Go Messy or Go Hungry

Maybe you don’t need to lose weight next year

Jan 2, 2021 | Articles, Healthy habits, Nutrition Basics

Maybe you don't need to lose weight next year | GMGH

‘Tis the season… for new years’ resolutions to lose weight, eat better, and/or get in shape. And for good reason — I know I’m feeling gross and bloated from a week or two of eating waaay more sugar and drinking more alcohol than normal. Plus, 2020 was one hell of a year (to put it lightly), and maybe between just trying to stay afloat you put on some weight you didn’t intend to.

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It’s understandable to want to turn over a fresh page and vow to do better in 2021. And I know how easy it is to set super ambitious goals, but I’ve learned the hard way that doing that ends up being detrimental to my health instead of helpful. Especially when it comes to weight loss (or even the desire to get in shape), it’s hard to sort through the noise and know what to do or where to start.

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My hope for this post is to arm you with some of the knowledge I wish somebody had told me years ago, and give you some thoughts to consider before you set those goals for next year.

In theory, losing weight is not complicated

Scientifically, the mechanism behind losing or gaining weight is straightforward — it’s a balance between how much energy we consume (calories in food) and how much energy we expend (via normal body functions + exercise or activity). If someone eats more than their body uses, they gain weight. If they eat less than their body uses, they lose weight.

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So I know the solution can seem simple — just eat less and you’ll lose weight! Or maybe, go to the gym more! — because that’s what I tried to do for years and years. And yes sometimes it can be that simple. But in practice, the human body is much more complicated than a simple equation. (I know. It’s a bummer.)

There is no magic diet

Carbs are not evil, and food is not inherently good or bad (yes, even that giant plate of Christmas cookies). Keto, intermittent fasting, whole30 etc. can all cause weight loss because they end up restricting calories. Because if someone stops eating foods high in carbs, or stops drinking, or cuts down the window of time in which they eat… they’ll likely be eating less. And remember from above: if someone loses weight from starting any of the above diets, that just means that they’re eating less than their body is using.

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I believe (and studies have shown!) that the “best” diet is one that YOU enjoy, makes you feel good, and that is sustainable (as in, you’re not counting down the days till it’s over, or looking forward to cheat meals).

Your body cares about survival first

I know this one is hard but: your body isn’t trying to sabotage you. It’s just trying to keep you alive. Your body needs a certain amount of energy (food) just to stay alive, and it’s probably more than you think. For reference, that number for me (a 5’6″ 140 lbs female) is in the ballpark of 1400 calories. That’s just to keep my body functioning. In the not too distant past, I regularly ate like 1200-1400 calories a day. Yes, for literal years I ate less than my body needed to function. This causes the body to down regulate “non-essential” functions like sex drive and hormone production (don’t need to reproduce if you’re in survival mode), digestion, the immune system, and even brain function. As you can imagine, I felt like shit.

Eating less will lower your metabolism

Your metabolism isn’t broken, and there’s no magic pill you can take to change it. The fact is that eating less over time will down regulate your body’s metabolism (and conversely, eating more over time will make your metabolism faster). So remember how I was eating 1400 calories a day for years? Yeah, my metabolism adapted to only be able to handle that amount. So even if I ate, say 1500 calories a day for a few weeks (still barely enough for my body to function btw), I would probably gain weight. Which I definitely didn’t want to do, since I was terrified of gaining weight. So I was stuck in this cycle of eating less and less

Maybe you don’t need to lose weight

You can see how consistently dieting or trying to lose weight all the time will eventually stop working and even backfire. I sadly know this from experience — I was caught in this cycle of eating less and less because I was so focused on not gaining weight, meanwhile depriving my body of the energy it needed to function. I’ve talked before about the burnout I went through a year or two ago — that was just the perfect storm of issues that had been building for years. The only way I could dig myself out of the hole I was in was to let go of focusing on how I looked, and focus instead of how I felt — and make “feeling better” the goal instead.

So for your consideration: might I suggest some alternatives to the new year’s resolutions that are so focused on how we look? Here are some of the things I’ve been focusing on over the past year instead:

  • Rest
  • Give yourself permission to be as you are
  • Eat food that makes you feel good (see my post about the low FODMAP diet)
  • Try eating more and notice how it makes you feel (and try letting go of how it might make you look)
  • Exercise for physical and mental health, not to punish yourself or to make yourself look a certain way
  • Ask yourself, “what is my body trying to tell me?”
  • Find a people who’s principles align with yours and can help you on the above and more (therapist, nutritionist, trainer, gym buddy, etc.)

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