lb Life is when a patient poo-poohed Dr. Now’s calorie limit, because she said “I can look at a food and immediately calculate the number of calories, the protein and the fat in it.” Seriously!! I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that! I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating portion sizes, but I still weigh my food to make sure that I’m eating the amount I think I’m eating, because calories sneak up on you this way. They also get away from you the same way. I fry some bacon and I think it’s about two ounces but it’s more like three, so there’s a lot more calories than I had estimated. At the same time, if I think I’ve eaten more veggies than I have, then there’s less calories, but also less fiber and less vitamins. Macros matter mainly because fat and protein tend to keep you feeling fuller longer than carbs do, so it may be that you think you’re getting enough of those necessary nutrients but you aren’t and as a result, you feel hungry and eat more.
It can also be that you’ve stopped being as active as you used to be while your calories have stayed the same. That can be really confusing, because it may feel like you’re really busy, but that can be the stress playing tricks on you. Stress and lack of sleep will also mess with your progress in big ways: your body goes into survival mode even if the stress isn’t physical. The brain is still sending the Under Attack signal to your hormones and as a result you tend to store fat instead of burning it and you can also feel more hungry since the body is trying to hold on to everything it can, including food, fat and water.
Changes in medication can be really stealthy culprits and one of the biggest is insulin. Many people who are obese are type 2 diabetic and if your doctor has you on a medication that produces or mimics insulin or suppresses your satiety hormone leptin or increases the hunger hormone ghrelin, you could be storing more fat due to insulin or insulin mimic, not feeling full when you’ve eaten enough (leptin) or feeling hungry all the time (ghrelin). Several of my family members have been on steroids, especially Prednisone, which makes you feel hungry all the time! You never feel full while taking it! If your doctor has given you a new prescription or made changes, read the pamphlet that comes with it or look at some of the side effects that come with it. Talk to your doctor or your pharmacist, because it may be a drug interaction that is behind it and not just the drug itself. FYI: this includes herbal supplements and vitamins!
If you think you’ve found the culprit sabotaging your progress, you not only need to make changes, you need to track those changes! Note the changes you’re making and then give yourself some time to see if there is improvement. Again, I know you don’t want to hear that we need to slow down, but seriously, if you’ve upped your workout times or changed your macros or calories, are you really going to see a change in three days or even a week? It may be the right change for you but if you wait a week and nope- not improving! let’s switch to keto!, you may have just sabotaged yourself!
Slowing down really stinks, but if you don’t take the time to figure out what’s going on and what you need to do, it doesn’t matter how “fast” you go or think you are going- because you still won’t be getting anywhere! Patience, tracking and a little investigation can go a long way to fixing problems that result in progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Most of us would rather be fast than thorough, including me! When I feel like that, I look at Wyatt Earp’s quote stuck on my cubicle wall: “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Bulls-eye!