I’ve been hearing various versions of this dilemma lately. Whether the problem is that someone has been “doing everything right” for a while or that they made short-term extreme sacrifices with their diet, the common theme is confusion and frustration. They just can’t figure out why the weight is not coming off.
After ensuring that enough time was spent trying their strategy, I dig deeper. Whatever surfaces during that discussion, what comes through loud and clear is that they have lost all feeling of being able to predict what will happen with their weight.
“Is it the bread?”
“Is it that I’m eating at the wrong times?”
“Am I combining the wrong foods together?”
“Is my metabolism broken?”
The confusion is clear, and it gets in the way of progress. Of course this is not the only reason plans fail to cause weight loss, but I think it is often a significant contributor. The stress we feel when an outcome is unpredictable appears to be greater than when we can predict the outcome (even if it’s a negative one), at least according to a recent study reported in Time Magazine.
When I apply this concept to people trying to lose weight, it lines up with what I observe. It is very stressful when the weight outcome of behavior changes is uncertain. It is just easier to accept a weight gain after a deliberately relaxed vacation with fewer restrictions on eating than it is when the gain seems random. If we know what we did to cause it, we feel the power to avoid it as well. Likewise, when we change nothing we are not surprised when the scale doesn’t budge.
In the study, the stressor was a snake under a rock. Results showed more stress when people didn’t know whether there was a snake or not, even when compared with the certainty that they would be “bitten” (an electric shock in the study). It seems that the brain goes on high alert when faced with uncertainty.
We can be sure that scale weight will not be perfectly predictable – EVER – but if it is at least trending over time in a predictable way, it helps make sticking to a plan easier.
It also helps to flush out beliefs about what will cause weight loss. It is much simpler overall than many people believe. The key is finding a way of eating that works for you – long term, not just as a quick fix.
Monitoring weight occasionally can be helpful over time, as a way of affirming a workable plan, but focusing on other goals is important for keeping a positive attitude when the scale doesn’t behave as expected. When lab results improve or energy levels go up, lifestyle changes are validated and strengthened.
When you find what fuels your body best and also feels realistic within the human realm of eating, you have a good start.