Have a plan ready when you hit a weight-loss plateau!
Part 3: Increase your exercise regimen–think outside the gym box!
This is the third part of a five-part series of tips on what to do when you hit a weight-loss plateau. Please review the past blog posts; Weight-loss Plateau Introduction, Part 1: Affirm Your Commitment and Part 2: Reassess Your Dietary Approach. Remember that dieting produces small results that are often temporary, and lifestyle modification is a long-term plan that produces lasting weight loss results as a byproduct of returning your body to health. When creating an effective lifestyle modification plan, it needs to be comprehensive, realistic and actionable. Revisiting and tweaking your lifestyle modification plan is where I start when I hit a plateau.
Last week we covered the calories-in side of the weight-loss equation and this week we move on to the calories-out side of the weight-loss equation. In order to maximize weight-loss, you need to concentrate on both sides of the weight-loss equation.
There is absolutely nothing about exercise that we are meant to enjoy. In fact, we are hard-wired as Homo sapiens to avoid all meaningless expenditure of calories. Homo sapiens are the most successful animals on the planet. Our bodies developed over long periods of time in an environment of food scarcity where we had to literally fight to find calories in order to survive. In this context of food scarcity success as a species was very simple. We are successful when we thrive and reproduce. In order to ensure success without having to understand the big picture, our bodies developed what are called biological feedback systems to help us remain on the path of success leading us to thrive and reproduce. All medically educated people learn about many biological feedback systems our bodies continually use to subconsciously keep our bodies functioning properly.
Douglas Lisle in his book The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force That Undermines Health & Happiness calls one set of biological feedback systems he has identified the “motivational triad.” These feedback systems operate subconsciously and help us to thrive and reproduce without us even knowing about it. The motivational triad involves three very simple biological feedback systems; seek pleasure, avoid pain and conserve energy. These basic genetic instincts are what drive our behavior as human beings and will lead to either success or failure. The motivation to seek pleasure is why eating is pleasurable, eating food with more calories is even more pleasurable and is why pleasure is involved with our drive to reproduce. Avoiding pain keeps us away from activities like eating toxic foods that do not help us thrive and reproduce. Emotional pain or being unhappy is also associated with activities that make us less desirable to the opposite sex and decrease the likelihood of reproduction. As developing Homo sapiens the genetic instinct to conserve energy is what prevented us from wasting the calories we fought so hard to find and consume on meaningless physical activity.
We did not exercise for exercise’s sake. Our bodies were honed and kept in excellent condition by the basic requirements of survival. When we exercise or do work, we use fuel in our bodies called carbohydrates. We get these carbohydrates in our bodies by consuming food in the form of calories. When we consume more calories than we need our bodies to store this extra energy in the form of glycogen or fat so that we can use it at a later date. Ancestors without this ability to efficiently store large amounts of energy in fat would not have lived to reproduce. We are all descendants of individuals with a highly developed ability to store energy this way. Getting fat easily doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. It means that you are a descendant of a very successful human being. Human beings that did not gain weight easily have no descendants; that is a fact you can not argue with!
In our original environmental context of scarcity, the motivational triad helped us become the most successful animals on the planet. But what helped us to be successful in a context of scarcity now betrays us in a context of plenty. We are hard-wired to crave the most calorie-dense foods and we are predisposed to avoid exercise. That is the exact opposite of the weight-loss equation!
When you are considering exercise either at the start of lifestyle modification or readdressing it at a weight-loss plateau it is helpful to know what kinds of genetic instincts you are battling. In our present context, the struggle for survival no longer provides what our bodies need to remain toned, strong, and healthy. There is no longer a physical struggle to survive so we now need to graft an exercise regime onto our lives.
A huge framed poster of my favorite Bruce Lee quote hangs in my living room. It used to hang in my gym to remind me that exercise is the physical manifestation of my desire to return my body to health.
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.”
– Bruce Lee
Your commitment to lifestyle modification is steadfast and unchanging, but your plan is dynamic and has to be based on your willingness and ability to change, given what is going on in your life at a particular moment in time. What you feel and think is important, but what you do is where the results are!
Just like choosing a diet strategy, your exercise plan needs to be something that you are both willing and able to do, given what is going on in your life at a particular moment in time in your life. The exercise regime you started with may not be adequate now. Remember that your plan is dynamic and your level of willingness or ability to follow through may have changed. You may be ready to double down and increase your exercise regimen or it may be time to back off for a while and reduce your exercise regimen to something you are willing and able to engage in. Choosing an exercise regimen that is more than you can do is just as bad as choosing an exercise regime that is not ambitious enough. Many times, I find that a plateau can be attributed to a change in my schedule that does not allow me to exercise as much. It can also be the opposite where I have more free time and I am watching too much TV and eating popcorn when what I need to do is increase my exercise regimen. Both sides of the weight-loss equation need to be considered in order to deal with a plateau. The important thing is to stay committed to lifestyle modification, just change the plan to fit your new circumstances!
Remember that exercise does not have to involve anything but YOU! You don’t need a gym membership or any fancy expensive equipment.
I pay attention to the weight loss and longevity pros for advice on exercise.
The National Weight Control Registry is a 26-year-old study of more than 10,000 people that have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least one year. Ninety-four% of study participants reporting walking as the most frequent form of exercise!
In his book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest () Dan Buettner identified five “Blue Zones” which are geographic locations where people reach age 100 at ten times greater rates than all but one place in the United States. That one place is Loma Linda, Calif., and it is one of the five Blue Zones. He found that the lifestyles of all Blue Zone residents shared nine specific characteristics, and they have little to do with isolated markers and more to do with general lifestyle habits. One of those characteristics is that they move naturally. That is, exercise is not specifically sought out as an activity; it is incorporated into their natural life over the course of a day. None of them pump iron, run marathons or even join gyms. They just live an active lifestyle.
Double down with exercise, but don’t lose your head, just incorporate it into your life. Start tomorrow when you go to work by selecting the farthest parking spot from the door or take the stairs instead of riding the elevator and get more steps in! The important thing is not to stop; just tweak your lifestyle modification plan!
Next week we’ll talk about how ways to increase your satisfaction with food with umami!
Here are the references for today’s Healthy Eating Tip:
Lisle, Douglas J. and Alan Goldhammer. The Pleasure Trap. Summertown, TN: Healthy
Living Publications, 2003.
The National Weight Control Registry. http://www.nwcr.ws
Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic Society, 2010.
Buettner, Dan, and Sam Skemp. Blue Zones: Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived. American journal of lifestyle medicine July 7, 2016;10:5 318-321.