1. Your mindset sucks (you’re “trying” again. Screw that, just effing do it!)
Ok, so maybe it really isn’t THAT simple. But it kinda is. How many times have you “tried” to lose the weight? You know, once and for all? Maybe you even lost a bunch of weight once (twice? 3 or 4 times?) But somehow, it either won’t go away or just keeps finding its way back…
Here’s the cold, hard truth. If you don’t decide to do it, you’re screwed. Bigtime.
I don’t mean “decide” as in “oh, I’ll give the (insert cool-sounding diet name here) diet and do Zumba 9 times a week.” I mean decide as in look in the mirror and tell yourself “I’m going to BE the person who does this. I’m ready to care enough about what matters to me to become healthy, strong, fit and ready for whatever challenge life throws my way.”
Before you can DO a healthy fitness lifestyle that sticks, you have to BE the person who “does that stuff.” That means changing the way you think about exercise, nutrition and lifestyle. That starts with changing the way you think about you.
Most women are so wrapped up in being the “Super Mom” or the female entrepreneur life or any number of other really condescending stereotypes (self-inflicted, all to often) that they almost lose their authentic ability to think. Their sense of what’s really important gets all mashed up with the people they’re busy serving, taking care of or directing.
Try this exercise. Find 10 minutes of quiet time. Yeah, I know, you don’t have 10 minutes. I’m calling BS right now. If you ever have time to post on social media, and I mean EVER, you have ten minutes you can claim for you. (There, your first mindset shift!)
Take out a piece of paper. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Write down everything that you love and everything that matters, as fast as you can, for the entire 5 minutes. If you go blank, take a breath and keep going.
When the time is up, look at the list. Now is the time for ruthless self-awareness. How many of the things on the list are truly, genuinely, authentically YOURS? How many of them are things that other people expect you to do for them, make work for them or can’t/won’t do themselves if you don’t? How many are priorities others expect you to participate in? How many are other people’s desires?
Like I said, be ruthless.
Now, tear that list up and throw it away. Set another timer for 5 minutes and try it again. Only this time, anything that isn’t authentically yours, that doesn’t move your heart and soul, has no business being on the list.
Different list, huh? I bet virtually every one of those things on the second list gets an emotional rise from you when you really think about it.
Now, how many of those things are never going to happen, never going to work or just going to suffer if you’re tired, weak, sick or dead?
Yeah, mindset happens like that.
Get serious. Decide that this time is it. BE the person who “does all that exercise and nutrition stuff.” You’ll find a purposeful mindset leads to a very different view of the discipline of exercising, eating well and losing the weight.
2. Your self-love sucks (let the little buggers fend for themselves. It’ll toughen them up)
So many women’s weight loss “gurus” out there love to talk about self-love. “Just love who you are right now.” “Accept your body.” Blah, blah, blah.
They apparently haven’t looked in your mirror, right?
Let me tell you something right up front. You’re awesome! Absolutely, stunningly, freakin’ ridiculously awesome.
And it doesn’t have a damned thing to do with what you weigh, what size you wear or what you look like in that mirror that Maleficent cursed.
Let’s start with a basic reality. According to Dr. Ali Binazir, of Harvard, the odds of you existing at all are 1 in 10 2,685,000 . That’s a 10 with 2,685,000 zeros after it.
In other words, the probability of you, the specific person you are, existing at all, is basically zero.
You’re a miracle. A walking, talking, stress-riddled, over-scheduled, to-do-list-laden miracle.
So start by appreciating that little reality next time someone starts yapping because they lost a sock. Tell them to suck it up and get to searching. They’re a miracle, too, and they should act like it and find that damned sock themselves.
Whether you’re a busy mom, CEO or 9 to 5’er, or all three, you can one day look in the mirror or get on the scale and realize you’ve packed a bunch of pounds on.
You’ve been taking care of others, no matter your role. It’s almost like it’s in female DNA.
But what about you? If you don’t love yourself honestly, self-loathing is often the alternative. You loathe the fact that you “lost” yourself. You despise the way you look, how you feel. And let’s not even talk about the bedroom…
Self-loathing is a terrible place from which to start a new journey. And changing your fitness and nutrition lifestyle is a journey worth starting well.
We have to get one thing turned around before you can BE the woman who changes her fitness trajectory.
Self-care in the interest of “getting stuff done” isn’t enough. It’s maintenance, not care.
Start by accepting yourself right where you are. I know, new-agey, right? Wrong.
Accepting yourself has 2 aspects – taking responsibility and being grateful.
Taking responsibility is not the same as accepting blame. Don’t blame yourself for your current condition. We all do what we think we have to do, until we know better. Then, we can do better. You now have that chance.
Be responsible for where you are and grateful that this body got you to this and is ready for change!
Try this “prayer,” or something like it.
“This is my body. It has brought me to this moment and along my journey and I am grateful for it. It is part of me, but does not define who I am. It is strong, it is capable, it is wonderfully made! I love this body and will take care of it from this day forward as we journey together in health and in fitness.”
Speaking to yourself this way acknowledges your responsibility to yourself and your gratitude for all your body has done for you.
Responsibility and gratitude, not loathing and avoidance. Start really loving yourself today.
3. Your focus sucks (outcomes vs. habits)
Stop focusing on the damned scale! Create habits that work. If you’re doing nothing in the way of exercise, start by committing to walk 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week and strength training for 30 minutes, 3 days a week.
It doesn’t matter if you’re lifting in a gym or following a program at home, start with a manageable schedule and volume load.
If your diet sucks now (more on this in a minute,) commit to changing one thing in the first week. Want an easy one? Commit to eating 2 servings of vegetables at every single lunch and dinner for a week. It’s easier than you think!
If you have a salad, count it as one serving and add another. Do this for a week and you’ll be feeling better.
Focus on the habit of eating whole foods, avoiding processed foods. A 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal found that nearly 60% of the average American diet is comprised of “ultra-processed” foods. (1) These are food products that are very high in sugars, fats and added non-food ingredients designed to bypass your natural hunger controls. That means you’re far more likely to overeat these foods vs. natural, whole foods.
Create the habit of drinking lots of water. There are a lot of opinions about this, but I like the 2/3 of your body weight in ounces of water a day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 100 ounces. You won’t drown, I promise.
Each time you meet a habit milestone, even for one day, celebrate it! Write it on a small chalkboard or whiteboard you can hang somewhere visible. The tactile act of writing it and the visible reminder of success will bolster your mindset, strengthen your will keep you on track to more habit wins!
True Story: Several years ago, I had a client who had 3 kids and was struggling to lose the “baby fat.” She was doing everything right. She strength trained 3 times a week, got 30 minute walks in 5-6 days a week and her nutrition (at least what she wrote down) was on point.
But she had 10-12 pounds she couldn’t seem to get rid of. We were both perplexed.
Then, I saw her come in to the gym with her youngest, about 2, on her hip. As she headed to the day care, I saw here “showing” him how to eat a french fry from a fast food joint. “Watch mommy!” And into her mouth it went.
She did that 3 times on the way in. When we got together, I asked “how were the fries?” She looked at me with a look of shock on her face. She had no idea she was even doing it!
When we talked about it, she realized she did that all the time. It was a habit from when her son was very young that never went away. We realized she was probably adding 200-300 calories a day like that without even realizing it.
We changed this habit immediately! Within 1 month, she had dropped 3 of the pounds that she previously “couldn’t get rid of.”
1 habit changed, 1 big result!
Start focusing on creating better fitness and nutrition habits and the scale will bear out the results.
4. Your sleep sucks (see the previous 3 and maybe we can fix that)
People who lose sleep get fat. I’ve written about this before in “Get More Sleep or Die Fat and Weak.” I noted several studies showing a link between sleep loss and weight gain.
In one, people who got only 4 hours sleep consumed 22% more calories at meals and almost doubled their fat intake! (2)
Sleep loss also messes with your hormones. Ghrelin is a hormone that increases hunger, leptin is one that signals fullness. In a study, one group of sleep-deprived patients showed 19% higher ghrelin levels and 15.5% lower leptin levels. (3)
Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night can enhance your physical activity, raise your resting metabolic rate (that’s how many calories you burn while doing nothing – pretty important!) and help reduce cravings for high-sugar foods.
For women, getting more sleep is often about setting boundaries and expectations. Easy to say, I know, but still true.
Set the bedtime and waking time in your household. Try to have all activity finished 30 minutes before that time. If there is a need for someone to be awake after that, segregate them and leave them to take care of themselves. It’s a big step, but my experience working with women has been that once it’s set, it sticks.
5. Your genetics suck (actually, they probably don’t)
Genetics does have an impact on obesity. However, unless you come from a long line of obese people, it’s not likely to be the problem.
While both stress and obesity are epigenetic, meaning they can switch gene expression on or off, your weight gain is most likely environmental and experiential in nature, meaning your genes are not working against you. Your life, schedule and stress levels, however, might be.
6. Your immune system sucks (you have some weird-ass disease)
Some women actually have conditions or diseases which make weight loss very challenging.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which low levels of thyroid hormone cause a slowdown in metabolism. Reduced metabolic rates mean your body is not as efficient at burning calories or fat. This can hamper weight loss.
Lipedema may affect 1 in 9 women across the world. It can cause excess fat to accumulate on a woman’s hips and legs. This fat is difficult to lose and also causes pain and easy bruising.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is believed to affect as much as 21% of women of reproductive age. Symptoms include insulin resistance and hormonally stimulated fat accumulation in the abdomen.
Cushing’s Syndrome Characterized by a buildup of fat in the face, upper back and abdomen, Cushing’s is caused when the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol.
Some medications may hinder fat loss as well. Antidepressants have been linked to weight gain. (4) Antipsychotics and diabetes medications are also culprits in this regard. (5,6) These medications change the function of the body and brain. They reduce metabolic rate, stimulate appetite or change how your body responds to certain nutrients.
7. You eat too much or too little (your diet sucks)
Even if you track your food (and you should,) you’re likely to underestimate the number of calories you eat. Studies have shown that people do this by as much as 16%! (7) For perspective, if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s 320 extra calories. That’s most of one meal! Over 11 days, that’s a whole pound of food.
Now, please understand that I’m not trying to get you to drastically cut down on food intake. My strong suggestion is to measure your food, do good food prep and portioning and then enjoy the hell out of what you make and eat!
We absolutely want to get you into a caloric deficit. That’s how weight loss happens.
So how much food should you eat per day? Good question!
For weight loss, a simple ratio is 10 calories per pound of current body weight. If you are active, meaning you get an average of at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, you should add 10% to that total. If you start the way I laid it out in #3, you’d qualify for this addition. If you’re getting an average of 60 minutes a day, add 15% to your total.
Let’s do some math.
Let’s say you weigh 180 pounds and exercise an average of 30 minutes a day. Here’s how it looks:
180 X 10 = 1,800
1,800 + 10% = 1,980
If you eat 4 times a day, that would be an average of 495 calories per meal.
If you go over or under on occasion, it’s not terrible. It will all average out over time.
And as for your next question, the answer is no. You don’t reduce the calorie count as you lose weight. Why? The reason is fairly complex, but let’s boil it down.
As you get leaner, you will have a higher ratio of lean mass. With exercise, especially strength training, you are going to add muscle (you gonna be a sexy beast!) This means your RMR, or resting metabolic rate, will rise. Believe it or not, as you get leaner, you may find yourself hungrier at meal times.
Don’t panic. If you have established good exercise and nutrition habits, you’ll be able to listen to your body and add or adjust foods as needed to keep yourself satisfied, fit and happy.
In other words, if you make the effort to get your habits in line and consistent, it gets easier as it goes along! Good news, right?
8. You waste time and energy on shitty cardio
Sorry about the off-color word, but I hate traditional cardio. With a passion.
That being said, cardiovascular fitness is important. And you may find me on an elliptical machine if I’m travelling and the only hope of a workout lies in a hotel “gym” with no weights of any kind. Of course, now that I read that, I realize I really would have to be desperate.
I’d rather squat, plank, lunge and do push-ups any day.
Now, if you love to run, bike or swim at a steady pace for long periods of time or as a competitive activity, I’m not talking to you. You do you.
But as a weight loss regimen, steady state cardio (SSC) sucks in a big way. I wrote an article titled “The Fools on the Treadmills” where I detailed multiple studies of SSC that literally proved how worthless it was as a weight or fat loss method.
In fact, in one of the studies, participants did an hour of cardio a day, 6 days a week for an entire year. When the weight loss totals came in, these poor saps probably wanted to shoot themselves. On average, they lost a paltry 3 ½ pounds!
An entire year of cardio, 312 hours on a treadmill, for 3 ½ pounds. You’ve got to be kidding me.
If you absolutely have nothing else to do for an hour a day after you finish strength training (which is the real bread-and-butter of weight loss,) be my guest. I’d rather watch grass grow. At least I’ll get some fresh air.
9. You refuse to lift heavy (nice pink dumbbells, princess)
Women shouldn’t lift heavy or they’ll get bulky, right? Wrong. Women who eat junk food get bulky.
Women’s joints aren’t built as strong as men’s are, so they should lift light weights, right? Wrong. Women’s joints are just as strong as men’s.
“But I just want to ‘tone up!’” What do you think you’ll be toning up? MUSCLE!
Want to have a fat-burning machine for a body? Lift heavy weights!
Want to manage stress and sleep better? Lift heavy weights!
Want to have a lean, sexy body? Lift heavy weights!
Want to be able to eat dessert? Lift heavy weights! (No, I’m NOT kidding!)
Want to feel awesome, with gobs of energy, all the time? Lift heavy weights!
Want me to stop making fun of your adorable little dumbbells? Lift heavy weights!
Have you noticed a theme here?
Now, before you get all panicky, “heavy weights” is a bit of a relative term. I don’t mean heavy when compared to competitive powerlifters. I mean heavy enough to be challenging for you.
Squats and deadlifts help you get lean, sexy legs and a tight butt. Lifting challenging weights will also improve your back, arms, shoulders and even your abs. Weight training done right will challenge your core and improve your abs, even without sit-ups and crunches.
Lifting weights creates anthropomorphic change in muscle tissue. Muscles get broken down during training, then use consumed nutrients for repair during periods of rest. Yes, that’s the simplified version, but it’s how it works.
But strength training also increases your metabolic rate (9) by increasing muscle mass. Muscle burns energy, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn each day!
One of the other cool things strength training does is help reduce belly fat. (10) Belly fat is often the hardest to lose, especially as we age, so this is a big plus.
True Story: One client came to me after having “been a runner” for some years. She was concerned about pain in her back, knee and shoulder. She also wanted to lose some weight. She told me she had struggled with weight loss in the past, even when she was diligent about her running program.
After some adjustments and corrective work, we added progressive strength training to her regimen. She was suddenly doing things like deadlifts, squats and barbell rows. After a few months, the pain was gone. Even after running a 5K, she had no knee pain.
Interestingly, the scale only changed by about 8-10 pounds over 4 months, which is still a solid weight loss result, but something else happened. She dropped 2 full clothing sizes! Needless to say she was happy. And yes, she still lifts heavy today and is still pain-free!
So if you’re struggling to lose weight, take a real, honest inventory of your approach to exercise, nutrition and lifestyle and see if one of these 9 things isn’t sabotaging your success. If so, I bet you’ll know what to do!
If not, you can always reach out to me or seek professional help wherever you live.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
- McTiernan et al. Exercise Effect on Weight and Body Fat in Men and Women. Obesity 2007 June – 15:1496-1512.