There’s going to come a time when you’ll stagnate in your fitness. You’ll stop losing weight (before you reach your goal weight), or exercise less and less frequently. You’ll stop tracking your caloric intake, or even stop thinking so much about food.
While losing weight and getting fit is simple, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In order for your body to burn stored fat you have to create an energy deficit on your intake. In plainer terms, you have to expend more energy than you take in (in the form of food). We measure energy that the body uses in terms of calories (technically, kilocalories, but most labels ignore the kilo- prefix). Obviously, if you’re going to keep under a certain caloric limit you’re going to have to know how many calories are in the food you eat each day. On top of that, you’re also going to have to track it cumulatively so that you know when you’ve reached your limit. Ideally, of course, you’d also log your food before you eat it so you can make decisions based on your caloric needs.
Looking up a food in a reference to see how many calories it has before you eat it? Simple. Doing it every single day before every single meal? Not so easy.
I’ve found that when I track my caloric intake and stick to a daily hard-limit that I lose weight pretty consistently. When I get lazy, though, and stop actively logging everything: I either gain weight or stay the same.
For the last few months of 2010 through the early part of 2012 I remained relatively stagnant in my weight loss. Actually, to be completely honest, in the latter months of 2011 I actually gained about 15 pounds back. Ugh. I stopped logging my food because quite frankly, it’s annoying and a bit of a pain in the ass to do it all the time. It works, but it’s a pain.
Where I Went Wrong
I had some major life changes in that timeframe. I got engaged, and then 13 months later got married. My then fiancée and I bought a house. Having moved to a new neighborhood, we of course wanted to try out new restaurants that were within walking distance. Eating with a partner instead of eating alone meant that my ridiculous habit of eating the same meal for five days in a row because I still had the ingredients for it wouldn’t fly. All of these things are excuses, of course, for why I wasn’t losing weight. Obviously, my stagnation was my wife’s fault.
I kid. I have no one to blame but myself, and the worst part of it was that I was a bad influence on her, too. We decided to get a treadmill instead of joining another gym we’d stop going to after a few months (I’ll have to write more on gyms later), which turned out to be a fantastic investment. No longer will Chicago’s harsh Winters be an excuse to not walk.
Back to stagnation. I’ve heard that dieters often face plateaus as their bodies get used to their new diet. That’s fine, but I’m not on a diet. I’m just adjusting my eating habits and activity levels. So why have I stagnated?
Was it any of the excuses I listed above? Eh, I’m sure they all played their part, but really I stopped succeeding because I stopped working the system. It happened slowly over time. I started to guesstimate calories in a meal rather than look it up. Doing the math in your head is fine if you’ve already looked up the food and know its caloric intake – I still do this when eating out sometimes – but over time I stopped doing even that. Then of course the unhealthy meal every once in a while became more frequent.
The habit that didn’t break for me was being more active. I kept up other habits too, like weighing-in nearly every day and wearing my FitBit so I could track my steps. Of course, I stopped trying to hit my 10,000 steps per day goal. But I was wearing the FitBit all the time and at least tracking how little I sometimes walked on a lazy Sunday.
So those are the things I internalized and made part of who I am. Tracking calories? Not so much.
How I Got Back On Track
I got back into Clean Livin’, full-swing again when I got the results of the blood test taken during my annual physical. Everything was pretty much normal except that my cholesterol was high for the first time ever. Not super-high, but my LDLs was a little on the high side, and my HDL (good cholesterol) wasn’t as high as it should be. My doctor said that if I should adjust my diet and increase my exercise levels to try to correct my cholesterol naturally, and if I couldn’t affect results within three months that I’d have to go on a statin drug in order to correct it with medication. Immediately I made changes to my diet and started exercising more.
I was scared straight.
I’m now four weeks into doing the right thing and I’ve lost 15 pounds so far. I’m still not down to the lowest since I’ve been tracking it, but I expect to be soon.
Writing this is clearly an integral part of Clean Livin’ for me. I’ll keep you posted.