I recently had a talk with a client that I thought would be a good subject to expand on as a coaching tip for the blog. Basically, this client has a good understanding of what to eat and what not to eat and is staying pretty much "inside the white lines" when it comes to healthy food choices. The problem is she’s not losing weight despite being on a healthy diet. Needless to say, she’s a bit frustrated with cleaning up her diet so much but not seeing the scale move.
With a little questioning it quickly became clear there were issues with overeating and portion control. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again….getting on a diet of “healthy” foods and cutting out the processed garbage is NOT a guarantee for fat loss. While this is certainly part of the equation, and needed mind you, but without a caloric deficit at some point, there’s not much need for the body to tap into energy reserves (fat).
For some individuals switching from “bad” to “good” foods is all they have to do and they start to see the weight falling off. This is the result of better nutrition at the cellular level, reduced inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity, and wait for it….a deficit in energy intake. They were now eating fewer calories than before. Fat loss is always the result of hormonal and chemical messages signaling the body to release stored energy. The quality of calories we consume from food and drink is important and so is the quantity of calories.
As my client is learning through frustration it’s certainly possible to over-consume high quality calories from whole, natural foods.
Again let me repeat for emphasis….the quantity of calories does matter!
This isn’t to say that you have to go around counting calories all the time. In fact, I advocate against calorie counting in the long-term. Sure, it’s definitely helpful to keep a food journal and assess caloric and nutrient intake during the start of a weight loss program. But the purpose of this practice is not to focus on being exact with your calories. It’s about creating habits and having a better understanding of what you’re really consuming.
More on calories and dieting in a second. First, let’s address this issue with overeating.
Here’s the simple trick that you can use to help you avoid overeating and better manage portion control.
This works surprisingly well, and you’ll be amazed at how effective it can be.
About 30 minutes before a meal consume a small amount (between 7-10 grams) of healthy fat.
A good example would be a handful of raw almonds, walnuts, or sunflower seeds. Another favorite of mine that I often use is a tablespoon of coconut oil or almond butter.
So why in the heck would this be effective?
Because this triggers your hormonal system to send signals to your brain that reduces hunger BEFORE you actually sit down to your meal.
This small amount of fat stimulates production of something called CCK (Cholecystokinin) which is a peptide hormone in the gastrointestinal tract. The combination of CCK release and the decrease in ghrelin levels (hunger hormone) helps you to sit down and enjoy a meal without overeating.
If you think about it, all you’re doing is getting a “jump start” on sending the right chemical and hormonal messages to your brain that energy is coming in and it can ease off on the hunger signals. If you sit and just start “chowing down” by the time the satiety signals kick in you’ve already overeaten.
This is another good reason why you should SLOW DOWN when you’re eating.
Approximately 60-70 calories from fat is all that’s needed to stimulate CCK production so you don’t need a lot. Literally a handful of nuts eaten 20 minutes before a meal can make a big difference in helping you to not overeat.
If you were to consume some potato chips, candy, crackers, etc, prior to a meal the exact OPPOSITE is likely to happen. You’re more prone to overeating due to the chemical and hormonal responses that come from eating sugar, processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, etc.
Dietary fat is NOT your enemy in a weight loss program. In fact, on many levels it’s one of the biggest allies you’ve got.
Alright, back to this calorie issue before we wrap up…
The truth is you’re going to need BOTH periods of caloric restriction and periodic re-feeding during a fat loss program. Just because you may lose some weight at say 1200 calories, or whatever, doesn’t mean you’ll continue to lose weight at that number indefinitely.
If this was the case weight loss would be a simple equation and anybody who could count and measure would be ensured success. This whole idea that you have to periodically break your diet/restriction and up calories throws a lot of people for a loop. They can’t get their head around the fact that eating “more” will actually help them continue to lose fat.
It comes down to not understanding metabolism and how the human body works. I can certainly understand the dilemma though. You restrict calories and lose 3-4 pounds and all of a sudden the weight loss stops. The initial reaction is not to eat more, it’s to eat less! Big mistake though as this only further causes a down-regulation in metabolism along with elevating cortisol levels.
The secret to fat loss in nutshell minus eating the right foods part (quality of calories) is essentially “eat, stop, eat.” You’ve got periods of restriction and periods of eating to meet energy demands. It’s how the human body has evolved. You’re wired to store fat much more easily than letting it go. In order to burn off the reserve fuel stores you’ve got to condition your body to avoid triggering the primal “fat storing” switches with prolonged restrictions.
If you’re stuck in weight loss plateau chances are you’ve restricted calories for too long and have triggered a down-regulation in your metabolic rate while simultaneously turning on the “fat storing” switches. Further restriction will only make things worse!
You’ll need to reset your metabolism by bumping your energy intake back up. I know this sounds counter-intuitive but it’s the truth.
Ok, that’s it for today. Hope the tips were helpful. As always please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be of assistance with troubleshooting a plateau or helping to put together a personalized plan for you.
Be blessed - Shane
Shane Doll CPT, CSCS is a fitness professional and expert on exercise and body transformation for middle age and mature adults. He seeks to make a difference in the lives of others by providing instruction and coaching with a servant-based attitude. Since 2004 his Charleston personal training programs have helped over 3,000 Lowcountry residents.
Subscribe to get weekly updates on all my latest content and news. I value your privacy and will never share your information with a third party. Give you my word to deliver valuable content but you can opt out at any time.