Saturday, December 10, 2011

Beyond That Weight-Loss Plateau

Periodically during a long weight-loss journey many of us hit a plateau where weight loss pretty much slows to a standstill. Plateaus may not be our favorite weight-loss phase, but they can be productive if we embrace them. Don’t worry, after resting a bit on a natural plateau and reanalyzing your weight loss strategy, you can again start making steady progress toward attaining a healthy weight. 
What’s good about a plateau? If you’ve been on diet for a while and have lost a significant amount of weight, you likely need a psychological break from focusing on losing weight. Maintaining healthy eating and exercise habits without feeling the need to be super strict can be a nice change of pace. Plus your body periodically needs time to adjust to the weight loss you have already accomplished.
As you rest and gear up for the next phase of your journey keep this in mind: As we take off significant amounts of weight, it’s a cold, hard fact that we must further increase our activity levels and/or reduce our caloric intake to continue to lose weight. A body that weighs less requires fewer calories, especially when weight loss has not been accompanied by strength training.

While you’re enjoying your plateau, look carefully at what you’ve been eating. The more high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains) you work into your diet the better. The less processed foods and alcohol you consume the better. Are you opting for healthy fats such as olive oil and choosing lean meats? Keeping your portion sizes in check? You know the drill. And if you need to know more, read up on good nutrition ( for example) and/or consider joining a healthy weight loss program that provides such information.
Next look at your activity level: If you’ve been walking 4 days a week, maybe you need to up it to 6 days. And/or maybe you’ll increase your distance/time/intensity during each walking session. If you’ve been walking an hour at least 5 days a week, you may need to substitute a few walking sessions for a higher-intensity cardio option such as Zumba, Jazzercise or step aerobics. Cycling, swimming, running, etc., can also be good.

But before significantly increasing your activity level, consider any health conditions you may have. Have you been cleared to exercise by your physician? Do you have any chronic conditions that will affect your exercise choices? Please keep health considerations in mind and seek professional guidance when you need it.
There’s another part of the equation of the weight loss equation to consider: your muscle vs. fat ratio. The more muscle mass we have the more calories we burn even at rest. You don’t have to have the bulging muscles of a body builder, just healthy muscle tone to boost your metabolism rate.
It’s a fact that as we lose pounds we lose muscle weight as well as fat unless we’re building our muscles with resistance exercises. We also lose muscle mass as we age unless we strength train or otherwise keep challenging our muscles (as in hard labor). That’s a significant reason why the average person’s metabolism slows as they grow older.

How much strength training have you done as you’ve lost weight? Whatever the level, consider kicking it up a notch or two during the next phase of your weight loss push. A good, all-round strength training program may initially slow the number of pounds you lose because muscle is heavier than fat. But it will quickly start tightening your body, actually making your waist smaller, so you will look better and feel better.
When you see those mind-boggling “before and after” pictures every national “revolutionary diet plan” uses to advertise themselves, keep in mind that the incredible muscle definition of the person in the “after” shot either comes from strength training or Photoshop trickery. I have lost weight at various times with and without strength training. Strength training provides much more attractive results.

If you’re a gym/fitness club member you have access to strength machines as well as free weights and cable machines. Clubs oftentimes have group strength classes as well as access to personal trainers. If you can’t afford to join a gym or hire a personal trainer, don’t worry. With just a few inexpensive items such as a resistance band, pair of hand weights and a mat, you can get going. Although I sometimes work out with the equipment at my church rec center, I oftentimes work out at home with just my resistance band, hand weights and mat.

Try some of these great individual exercises
and workout routines suggested by The American Council on Exercise.  
I love that these workouts come with detailed written instructions as well as photo and video demonstrations. And they're free!
While you’re working on your strength, please remember to work on your flexibility. Integrating stretching into your workout routine will help you attain and/or maintain a healthy posture, balanced gait, plus improve your general fitness level. Soon you’ll be able to reach the high shelf better and twist to get something with less risk of straining your back. I have become a fan of yoga because during the course of a good class you generally stretch out from head to toe.

One more thing: A great overall resource for helping you educate yourself on the fine points of fitness and weight loss is The American College of Sports Medicine's “The Complete Guide to Fitness & Health."  The book, which I highly recommend, provides a science-based overview on strength, flexibility and cardio training, as well as good nutrition/healthy diet information.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Before and After

Why do I pursue fitness personally and have a passion for supporting and helping others in their pursuit of fitness? Because I have learned the hard way that unless I continue working and fueling my body in healthy ways that I will become hefty, sluggish, stiff, hurting and unhappy. That goes for most other adults, and even children.

Witness the "before" and "after" picture here. Before: I had been traveling too much and had let weight creep on as my diet and exercises habits fell into ruin over several years. I'd even gotten into the habit of comforting myself with highly caloric food and drink after trying numerous diets with no success. My nice thin forearms helped keep me in denial about my weight for awhile. But then one day I borrowed my mother's blood pressure cuff and saw my blood pressure had crept up to an unhealthy level. If it got any higher I'd likely have to go on medication. Then I saw a photo of my sizable self with my beautiful, thin neice at her graduation. OMG! A friend later told me she had been worried about me. "You didn't seem very happy back then," she said.

After: I have lost more than 40 pounds and have greatly improved my cardiovascular health as well as my muscle strength and flexibility. I regulary exercise and follow a healthy diet. My blood pressure is at a healthy level and I feel great. I can reach farther, bend deeper and twist to get something I need without straining my back. I enjoy shopping for clothes and making the effort to look my best. Plus I am getting a lot more attention from the opposite sex, and women respond to me more positively as well. Much of that is because of how I carry myself I know. I feel happier and radiate happiness. It's a people magnet.

How I got there: When I finally realized my problem was bigger than my ability to deal with it, I prayed. (Something I should have done early on.) I asked God to illuminate me, to help me understand what I was doing wrong and give me the strength to do what I needed to do to become healthy and fit again. I found my answer at the "healthy lifestyle and weight loss" program put on by my childhood church (Dawson Memorial in Homewood, Ala.) once a year. Through the 10-week program I learned how to eat right and move more. The program was based on nutrition and exercise science calling upon the knowledge of area health care professionals and dieticians. The group support and accountability were huge pluses. I learned how to lose weight effectively and in a safe manner.

Then I went back to my life. After getting derailed a time or two from my weight loss quest, I got on the healthy lifestyle wagon again for what I hope is for good. Over time I lost a total of 40 pounds in increments of one or two pounds a week. Now I continue to work to maintain that weight loss and become even more fit. As I've learned, unless I am pursing fitness, I am losing fitness.