As the rates of overweight and obesity continue to rise in the United States, an increasing number of people are in need of effective, long-term weight loss strategies. No matter how efficient, sustainable, and well-structured these strategies might be, there are certain unavoidable realities of long-term weight loss. Understanding the daily realities of what clients with weight loss goals go through can give us insight into ways we can help support them.
You Will Be Hungry (And Probably Hangry)
The human body is constantly trying to achieve a state of homeostasis. Anytime you deviate from what’s comfortable or normal to it, you will have to make a conscious effort to overcome it.
Often times attempts to lose weight are stymied by the desire to see significant results in a short amount of time. Weight loss requires patience. When a person tries a crash diet or any short-term weight loss plan, the results often come from a considerable reduction in calories. It’s in our nature to hate the feeling of hunger, however our biology has a great system for producing energy when our food intake is insufficient to meet our energy demand: stored body fat.
Yes, hunger is uncomfortable. If you’re a person who is used to acquiescing to every dip in your blood sugar levels, you’re going to have a hard time with this facet of weight loss. The degree of hunger you feel will usually be commensurate with your calorie deficit. The larger the deficit, the more hunger you will feel.
This is partially why it is recommended to lose 0.5 lbs to 2 lbs per week: a greater rate of weight loss is unsustainable from a willpower perspective, primarily. However, a person with more weight to lose will likely see greater weight loss in the first couple of months. This rate will usually slow down to the recommended rate of weight loss over time.
If you’re human and don’t like feeling hungry, try a more modest calorie deficit (250-500 calories per day). The results will not come as quickly, but the feelings of hunger will be diminished. You can create this deficit with a combination of increased activity and a decrease in food intake. For example: eating 200 calories less, the equivalent of a Snickers bar, and walking an additional 3 miles will yield a net calorie reduction of about 500 calories. Try either one of these strategies independently for an even more modest calorie reduction.
Hunger is your body’s signal that if you do not find fresh food soon, it will have to tap into its energy stores. This is what you’re trying to accomplish with weight loss goals. It is a dolorous part of the process that you will likely experience. Tracking calories is a useful tool to establish a baseline of awareness of food consumption. As you become more familiar with what quantities of food are most compatible with your goals, your method of awareness may evolve into a less overtly-conscious effort as you transition into healthier habits overall.
You Will Receive Unsolicited Advice
This is an annoying aspect of any weight loss journey that does not garner enough consideration. Because of all the confusing and sometimes contradictory health, diet, and weight loss information, it seems like no matter what strategy you adopt there will always be someone to tell you why you’re wrong or what you could be doing better. These armchair experts almost never live the advice they freely give, and they are to be ignored.
You’re already feeling uncomfortable because you’re making changes in your life. This affront to your decisions can feel like you are being attacked for your choices. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. A wide variety of strategies have proven effective to help individuals reach their goals. A weight-loss strategy is only effective if it is adhered to consistently, and everyone’s journey is different. If you feel the path you have chosen to lose weight does so in a way that fits into your lifestyle and goals, and you can stick with it for a long time, do not give these people’s advice a second thought.
Your Social Interactions Will Change (You May Be Sabotaged)
It is exceedingly common for acts of sabotage to happen at social gatherings, especially around the holidays. These get-togethers almost always revolve around food, and they provide an opportunity for people to give unwanted comments about what’s on your plate. Some may ask why you’re not having the cake or other dessert items. You reply that you’ve been losing weight and don’t want any. “Oh, come on,” they say. “Just a little. You deserve it.”
This is the most common and least malicious form of sabotage. From their perspective, they want you to be included in the communal event. From your perspective, it can feel like they are not respecting your decision to be healthier. Other sabotage may come in the form of shaming from friends that you used to party with. If you’ve chosen to reduce your participation in bar crawls and late-night fast food, that may mean that you see this group of people less often. If these people are unsupportive of your new priorities, you may find that you lose a couple hundred pounds quickly by dropping these friends.
Fostering relationships with people who are supportive of your goals, help you find ways to ease the burden of your challenges, and help you create an environment that allows you to succeed is paramount for long-term success. It feels impossible to make progress if you’re always swimming against the stream.
It’s Normal to Feel Like You’re Not Making Progress
Objective markers of progress, such as body composition, scale trends, body circumference measurements, workout logs, and progress pictures, are important in being able to tell if your efforts are proving fruitful. Yet, it can feel like progress comes slowly. Your body shape may not change in the way you thought it would. When you look in the mirror, you may not see notice any changes. Your workouts might not feel like they’re getting easier. The scale is moving, but everything still seems so hard.
Progress comes slowly and requires persistent effort. Because change can feel like it happens at a glacial pace, it’s important to keep objective markers of progress to remind yourself of where you started and how far you’ve come. Sometimes the only way to understand the amount of progress that has been made is to compare a current photo to a photo from a few months or even a year prior.
Subjective markers of progress are just as important when it comes to new health habits. Feeling stronger, having more energy, noticing clearer skin, deeper sleep, improved mood, improved ability to deal with stress, fewer aches and pains, improved digestive regularity, improved attention span, and learning new skills (like cooking) are examples of ways in which adopting new healthy habits can impact your life beyond body size.
The daily experience of clients trying to lose weight is important to understand so that as trainers we can better support our clients. It is difficult enough for them to change their habits without us inadvertently adding to their burden. Losing weight is hard work. Empathy is a key trait of any successful trainer. Change is scary, but necessary. Celebrate their victories, help them get through their setbacks, and, most importantly, be their biggest cheerleader.