By Aubree Shofner – Contributing Writer
Recently, a client of mine stopped me mid-conversation and said, “I see the scale, and I am overwhelmed with discouragement and frustration.” We have been working together for over three months, diligently, inside and outside of the gym. Yet, despite their commitment to both personal training and nutrition services, nothing has changed.
Time and time again, I find myself having this same conversation with clients who come to me about how unhappy they are with the way things are going.
“Why?” I ask, and the answer is always the same: “I’m not seeing results. … It has already been six weeks. … I’m sticking to my program. … I’m tracking everything. … I’m doing everything verbatim.”
OK, so we all know that working out, staying active, eating right, tracking macronutrients, and making health-conscious decisions is far from easy. And – surprise, surprise – our bodies are not all genetically or metabolically the same.
Some of us drop weight and build muscle quickly, while some of us feel like we look at a bowl of pasta and put on a few pounds. What if I told you there are four simple (and not so obvious) changes you could be making that could significantly change the progress you see and improve how you feel?
1. DO YOU HAVE ONE TOO MANY BLTS?
I’m not talking about sandwiches – although I do enjoy a good sourdough stacked with bacon, lettuce, and freshly sliced tomato. No, I’m talking about Bites-Licks-Tastes.
How often do you finish stirring sauce and taste the spoon to make sure the temperature is just right? When you made that last round of protein cupcakes, did you lick that small bit of batter off your fingers? Remember when mom made that delicious meatloaf and you just had to have an itty bitty piece of the corner? Whether you are a macro tracker or not, every single time we dabble in a BLT, we are contributing to our total caloric intake. No matter how small, its counts, and when it counts, it contributes.
Without getting overly involved in the science of macronutrients, most of us know that to lose weight we must burn more than we are consuming. So if we are tracking for 32 grams of peanut butter, weigh out 32 grams of peanut butter, then lick the spoon that has already given us those 32 grams of peanut butter – and we have officially BLT’d ourselves into a caloric danger zone. Why? Well, the next time you have a little bit of peanut butter on the spoon leftover and you want to lick it off, instead scrape it onto a scale and measure how much is actually on there. A normal serving of peanut butter (2 tablespoons/32 grams) contains about 16 grams of fat. By eating the residual left behind on the spoon – let's say about 9 grams – you would be consuming an additional 4.5 grams of fat. This, plus the extra carbs and proteins being unaccounted for, is going to place you over your tracked caloric intake for the day.
2. I TRACK ALL WEEK, AND THEN I GIVE MYSELF A CHEAT MEAL (OR THREE) ON THE WEEKEND…
Call it what you want, but I’m gonna call it as it is: Weekend Binge Eating. If you are someone who maintains a consistent caloric intake, whether tracked or untracked, during the week, only to enter the weekend and allow yourself more freedom and less worry, then you may find that Saturdays are wrecking your slim-down. After a weekend of lax eating, do you find yourself doing one of the following come Monday:
– Stepping on the scale with hopefulness and caution?
– Stepping on the scale with one eye open?
– Avoiding the scale completely?
If so, it’s time you let go of the “I’ll start again on Monday” excuse and start facing the facts. Friday through Sunday is generally the prime time for date nights, parties, weddings, and decompressing from the work week, which often makes usual weekday routines fall to the wayside and leads to overindulgence. Aside from the obvious extreme caloric surplus we place on our bodies, I want to briefly touch on what happens internally as well.
Sugar levels soar
Increasing calories with junk food, refined carbs, and booze can lead us into potential sugar overload. Spikes in blood glucose levels means the body releases more insulin (removing sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells for energy use), leading to a rapid surge of energy. The pancreas (responsible for insulin production) won’t stop producing insulin until the brain senses that levels are safe. However, by the time the brain stops, it is often found that too much sugar has been removed. This results in weight gain and other serious health issues, including feelings of tiredness, dizziness, and even depression. The condition we then place ourselves in is feeling that we need to eat more sugar and more carbs to aid in how we are feeling from these energy surges (sugar spikes galore!)
Gut bacteria gets whacky
Yo-yoing between weekend binge eating and eating well during the week can be just as bad for our gut health as a consistent diet of junk! Gut bacteria has a dramatic influence on our health, including assisting in the extraction of energy from food, building the body’s immune system, protecting against infection, and influencing weight and fat mass.
Guilt overtakes us
Overloading on the weekends can really mess with our emotional health, too. Food highs that come from overeating can cause a vicious cycle within the human brain, leading to possible feelings of depression and guilt. When we get hungry, our brains seek out what aids in our survival. When we get food, we are rewarded with dopamine, the chemical responsible for flooding the pleasure center of the brain. Once we have eaten enough, dopamine is no longer released.
So what’s my point? If you are in the cyclic habit of eating within your means during the week only to cheat meal your way back to square one on the weekends, you may be building up a tolerance against what a healthy amount of food is to your body. This can result in the brain’s inability to stimulate and release dopamine because it will no longer be able to recognize what a healthy amount of food is. Your weekend binges may turn into more frequent weekday happenings, resulting in an increase in weight gain and unhealthy eating habits.
Aside from what is happening internally, we also need to consider what we are doing to our progress. If your binges are neutralizing your deficit, then your body will not change. Instead, I can tell you what will change: all of your hard work. Whether you are or are not tracking your macros/daily caloric intake, your body can tell when you are in a deficit (state to lose weight) or surplus (state to increase weight). If you are meticulous during the week and in a deficit, weekend indulgences will take your body from the fat-burning phase and turn it into a maintenance phase (AKA no changes on the scale).
So, unfortunately, there is no magic answer on how to combat weekend binge eating. If you can’t stay within your caloric intake, you will simply continue within the cycle of spending an entire week working toward dropping a pound or two, only to put it back on over the weekend – resulting in weighing the same or more than you had seven days prior. Science is science.
3. USING BODY PARTS AS MEASURING TOOLS? IT’S TIME TO GET YOUR FEET OFF THE COUNTERTOPS
You have probably heard it before, so I’m just going to tell you one more time. Using your peepers as a measurement tool with food, instead of weighing it out, is a surefire way to gain unwelcomed weight.
Even if you are confident that you are being “accurate” when you eyeball how much you are eating, chances are you are either underestimating or overestimating your portion sizes. It’s time to “scale” the odds and see which “weigh” is better.
Did you know a cup is about the size of your fist or a baseball? And your hand is comparable to three ounces of meat? Analogies like these have always made me laugh, and for good reason. How many people can say they have placed their fist into a cup or sized it up to a baseball? I mean, can you even fit a baseball into a cup? I am also wondering if a 7-foot-tall male’s fist accurately measures a cup the same as a 4-foot-9 female. My point is that no two fists are the same, making no two eyeballed fist measurements the same.
But wait, there’s more. How many times do you slap raw poultry to make sure it measures up to your hand? Nothing like giving a good ol’ high five to your uncooked dinner before sending it to the grill. I’m going to keep this one simple: Let’s just leave hands and baseballs to sports and other things and not involve them in measurements at all.
In fact, no matter what you are eating, you are dealing with science. Using a scale to gram out ingredients, whether you are a macro follower or not, is imperative to the success or failure of how the body responds to routine caloric intake. If you are eyeballing, you are guesstimating, and if you are guesstimating, you might as well be hand-fulling. The best and easiest example I can give (aside from my savvy baseball-to-fist example) deals with protein powder. The next time you open a fresh tub of whey, use the scoop they give you inside and try to eyeball what you think is the equivalent of the grams serving (as suggested on the nutrition label). Now take that powder and weigh it on the scale. Not only is the scoop overestimating the serving size, your eyeballs also thought they were seeing an accurate amount. Instead of a precise measurement, you have now fallen to an easy tactic to get you to use more powder faster so you have to purchase a new tub sooner. And to top it off, you have now consumed more than the suggested serving size.
So, the bottom line is that you should stop trying find easy measuring tricks and get yourself a scale. Using any body part to measure your portion sizes sounds about as ludicrous as actually doing it.
4. CHANGES IN ACTIVITY = CHANGES IN RESULTS
Even with the best intentions to get healthier, stronger, leaner – whatever your fitness goal may be – life can sometimes intervene with your routine. The absence of working out and eating right can cause the body to digress, leaving you with quite the feeling of defeat. (You know, just one more thing to deal with while life is busy disrupting your habits and hard work.) It makes sense why a stop in activity and routine can hurt progress that is either being made or has been made.
I like to call this one Cold Turkey Syndrome (CTS). You know, work picks up, you start pulling longer hours behind the desk and spend less time on yourself. Your usual gym routine goes from three days of personal training to absolutely nothing almost instantly. Four weeks later, you have become sluggish, soft, weak, and easily winded as you reach for the candy bar at the back of your bottom desk drawer. If this sounds like you, first know that you aren’t alone. Second, know that your trainer is still waiting to hear back from you. When you go cold turkey and stop your usual workout routine, the body goes into detraining mode, and the internal effects are just as bad as the external.
Your dome piece
Exercise pumps oxygen to the brain. Ever notice how smart and sharp you feel after a workout? Go cold turkey and you will probably experience feelings of cloudiness and being off. Without getting way too involved in the science of the brain, strength and aerobic training boosts this groovy neurotransmitter called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (let's just call it BDNF). BDNF helps promote the growth of new brain cells and enhances connections between existing ones. Dopamine levels will decrease the more you are away from the gym, which can lead to feelings of anxiousness and fatigue. This can affect your motivation. If you are feeling tired and stressed, you will probably want to avoid the gym even more, which creates a pretty vicious and unhealthy cycle. Ever wonder why it is so hard to start back up once you have been off for an extended period of time? Now you know!
Almost instantly from the time you stop exercising, your blood pressure is higher. This is because our blood vessels adapt to the slower flow of a sedentary lifestyle after just two weeks. Within a month, stiffening arteries and veins send your BP back to where it would be if you had never worked out before.
Slipping strength, withering muscle
Inactivity will inevitably lead to a decline in strength and lean muscle mass. When you stop moving, your muscles stop firing the same due to underuse. As muscle fibers start to realize they no longer need to store energy, they begin to store less glycogen. This is called atrophy (AKA the shrinking of muscle fibers). When muscle fibers shrink, they require more stimuli to contract, which means you will have to work harder to see results.
Blood sugar levels
Yes, this again. After you eat, your blood sugar rises and then drops again as the muscles and other tissues suck up the sugar needed for energy. Go cold turkey and after just five days, your post-grub blood
sugar levels stay elevated. A constantly creeping glucose can increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes.
All it takes is two weeks of not being in the gym for the amount of oxygen your working muscles use can dramatically decrease. Plummeting endurance levels will continue to drop over a four-week period and feelings of being winded will occur more frequently and with less effort. What’s worse, your gains will recede as a result of losing the little mini-factories in your muscles responsible for converting that oxygen into energy (AKA mitochondria).
Bottom line: As we move into a new year, it's time for you to keep on the right track if you're getting the most from your fitness and nutrition choices. If not, it's time to start making changes. Now!
Aubree Shofner is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor at Jada Blitz Training in Clarence