How Weight Loss Makes You Fatter

JenWeightLossFatterScaleMy weight fluctuates between 143 and 148 pounds, and I feel very comfortable anywhere in that range. I should note, of course, that what the scale says does not matter as long as you like how you look and feel good in your skin — and that when I list this weight range, it assumes the level of muscle mass that I prefer to carry. What I am saying, essentially, is that I know what I look like at these weights — or close to them — when I’m carrying the amount of muscle I prefer to be carrying (and it is a fair bit; as I like to point out, I am a physically dense mother$%@#er), and that is part and parcel of the definition of “weight” for me. I’ll show you what happens when you’re trying to lose weight rather than cut fat. (Foreshadowing!)

I have maintained existence in this range since The Great Fitness Project of 2008, when I well and truly took responsibility for my own health and fitness for the first time (and on a larger scale, my life — more about that another time). That is, until this past winter: a stressful, apathetic, treacherous one, as it relates to those same topics. I’ll cut myself some slack here: I made some major life changes, including leaving the nest of the magazine I’d worked at for a decade and embarking on a wild new career in which I run my own writing and training business. It is wonderful. It is stressful.

The Creep
But back to my weight! The super short version is, it crept up. It’s not a mystery why: To quote my friend Clifton Harski, I ate like an asshole — oversized meals where I left the table feeling stuffed, plus many, many desserts. And, I worked out more sporadically than I have in years.

One year ago almost to the day, I was happily cruising along within my range with only minor fluctuations based on training, diet, water retention and other factors. Standard. Then, things got a little crazier at work, and I was, at the same time, dieting down for a photo shoot in mid-September. This netted out to fewer workouts, less food. I landed in the bottom of my range, at 143, and was happy with the look of the photos, even though I ended up putting on a little body fat in the process, when you compare the numbers (see below).

After that, I continued my erratic workout schedule. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I never worked out — I just wasn’t working out as often as I prefer to, which is anywhere from three to five times a week (with a couple twos and sixes thrown in there from time to time).

Add in eating like an asshole and the high life stress of that time and you’ve got a recipe for weight gain (pun totally intended). I watched, without judgement or self-hatred (as I said, my attention was needed elsewhere in my life), as the pounds and the percentage rose over the months, with an exception of the beginning of January when I was sick for a week and couldn’t eat…or lift.

My body fat continued to climb, and I started to really worry about the direction I was heading. Again, a little perspective: My body fat was not, at any point, outside of what qualifies as “normal,” and I wasn’t in super freak-out mode about it — it was, in the grand scheme of things, just a little bit of extra weight. I didn’t feel that I was a less good person, and I didn’t love my life any less. I was, however, starting to feel less comfortable in my skin and, as I used to do, I was once again dressing artfully to hide certain body parts.

In the past, all I needed to do to drop pounds was to stop being an asshole about food and lift a little more often, but it wasn’t as easy this time because, more than likely, the dieting I’d done (for the photo shoot in September, and during that January flu), along with the stress of the life changes, had set me up with a different starting point.

In addition — and I don’t want to dig too much into the topic here, but it bears mentioning — I’d also been practicing intermittent fasting (intermittently!) for a couple years, and I continued to throughout the job change, failing to recognize more stress is more stress, regardless of the package it arrives in. Meaning, if your life is stressful, your eating style had damn well better not be. (You’ll hear Eat Stop Eat founder and all-around smart guy Brad Pilon say the same thing.)

All things considered, my metabolism wasn’t the fiery, food-burning engine it had been last summer, and even when I started to get back to normal, less assholish eating, more sessions in the gym, and more restoration time (working all the time is the pits), progress was slower than before, and at times felt nonexistant. “These are hard yards,” I told my friend Neghar.

I wondered out loud if it was my age. I wondered if I’d done metabolic damage to myself. A brief aside: For an absolutely mind-blowing read on how to unf#&@ your metabolism — including a pretty rad section on how to treat the scale — I highly recommend picking up a copy of Leigh Peele’s ebook, Starve Mode.

Taking Stock, Making Smart Changes
You know what turned things around for me? A visit at the beginning of June from my good friend Jill Coleman, founder and president of JillFit Physiques, a thriving body-transformation coaching biz, and director of instructor training at Metabolic Effect.

She didn’t put me on a strict diet, nor did we spend our week together talking about nothing but food. More than anything, I simply watched her in action — the “preemptive cheats” she indulged in, and what she took a pass on 100 percent of the time.

It was eye opening, and she made it look effortless…because it is. Because she’s set it up to be so by experimenting with what works for her, and executing it in a sane, healthy manner.

After she left, I adopted a number of her practical strategies, and rejected a bunch more — I’ve discovered what works for me during this time period of my life, and I’ll adapt as necessary in the future. But here’s the thing: It’s less about practical strategies and more about embracing a mindset shift. It’s whole-heartedly rejecting the quick-fix mentality of dieting. Rather, it’s about being focused on behaviors rather than outcomes, and being more patient with the process (and yourself in that process).

Quite honestly, there isn’t a whole lot different about my beliefs or behaviors surrounding food, other than that I’ve gotten markedly more strategic about eating — especially where dessert is concerned. And — this is a biggie — I’ve started focusing on what I plan to eat rather than what I plan not to eat. I’ve also gotten my ass back into the gym with a high degree of consistency to cultivate dat muscle.

But more than anything, I have changed my mind. And though I didn’t have far to go, I ended up where I wanted to be.

I’ll share my results, with a few caveats: The scale can make a person crazy. And there’s a lot that can affect its reading: body fat, sure, but also food volume, fluid levels, water retention or edema, as Peele points out in her book. I know from experience that the scale doesn’t make me crazy, because I treat it without emotion, as a simple tool for watching what numbers are associated to what behaviors, including lack of sleep and stress levels. I have a Withings scale, which also provides a body-fat reading (taken through bioelectrical impedence). There were absolutely varying readings — I saw as high as 155 and 156 in there, with body-fat readings all over the map — but I’ve plucked out numbers below that reflect the general trend of weight and body fat during this timeframe.

A Year In Withings Numbers

WithingsImage

8/23/12: 146.3 pounds, 16.9 percent body fat

9/18/12: 143.2 pounds, 18.1 percent body fat

10/14/12: 148.5 pounds, 18.4 percent body fat

11/20/12: 150.6 pounds, 18.4 percent body fat

12/18/12: 148.8 pounds, 19 percent body fat

1/8/13: 144.6 pounds, 20 percent body fat

2/19/13: 151.5 pounds, 21.2 percent body fat

3/15/13: 152 pounds, 20.4 percent body fat

4/17/13: 152.9 pounds, 20.2 percent body fat

5/11/13: 153.1 pounds, 20.5 percent body fat

6/5/13: 153.7 pounds, 18.9 percent body fat

6/18/13: 150.4 pounds, 18.5 percent body fat

7/12/13: 149.5 pounds, 17.7 percent body fat

7/18/13: 148.6 pounds, 17.3 percent body fat

8/4/13: 145.8 pounds, 15.3 percent body fat

8/9/13: 146.2 pounds, 17.2 percent body fat

8/14/13: 146.7 pounds, 17 percent body fat

8/19/13: 146.9 pounds, 15.6 percent body fat

8/24/13: 145.8 pounds, 17.1 percent body fat

As the numbers reflect, I’m cruising now, back around the 17 percent body-fat reading that I prefer to maintain. And…it’s effortless, just the way a fat-loss lifestyle should be.

What follows is a guest post from Coleman. Pay close attention to her four tips for adopting a sustainable fat-loss lifestyle. And, if you want her to walk you through the process personally, I strongly encourage you to sign up for her popular “4-Week Fat-Loss Jump Start” program through Metabolic Effect, where she teaches you how to ditch dieting and set yourself up for fat-loss success for the long term.

___________________

How Weight Loss Makes You Fatter: A Post by Jill Coleman

Hi Jill,

I’m writing because I am desperate!!! I have tried EVERYTHING out there, every single diet: Paleo, HCG, Atkins, intermittent fasting…you name it, I’ve tried it! And NOTHING works!!! I’ve lost and gained the same 30 pounds at least five times in the last few years and I am sick and tired of it. My body DOES NOT RESPOND TO ANYTHING, and I am sooo fed up! 

I’m hoping you can help me because you seem to understand how much of a struggle this is. Sorry for this message but I am so sick hating my body and I honestly don’t know what to do. Do you have any advice for where I should start? I’ll try anything!!

Thank you for your time,

Shelley

This is a real email I received about six months ago, and since then, I’ve received about a hundred versions of the same message: Women struggling with not seeing results despite seeking out every diet, program, coach and expert, and hating their bodies as a result.

Do you ever wonder why fat loss has to be “so hard”?

I used to. But after more than 13 years in the industry and working with hundreds of women who want body change, I think the reason it seems so hard is because we — just like Shelley — jump on board with diet after diet, hoping that this time, this plan will be “the one.” That we will finally find the Magic Meal Plan, the one that’s been evading us for years.

And we are always left feeling discouraged and disappointed when, inevitably, we can’t follow the plan long-term and we end up gaining it all back (and often even more).

We know that this kind of up-and-down, all-or-nothing crash dieting does a number on our mindset, right? It can leave us feeling like a failure time and time again, to the point that we don’t believe we’ll ever succeed.

But what we might not realize is that yo-yo dieting actually makes us fatter in the long run, even if our weight always bounces back to its typical set point.

I learned this firsthand through years of doing fitness competitions. Every time I dieted down for a show, I lost fat, yes, but I also lost muscle. It was inevitable with the kind of nutritional restriction I practiced and hours of cardio I racked up. Not healthy by any means, but at the time I did what I needed to do, and though I don’t regret my time as a competitor, I wish I knew then what I know now.

So here’s what happened (and my experience not all that different from someone who doesn’t compete but has been a chronic dieter her entire life):

My first show, I started dieting at 18 percent body fat, only to drop to 11 percent at show time. Then, my second show, I started dieting at 19 percent body fat, to get down to 12 percent again on stage. Then, third show, I started at 21 percent body fat after an indulgent “off season,” only to reach 13 percent for the show. And on and on….

So every time I reverted to my “normal” eating after a show — and of course I did, because the strict diet and training of show prep was simply unsustainable to the point that I’d be practically sobbing out of deprivation by the time I got on stage — I skyrocketed back up to my previous body fat and beyond.

Simply put, dieting was making me fatter. Even if my weight remained the same, I was carrying more body fat and less muscle.

And, every show, it was harder to get lean again — it required more cardio, fewer carbs. My metabolism was simply becoming less and less responsive.

Does this sound familiar?

Cyclical weight loss and then gain over years leads to a relatively fatter physique and a less responsive metabolism. Ugh.

We can liken the human metabolism to tires on a car.  The more we wear it down over time through chronic dieting, the less responsive it becomes. This happens via hormones.

And as much as we’d like to believe the body is a simple furnace and all that matter is “calories in” versus “calories out,” hormones like cortisol, insulin, thyroid hormones, catecholamines, neurohormones, and so on play a huge role in fat loss and body transformation. They affect sleep, stress, hunger, satiety, cravings, mood, motivation, resting metabolic rate and water retention, among others. People who have dieted more will simply have a harder time losing. (More on metabolic compensation in this post.)

So what’s the solution?

The only way to break the yo-yo dieting cycle and lose fat and keep it off for good is to quit trying to “diet” and just start eating and figuring out your own body. At Metabolic Effect and JillFit, we’ve helped hundreds of women adopt a sustainable fat-loss lifestyle using the following tools:

1) Quit being so impatient: Realize that sustainable fat loss takes time and consistency, and it’s not linear or predictable. The people who have lost weight and kept it off have been practicing routine fat loss behaviors for years and they’ve committed for the long haul. Ask yourself, “Can I see myself eating like this five years from now?” If not, realize you are probably using another short-term diet bandage, and haven’t committed to the lifestyle yet. Understand that there is no “dieting,” there’s only eating. And it goes on forever so take the time to figure it out. Be patient, learn and ultimately win.

2) Focus on behaviors, not outcomes. The outcome (fat loss) comes about as a result of performing fat loss behaviors, one after the other, for weeks, months and years. Fat loss is a spectrum. The more good choices we make, the more we move down the spectrum toward fat loss. And the more poor choices we make, the more we move towards fat gain. The good news is that we are always one meal away from being back in fat loss mode!

3) Pick and choose your nutrition battles and quit trying to eat perfectly. Willpower is exhaustible, which is why most people cite breakfast as their healthiest meal of the day — straight off of a restorative night sleep. Conversely, nighttime is always the worst eating time — not a coincidence, considering the sheer volume of decisions we make throughout the day leaves us mentally drained. So, start expecting that you won’t eat perfectly. And instead, be strategic with your eating and throw yourself a bone.

Eat too much crap after dinner? Try a protein shake right when you get home to take the edge off of your hunger. Incorporate the ME Cocoa Drink to tamp down cravings: 1 to 2 tablespoons of unsweetened (baking) cocoa powder mixed with hot water and stevia to sweeten. Portion off some dark chocolate for your mid-afternoon trigger times. These small gimmes can take the edge off enough so that you don’t completely overindulge on crap later.

4) Take full responsibility for your process and your results. Often, we want a coach, expert or Magic Meal Plan to do the work for us — if we can just follow this plan to the T, then we can get the results we desire. Doesn’t work that way. Only we can be responsible for the results we get (or don’t).

When you take control of your own fat-loss process, it’s empowering. You get to learn about your unique metabolism, personal preferences and individual sensitivities, and you never again need to rely on another cookie-cutter plan again. At Metabolic Effect, we call this process the Metabolic Formula, and it requires you get up close and personal with your own metabolism, checking in daily with hunger, energy and cravings and adjusting as necessary.

If you’re interested in learning more in-depth how to understand your metabolism and eat in a way that create the perfect fat-loss plan FOR YOU, Metabolic Effect just opened registration for its most popular fat-loss program, “The 4-Week Fat-Loss Jump Start,” starting September 1, 2103. In this online program, I work directly with you to help you figure out YOU. We start talking about sustainability on Day 1. It’s not a crash diet. It’s the perfect combo of results-driven approach, paired with helping your find your unique fat loss formula so that you can do it forever. Registration closes August 31. Hope you’ll join me!

[photo at top by Jalbus Photo]

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Author:Jen Sinkler

Fitness writer and editor, workout connoisseur, meditator, proponent of spandex, former rugby player; never, ever without lip gloss.
Comments: 22

22 Responses to “How Weight Loss Makes You Fatter”

  1. Liz
    August 25, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    You and I pretty much had the exact same year. Timeframe and all. I loved reading this and appreciate your candor. What’s interesting is the mindf*ck while the “weight” was coming on of feeling like “I don’t actually mind this, should I? I mean I really love my body, do I mean that?”

    Here’s to not eating like assholes anymore. Love you!

  2. Carrie
    August 26, 2013 at 3:35 am #

    Do you think there’s a chance this could occur in response to training for and running a marathon, also, even if food choices werent severely restricted? I’ve maintained a weight I’m good with for about 5 years now thru eating decently and working out and after training for a marathon this past spring I am struggling to get anywhere near my happy weights…

    • August 26, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

      It can happen that prolonged bouts of cardio can elevate cortisol levels and work against fat-loss goals. Just a guess but you might need more chilllllll time. Good luck, Carrie

  3. August 26, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    GREAT GREAT GREAT POST!!!!

    sharing and a you rock.

  4. August 26, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    What about when this happens to you but you have an extra added in factor of your thyroid quit and no matter how hard you try at eating good and training consistently you continue to gain weight with what looks like no end in sight to that weight gain?

    • August 29, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

      Maaaan, the thyroid really effs this process up, doesn’t it? Are you working with a doctor you trust?

  5. August 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    I have been stuck in my weight loss for months and I do know that the problem is stress not so much food. What I need to do is get back to my early morning swimming. When I do that it always calms me down and I magically I lose weight. If I could find a place that I can swim before bed time that would be even better but, I haven’t found one yet.

    • August 29, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

      A nighttime swim does sound nice.:) Good luck getting back in the pool!

  6. Deborah
    August 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    I believe it might be helpful to understand one’s goals and to look for inspiration to those who had similar goals, met them, and now maintain their healthy habits. As Jen made clear, it is neither possible nor desirable to maintain a “competition” physique “forever”…a body such as that is achieved through processes that are actually harmful…so for the woman who wishes to become strong, healthy, and fit (and maybe feel a little sexier) to use that type of body as a marker for success is defeatist at the the very least, and is potentially physically (dare I say emotionally?) damaging, at the worst.

    It makes my heart glad to see more body builder/physique/figure competitors acknowledge that they do not maintain…that they cannot *healthfully* maintain…their competition appearance year-round; that they specifically diet and train even for photo shoots; that what they do for competition is hard on their bodies.

    *Sustainability* is absolutely key and requires a sound nutrition strategy (eating well), regular physical training, and a positive, realistic mental outlook.

  7. Carrie
    August 26, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    Thanks, Jen!

  8. Sherrie
    August 26, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    I agree just like me but love the sweets and that’s a big problem for me lunch and dinner. As for work out I can do that and have the expense of a trainer. Would like to know how to eat right and keep weigh off for sure with less exercise but wiser decisions. i want in.

  9. August 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    After my last powerlifting meet I started eating like an asshole–or most of the superheavyweight lifters, however you wanna look at it. I gained 10lbs and about 2% more BF.

  10. Kat L
    August 28, 2013 at 10:22 am #

    Do you recommend the Withings scale overall? I have read conflicting reviews, but I like the ease of data collection it provides. I generally don’t weigh myself, but given the creep in BF I’ve noticed, it may be a good tool to help assess where I am and how effective tweaks to my diet/training are.
    Thanks!

    • August 29, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

      You know, I do. I don’t get too attached to the body-fat readings, as of course there is going to be a margin of error. It’s good for watching GENERAL trends over time, though.

  11. Jenny
    September 8, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    Holy buckets thank you for this article. I’ve lost a lot of weight (75ish lbs) and could not figure out why I was stuck. When I’d ask for help, I’d get some shade about my compliance. This makes sense and makes me feel not crazy! Squat rack here I come!

  12. Caitlin
    September 12, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    I needed the reminder that I can’t make up for having been an asshole by martyring myself into dietary sainthood. I know what to do. Thank you : ]

  13. March 8, 2014 at 6:13 am #

    I’ve almost 0 lower abdominal muscles due to a c-section 3 years past and have not really recover any of my lost muscle. I’m looking to build that muscle but can’t even properly due the initial exercise…what could you recommend?

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