Over the last two months, I’ve been working really hard to lose weight and have lost 20 pounds so far and have at least another 20 to go. I’ve been using Melissa’s Mix Recovery Drink now for the last month after my workouts and I have definitely noticed better recovery. However, I’m concerned that I’m eating the calories back that I burned during my workout as my weight loss has slowed down a lot. Should I be using a smaller serving of Melissa’s Mix, or maybe eliminate one of my other meals during the day to get my weight loss back on track? Any other advice you might offer on helping me reach my goal weight would also be appreciated.
Congratulations on your weight loss! I would be more than happy to offer some advice to help you achieve your goal.
It is natural to see a slow in weight reduction after the first couple of weeks of dieting and I would strongly advise you to not eliminate meals or short your calories after your workout to hasten your progress. Everyone has an opinion on the best strategy for weight loss, so I offer some background on how I have arrived at my philosophy. I have been involved as a trainer and coach to some degree since 1998. For several years this was my only profession and I worked almost exclusively with weight loss clients. With numerous individuals of varying age I witnessed successes and unfortunately many failures, but was able to come away with a bit of knowledge from each unique experience. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, I have personal experience with weight loss as I lost a significant amount of body weight and have now kept it off for over a decade. At one time I tipped the scales at 240 pounds and I now maintain a weight of 165. Finally, although I am not a dietitian or a physician, I do have a solid background in biochemistry and physiology and have dedicated much attention to studying the mechanisms of modifying body composition.
So what conclusions have I come to?
If low calorie diets don’t work, why are they so popular?
In answering this question I can also address the reason you experienced such a large initial weight loss and why it has slowed with the onset of incorporating a recovery drink. It’s human nature to want immediate gratification and instant results, and although very low calorie diets don’t work for permanent weight reduction, they won’t disappoint for quick results. Unfortunately, these initial “results” are really just smoke and mirrors.
You have probably heard of losing “water weight” from dieting, but I think it is important to offer a solid explanation for what this means and its ramifications. Your body is constantly burning calories for movement and maintenance. Even during sleep you continue to use calories to maintain brain function, breathing circulation, etc. When you exercise, this need for calories increases significantly. To respond to these needs, your body stores fuel which is mobilized to maintain blood sugar. Body fat is a stored fuel, but another less discussed fuel is glycogen, a carbohydrate. Glycogen is more easily mobilized than body fat and with a very low calorie diet glycogen stores are quickly reduced, especially when combined with exercise. Glycogen stored in the body is accompanied with 3 to 4 parts water. Consequently, every gram of glycogen utilized will also release 3 to 4 grams of water, hence the loss of “water weight” that accompanies the early stages of low-calorie diets. How much weight is lost from glycogen and associated water? This depends on the person, the degree of caloric reduction and how low glycogen levels drop, but in one study after 4 days of a low calorie diet one person lost 15 pounds but more typical is the loss of 5 to 10 pounds. (3) It is very important to mention that this early loss in weight is almost exclusively tied to glycogen and water loss with no significant decrease in fat mass! (4) Because, much of the weight lost is not from body-fat there is also little or no improvement to physique.
Consequences of low glycogen levels
The constant hunger and test of will power experienced on a low-calorie diet is the body’s attempt to replenish its glycogen store. So problem number one with low glycogen levels is that it sabotages the longevity of a diet. Your body isn’t stupid and it knows that a doughnut or a plate of cookies is a great source of dense, quickly absorbed calories and is a perfect means to replenishing glycogen. I trained a client once who refused to listen to my pleas for dumping her low calorie diet approach. She lost a ton of weight the first month of her diet (12 pounds), but went on a weekend vacation, resumed her normal diet, and gained 9 pounds back in two days! Needless to say she became discouraged and almost threw in the towel with dieting and her training. However, over time I was able to talk her out of crash dieting and she continued to work with me for several years. Her eating evolved over time and although it took longer than she had hoped, through focused effort she developed into a solid athlete, with an attractive, slim and muscular physique that would never have been possible with her initial diet. I need to point out that she did this with a busy career and adding a second child to her family. There are countless other detriments to functioning on low glycogen including, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, reduced muscular and energetic performance, increase perceived exertion (activities feel harder) and increased chance of sickness. (5) So not only will functioning on a low-calorie diet result in being a miserable and irritable person but will also reduce the ability to perform fruitful training and make true progress towards a desirable physique.
If low-calorie diets don’t work what sort of diet does?
If you examine those that maintain healthy and athletic bodies, I will refer to them as ageless athletes, you may notice drastic differences in their diets. Some may advocate high protein or fat diets, others vegetarian or even vegan. If you look beyond the sources of food though, you will see that these seemingly contrasting diets do share similar characteristics. I think the most important of these similarities is they prioritize eating. Instead of skipping meals those that maintain athletic physiques go to great lengths to make time to eat. Food is necessary for energy and provides nutrients to build strong athletic bodies. Routinely shortening oneself on food greatly reduces one’s ability to feel and perform optimally and those athletes that are in tune with their bodies understand this intimately. Another element of consistently eating satisfying meals is that it discourages binge eating or the consumption of high calorie foods. The single, typical most unsuccessful behavior? Under eating. Skipping meals, such as breakfast, tends to be followed by the consumption of high calorie, low nutrient foods (like those brownies brought into work by a co-worker). When you are constantly focused and being mindful of eating, cravings for “junk” food can all but disappear.
Should you be conscious of calories?
Absolutely! There are many foods that should be avoided simply because they are very high in calories and fall short on nutrition. Once, when visiting my aunt, I failed to plan ahead for my meals and joined her for her usual breakfast of store bought donuts. She had one, I had two. Not only did I feel incredibly lethargic after breakfast but I was ravenously hungry a short time later. Although the donuts provided quickly digesting calories, it did not provide the other nutrients I was used to in my typical breakfast. And to top it off, the calorie count on those donuts was 800 a piece!
I don’t believe that is necessary to count calories, although many people do initially find this practice helpful when evaluating what foods to keep or eliminate from their diet. My suggestion for developing your diet is to try to eat often, I suggest 3 to 6 times a day, and be mindful of how you feel as a result of your meal. Develop a pattern and habits for eating that are easy to maintain. Start your day off with breakfast and eat enough calories to keep you satiated and energetic until your next meal. I usually have a breakfast of an omelet or a large bowl of oatmeal with fruit, nuts and a little whey powder. These meals maintain energy for me, but don’t bog me down with calories either. In the end, only you will be an expert of your own diet. Some meals or food will work better for you than others and no individual is the same. This is the reason that some people can flourish on a vegan diet (I can’t, I’ve tried) and others meat and dairy. The focus should be on the similarities of successful eating, which is eating to avoid being hungry and maintaining energy. Like your workouts, your diet will evolve with time as you continue to evaluate and make adjustments to provide energy, increase muscle mass and reduce body fat.
Keeping an eye on the scale
The scale is a great tool for evaluating progress. However, too often folks become a slave to this box of springs and allow it to solely dictate success and failure. A better barometer for success is progression in exercise. Can you run a mile faster, do more push-ups, burpees, master the crow pose, etc. Remember, you won’t look like you can do 10 push-ups until you can do 10 push-ups. Get after it and fuel yourself to be successful. As a rule, I suggest weighing oneself no more than once a week. Additionally, monitoring your body composition, measurements and how your clothes fit are all excellent tools for evaluating progress towards the loss of body fat.
How quickly should I be losing weight?
This is a very complicated question as every person is different. Many factors contribute to the speed of weight loss including amount of body fat, age, athleticism, sex, etc. Perhaps the best answer I can give is how much weight is too much to lose in a week and the number is less than what you may expect. I suggest on shooting for losing no more than 1 pound per week and for most people this number should be considerably less. Losing more than a pound per week will be accompanied by lower glycogen stores and even worse, a loss in lean mass (muscle). (6) Loss to muscle mass is in complete opposition to the underlying goal of looking good. Hunger and energy levels are additional barometers in determining a suitable speed for weight loss. Eat to be satiated and maintain vigor. As long as the scale is moving in the right direction, stay the course and reap the benefits of true weight loss that won’t disappear over a weekend of heavy eating.
Eating calories back from your workout?
You should add additional calories to your daily intake on workout days to maintain glycogen, especially if a workout is intense or of long duration. From my experience you can usually accomplish this by consuming half of the calories burned from exercise while maintaining glycogen and bolster fat loss. If you are maintaining weight, or trying to gain weight then you should consume the total amount of calories lost during exercise. To put some numbers to this an hour of moderate/difficult exercise will burn around 600 calories. (7) Consuming 300 calories above your normal daily intake should suffice to keep your energy levels and your recovery where they need to be. A recovery drink is not the only way to replenish these calories, but it is a quick, convenient and reliable way to do so.
Weight loss through low calorie dieting does not work! I don’t mean to be rude by this comment, but how many people do you know that have had long term success with Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or countless other low calorie commercial diet strategies? I can’t say that I have seen an attractive and slim individual and jumped to the conclusion that they must be adhering to their weight watchers plan. Don’t emulate the countless unsuccessful dieters that focus on food avoidance. Instead, join the ageless athletes that are mindful of eating and embrace it. Instead of primarily focusing on the scale, follow a physical pursuit that you are drawn to and can find joy in. Progressive exercise does work for maintaining weight and there are countless examples of individuals that have made real, long lasting transformations to their health.
Here is one of my favorite stories of such a transformation that you will probably find inspiring, please share in the comments your own favorite, inspirational story.