Why healthy eating doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss

I eat fairly healthily.

I try and ‘eat clean’.

I follow the 80/20 rule.

And yet, I can’t seem to lose any weight.

I bet the above sounds familiar. We all know somebody whose body never changes despite their claims of watching their diet and eating ‘healthily’. Heck, you may have even found yourself uttering one of the statements above; I certainly have ūüėČ

In my experience as a personal trainer and healthy living coach, it often comes down to semantics (and of course, implementation…).

One person’s definition of ‘healthy eating’ isn’t the same as another’s. I have healthy (and unhealthy) weight friends who are Paleo. Some who eat low-carb. And others who’ve adopted the ‘Mediterranean’ diet.

The 80/20 rule can be interpreted in so many ways (80% of calories from ‘healthy’ foods, making ‘healthy’ choices 80% of the time, 80% of each meal coming from lean protein and veggies…) as to be almost useless as a guideline to eating for ‘health’, much less fat loss.

And don’t even get me started on ‘clean eating’. While it used to be a useful phrase (back in the day when it was primarily used by people who read and adopted the principals of Clean Eating Magazine), the word ‘clean’ is now fraught with judgement (“if my food’s not ‘clean’, does that mean it’s ‘dirty’?”) and widely applied to anything that’s not processed, regardless of how it’s raised or farmed.

In my opinion, many of us grab onto¬†these terms and use them to identify our nutritional strategy because it makes us feel like we’re doing the right thing. Even if we never force ourselves to specifically define the approach or adhere to it on a daily basis.

Below are five reasons I commonly see ‘clean’ and ‘healthy’ eaters stall in their weight loss attempts. Feel free to add your own in the comments section at the bottom of the post.

5 Reasons Why Healthy Eating Doesn’t¬†Necessarily Lead to Weight Loss
  • Too much of a good thing; Just because you fill your plate with lean protein, minimally dressed veggies and heart-healthy fats doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight. Weight loss depends on energy balance; if you consume more calories than your body expends in a day, you’ll gain weight. Regardless of whether those calories come from a grilled chicken breast or a piece of chocolate cake. Sure avocado and flax seed and coconut oil are all ‘healthy fats’, but add them all to your daily protein smoothie and you’re likely to end up with a super-sized meal rather than a post-workout snack. If you’ve truly managed to eliminate¬†processed food and added sugar from your diet, take a good hard look at your daily caloric intake as compared to your daily metabolic rate (the number of calories your body burns in 24 hours). The easiest way to do this? MyFitnessPal. Food tracking may be a bore, but it’s always insightful and a great place to start if you truly want to understand why you’re not losing weight.
  • The devil is in the preparation; What types of methods do you use to prepare your meals? Steaming? Frying? Grilling? Marinading? Do you add dressings and sauces during the cooking process or at the table? It’s all too easy to forget about the tablespoon of oil you saut√©ed the veggies in. Or the half a can of coconut milk you added to the brown rice. Or the bottled salad dressing you used to coat the romaine lettuce with. Just because these ingredients don’t seem like ‘food’, doesn’t mean they don’t add calories to your meal. Make sure you’re including these extras when you track your food. You may find that they add up to a few hundred calories a day; the calories that make all the difference between losing a 1/2 a pound a week and maintaining your weight.
healthy eating doesn't necessarily lead to weight loss

All I had for lunch was a salad….

  • Out-of-whack macros; Our bodies require three types of macronutrients to function; carbohydrates, protein and fat. According to government nutritionist guidelines, a ‘healthy’ diet will have 45-65% of the day’s calories coming from carbs (preferably complex, like veggies and grains), 10-35% from protein (the leaner the better) and 20-35% from fat (unsaturated are better than saturated and trans are to be avoided altogether). Many midlife women find that aiming for the lower end of the carb range and upping their protein intake accordingly can jump-start a weight loss plateau. Again you’ll need to track what you’re eating now in order to decide how to proceed. And then pay attention and re-evaluate depending on how your body responds to the changes.
  • ‘Treats’*** are no longer treats; I’m all for including occasional ‘treats’ or indulgences in your meal plan. The operative word being ‘plan’. If you know¬†that you’ll be going out for dinner on Saturday night and are likely to join in a glass of wine or a piece of dessert (I always choose one over the other; that’s why you’ll find me looking at the dessert menu before the waiter comes to take our drink order…),¬†plan the rest of your day accordingly. Maybe you eat more veggies for lunch. Or pass up on the afternoon cookie-with-tea. The thing about ‘treats’ is, once they become a mainstay of your diet, they’re no longer ‘treats’. I’ve found that those who self-identify as 80/20-eaters often grossly underestimate their ‘treat’ intake.
healthy eating doesn't necessarily lead to weight loss

Definitely a ‘beer over dessert’ night out…

*** I know that some of you don’t like the word ‘treat’. Or ‘indulgence’. Or ‘cheat’. But whatever you call it, we all know that we’re talking about the same thing; foods that shouldn’t be part of our daily nutrition plan because they don’t meet our health and fitness goals. The end.***

  • You’re easily swayed by product labels; When I asked the members of my Facebook page for their definitions of ‘healthy’ eating, nearly every single response included reference to reducing one’s reliance on packaged and processed foods. Even the ones whose labels include the words ‘healthy’, ‘low-fat’, ‘no added sugar’ and ‘whole grain’. Especially the ones whose labels include the words ‘healthy’, ‘low-fat’, ‘no added sugar’ and ‘whole grain’. Almost all the respondents emphasized the importance of eating foods that still resembled the way they’re found in nature. Food companies are in the business of selling food. They understand that consumers care about their health. They’ve found ways to package and market their products to make them appear more health-giving than they actually are. Cereal and yogurt companies are particularly clever in this regard. Pay attention to the ingredient lists and the nutrition information, not the large font superlatives on the packaging.

Do you follow any of the nutrition approaches mentioned above? Clean eater? Healthy eating? 80/20 advocate? 

Has your approach helped you lose weight (or maintain significant weight loss)?

If so, why? If not, why not?

 

 

 

 

 

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Make your own meal plan | benefits of a boring diet

Back when I started paying attention to nutrition I craved structure.

A meal plan that I could follow as I learned the in’s and out’s of fuelling my body so that it performed well,¬†looked¬†good and felt¬†great.

For a couple of months, I swore by Clean Eating Magazine’s bi-weekly plan. I posted it on my fridge, used it as a guide to grocery shopping and ate (mostly) the three prescribed meals and snacks.

benefits of a boring diet

But as I started to lift heavier in the gym and read more widely about sports nutrition, I came to realize that it wasn’t the plan for me.

  • Too few calories (my body needs more than the 1400-1600 most days’ menus provided).
  • Too many grain-based carbs (I tend to gain weight around my mid-section if my diet includes too many starchy carbs).
  • Too many processed foods (even ‘healthier’ versions of bars, cereals and crackers typically have too much sugar).
  • Too many different ingredients required to prepare the varied menu (the more ingredients required, the less likely I am to follow the recipe).
  • And not enough protein (protein has been a game-changer for me, helping me put on muscle, reduce body fat and feel satiated between meals).

[Note, that the very first sentence of the last paragraph included the words ‘for me‘. It might be a great meal plan for you. The only way you’ll know is if you follow it and pay attention to how your body responds. ‘Be your own detective’]

Over time, I’ve developed my own, personalized meal plan.

It consists of¬†a handful of options for each of the mail meals of the day. I have three standard breakfast meals that I choose from. Lunch is always a giant salad; 3-5 servings of veggies plus lean protein. Dinner is a bit more varied (but the variation mainly comes from the way the way the meal is prepared, rather than the ingredients). And I have a dozen or so between-meal snacks that I rotate among¬†depending on how many days it’s been since I’ve been to the grocery store.

It’s really very boring. And it totally works for me.

benefits of a boring diet

Nobody ever said boring couldn’t be delicious!

 

4 benefits of a boring diet

1. You always know what you’ll be eating. For many of us, paying attention to how we’re fuelling our bodies can lead to food anxiety. Stressing over how much of what to eat when. Trying to come up with new, creative ways to put food on the table for our families. Worrying about hidden ingredients that might be undermining our health and fitness goals. Having a list of ‘pre-approved’ go-to meals ¬†means that you’ll only need to decide between a small number of¬†options at any given meal.

2. Daily food tracking becomes less important. While keeping a food journal is a great way to learn how best to fuel your body, most of us don’t want to have to do it every day for the rest of our lives. Although¬†I’ve used MyFitnessPal on and off for years, I use it mainly as a menu planner and a way of calculating the calorie and macronutrient content of my go-to meals. Once I know that a breakfast of a spinach and pepper omelette, with avocado and strawberries supports my goals for the day, I don’t need to input it day after day.

[Note: If food journalling works for you, by all means continue to do it. Adopting a boring diet just makes it easier ūüėČ ]

3. A boring diet makes grocery shopping a snap. Just like my diet, my route through the grocery store is boring and predictable. I¬†buy the same items (and the same quantity of those items) week in, week out. I’m much less likely to forget an important recipe ingredient and less tempted to travel down the supermarket’s ‘danger’ aisles. And I can be in and out of Superstore (having easily spent $300…) in less than an hour.

benefits of a boring diet

Yes, we eat bacon. And a LOT of eggs…

4. Restaurant meals are¬†more fun. Most of us have difficulty sticking with our healthy eating plans when dining out.¬†Portions are typically larger than we’d serve ourselves at home. Multiple courses are the norm. Even the healthiest options can contain hidden sugar, salt and fat. And there’s so much choice! Following a boring diet has helped me wade through the minefield of restaurant menus. I simply look for a meal that’s close to what I’d be eating at home and ask my server for modifications, if need be. Dressing on the side, extra veggies instead of potatoes, grilled instead of fried.

Plus, choosing wisely with my main course lets me enjoy a glass of wine or dessert if I’m in the mood ūüėČ

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Are you a boring eater too?

What are your favourite benefits of a boring diet?

Learning how to create¬†healthy meal plans is¬†only one of the many lessons I’ll be teaching¬†in my upcoming online group training program for over-40 women. Make sure you add your name to my email list so as not to miss the registration¬†announcement!

 

 

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5 tips to get back on track after a week-long sugar binge

Today is the last day of birthday season. Between May 31st and June 10th there are three birthdays in my house. Three birthdays in just ten days.

get back on track

That means three birthday dinners (with wine pairings), three birthday cakes (with ice cream) and a variety of chocolatey gifts (from personal training clients!), loot bag treats (gummy worms and wine gums) and less-than-healthy nutritional choices. (And of course, three readings of Dr. Seuss’ Birthday book; our favourite family tradition!)

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that sugar is my trigger food. Once I start down ‘sugar mountain way’, my ability to resist it gradually weakens until ice cream for breakfast no longer sounds like a horrifying idea. (I haven’t gone there yet, but only because we’re out of ice cream; thank goodness).

Given that (a)¬†the weather is finally warm enough to wear summer clothes, (b) I’m tired of the sugar-induced lethargy and (c) I’ll be seeing 300 fitness friends at a fitness bloggers conference in just over two weeks, it’s time to get back on track.

Want to know my 5 tips to get back on track after a week-long sugar binge?

  1. Eliminate all added sugar immediately. For me, cold turkey is the only way to kick the sugar habit. Sugar is a drug. It stimulates the pleasure centres in your brain. Your brain likes to be happy and does whatever it can to get more sugar.
  2. Drink like a fish. Water that is. Water not only helps to flush your system of toxins, it also keeps your mouth busy and your belly from feeling hungry. My 12 ounce sippy cup is my new BFF.
  3. Eat vegetables for breakfast. Re-training my palate not to expect sweet foods at each meal is critical to overcoming sugar cravings. Thankfully, our kitchen vegetable garden is overflowing with kale, chard, spinach and arugula, making it easy to green up my scrambled eggs and protein smoothies.
  4. Move a little bit more each day. In addition to my regular strength and cardio workouts, I’ll be aiming for 30 minutes of walking each and every day. The extra 2500-3000 steps are not only good for my overall health, it will help me burn an extra 200 to 300 calories per day.
  5. Get a solid 8 hours of sleep each night. When I’m well-rested, my body rarely craves sweet and starchy foods. Sleep is also key to reducing the fat-stimulating effects of cortisol (given that I have three school-age children about to be released for ten weeks of summer vacation, my ‘stress’ hormone level is high enough).

Thanks so much for all of your birthday wishes!

Now I need some good ‘get back on track’ juju. Help a girl out? I’d love it if you’d Tweet me and use the hashtag #nosugar! The more often I’m reminded, the easier it will be!

Do you have any special tricks for getting back to healthy eating after a week or two of indulgences?

Share your best ‘get back on track’ tip below!

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5 tips for reducing sugar consumption

White sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, maple syrup, chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, dried cranberries and graham cracker crumbs. Just a few of the sugar-laden ingredients that starred in my family’s holiday menus.

Our twice weekly dessert night has morphed into a nightly event. Baked goods are nibbled with afternoon tea. Visits with friends and family always feature sweet over savoury. (And there may or may not be some Hallowe’en candy still lurking about…)

 

reducing sugar consumption

 

It’s time for the annual sugar detox! Want to know my 5 tips for reducing sugar consumption by your family?

  1. Get rid of all the remaining holiday baking. Dump it in the garbage and¬†immediately take out the trash. Don’t give it away to friends (they don’t need it either). Don’t hide it in the freezer (it will tempt you daily). If you just can’t stand throwing food away, take all unopened items (boxes of chocolate, store bought cookies, baking ingredients) to your nearest food bank, pronto.
  2. Make a plan to give up dessert night for the remainder of the month. Replace ‘treats’ with fruit and yogurt. The goal here is to re-train your family’s palate. Expect some resistance. Even the sweetest of fruit tastes fairly bland after a regular diet of high fat, high sugar baked goods.
  3. Gradually transition them from prepackaged foods to ‘made from scratch’ alternatives. In my experience, slowly weaning my children off of store bought cereals and granola bars works better than going ‘cold turkey’. Once the boxes are empty, ¬†scratch those items from your grocery list.
  4. Create readily available healthy snack alternatives. Buy an exquisite fruit bowl. Place it in the centre of your kitchen table and fill it with an assortment of ready-to-eat fruits. Encourage your children to help themselves. Take them grocery shopping with you (as painful as that may be…) and allow them to help choose their favourites. Be open to trying new things!
  5. Experiment with new, low or no-added sugar recipes.¬†Thousands of delicious recipes can be found by searching Google and Pinterest for the terms ‘healthy desserts’, ‘low sugar recipes’, ‘no sugar baking’. Add these back in next month, after everyone’s taste buds have become accustomed to eating less sugar.

Don’t expect your family to embrace your attempts at reducing sugar consumption! My kids will complain loudly and frequently! But I love them enough to place their health above my (temporary) happiness.

Have you ever tried to cut back on your family’s sugar consumption?

What tips and tricks worked best? 

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