Here is a question I was recently asked:
I am 53 and have been dieting since I was 14 I am bigger now than I have ever been and yet I watch what I eat and I exercise twice a week. Why is this?
Is there anything more frustrating than feeling like you’re doing all the right things and still not getting anywhere? And yet the situation described in this situation is so common, especially for women over 50. How can it be?
As I see it there are two parts to this question. The first part is the “watching what I eat” and the second part is “exercising twice a week”. Most people would consider these two actions to be the cornerstone of a successful weight loss regime. But for this woman (and countless others) it’s not enough.
So let’s look at each of these in turn.
When it comes to weight loss, I have heard many clients say that when they saw their GP asking for advice about losing weight, the first thing they were told was “join a gym”.
Exercise is NOT enough to lose weight
The first thing to say is that exercise is very good for your health. It has so many benefits for all aspects of your life. But when it comes to weight loss, exercise is NOT enough to lose weight.
This is not true for men. Men can use exercise alone to lose weight. And to an extent, for women in their twenties and thirties , they can use exercise to balance off excess eating. But for women over 50, exercise is not enough. You must reduce the calories you take in.
Which brings us to the second part. Why doesn’t watching what you eat cause you to lose weight.
It depends on what “watching what I eat” means.
Firstly, it could mean that you eat healthily. For example, eating lots of fruit and vegetables. This is very good for your health. But the fact is eating lots of fruit and veggies doesn’t mean you will necessarily lose weight.
This is because eating fruit and vegetables doesn’t affect your portion sizes. It doesn’t stop you snacking a lot. It doesn’t stop you having lots of high calorie foods in addition to the fruit and veggies.
Isn’t this quite annoying? Things that are good for your health, exercise and eating lots of fruit and veggies, are not enough to help you to lose weight. But when you think about it, it explains the experiences of thousands , if not millions of women around the world.
I watch what I eat
But what about people who, when they say “I watch what I eat”, they mean more than just eating healthily? These people really do watch their food portions, try and be careful about snacks and even their friends and family wonder how they can be overweight, since they hardly eat anything.
Generally I have found that people who say they’re careful, when you look at what they eat, they are actually careful. But crucially, they’re not careful all of the time. They might be careful 90% of the time. But the 10% of the time they’re not careful seems to slip under the radar. The 10% often involves snacking.
I’ll give you an example of one of my clients. When we first met, she said “I’m not really sure how I gain weight, because I’m very careful with what I eat. I don’t eat big portions, and I don’t eat a lot of bad foods.”
And over several weeks, with a food diary, we saw that she was indeed very good. She didn’t have huge portions. She was quite careful with what she ate. But… she did snack a lot. There was a lot of grazing; she often picked at food during the day. There were occasional times when she did indulge in chocolate; more than what she had thought.
So if you looked at her food diary, she was great for 90% of the time but the 10% was enough to ruin it. And over several weeks of working with her, she reduced that 10% down (without sacrificing quality of life) and she started losing weight. The fact that she lost weight showed that as careful as she thought she was being, she had some room to move. Otherwise she wouldn’t have lost weight. And that’s true of most people.
The problem here is it’s often very difficult to see it in yourself. It’s hard to be objective about what you’re eating. And even when you think that you’re being careful, you’re actually not.
Some people don’t like to hear this, because they are so sure that they this isn’t true of them. But in my experience, aside from exceptional cases where there might be a medical cause for weight gain, it’s true that people are not as careful as they think are and this is why they can’t lose weight.
So we can see that even when it seems like you’re doing all the right things, it may not be enough to lose weight. In future articles, we’ll be talking about what you can do to lose weight.