Recently, I got a call from a colleague who also happens to be the chief nutrition writer for a top newspaper. She’s a woman on a mission and she wanted my help. She’ll be turning 50 this December and is determined to drop those dreaded last 10 pounds once and for all to celebrate this special birthday. She wanted my advice about how to proceed.
When I asked her where 10 pounds (and not 5 or some other number) came from, she just assumed it would take 10 pounds to accomplish her mission. When I asked her if she had a health problem that would be improved if she shed pounds, she said no. In fact, she’s in great health – 5’4″, 145 pounds, BMI 25, pear shaped, with a 31 inch waist and a size 8 jean. She hadn’t yet measured her body fat, but I estimate it is probably in the range of 22-25%. Her cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure are all normal. Instead, she offered, “I’ve always had an issue with my thighs. I just want to feel more comfortable in my jeans and feel better about myself.” It seems that every woman has at least one piece of her anatomy that drives her crazy – and believe me, it’s a short drive! In this case, it’s the thunder thighs she imagines as she stares in her mirror.
I‘ll bet there are lots of you out there tortured and tormented by what you consider your last 5-10 pounds. I’m only addressing those who do not have a health issue related to those pounds. When your health is not at stake, then the incentive and drive for removing more weight comes from you.
Here are some tips that might help you think this through:
- Be clear about why you want to drop more weight. There are many reasons why people want to drop those last pounds. For some, you may simply be coming towards the end of a weight removal journey and just want to complete a goal you set weeks, months or years ago. Hopefully, you’re teaming with health and fitness professionals who are helping guide you and are monitoring your progress. Some people may actually have had serious medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes) and want to shed pounds to keep these diseases at bay. For others, there is no health related issue to drop more weight. Vanity plays an important role here. You want to achieve a certain look. That’s fine, so long as any weight change goal is healthy and reasonable and you’re not struggling with an unhealthy body image that may lead you to dropping too much weight. Ask yourself why, if you’re healthy and fit and you’re in a good clothing size, you still want to change? If you’re confused and not sure how to answer this question, I highly recommend that you ask a medical, fitness or nutritional professional for their opinion. You really need to be clear about your motivation.
- Body fat, not body weight, is what you want to remove. Removing body fat and retaining or building muscle is the main goal for those people who want to achieve a fitter look. Know your numbers – body weight, body fat percentage, BMI, waist circumference, overall body shape (apple, pear, hourglass), clothing size. Have a professional review these with you. What’s keeping you from fitting into a smaller size is fat, not muscle. Beware of only paying attention to body weight. If you do, then you can end up shedding muscle as well as fat and actually end up with a higher body fat percentage than you started with.
- Know the price you’ll be paying. To unload those last pounds of fat appropriately, you need to preserve your muscles. That means you have a lot less wiggle room for skipping your workouts. For that matter, you really need to step up the intensity of cardio (5-6 x week), and probably pull off 2-3 weight training sessions per week to maintain your muscle mass. The big price is in your eating. Yep, you’ll have to rein in your calories further. That means by trial and error, finding the most satisfying way to eat with the least number of calories and not feeling hungry throughout the day. There is no wiggle room here. Your buffer zone is minutely small. Yes you can do treats but much less often. To reach your goal you have to be stricter and more disciplined. This is the way an athlete lives, for instance. Living like this takes a drive and motivation that you must be very clear about. That is why you need to answer the questions I have posed in item #1.
- Get professional guidance. I believe that it’s imperative to first meet with a certified and credible professional or two (doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, fitness professional, registered dietitian) to be clear about why you want to embark on this plan and to make certain it’s safe and healthy to do so. If you discover that you do have body image issues, then I would highly recommend you seek help from an experienced counselor or therapist.
- Create realistic expectations. If you think the earth is going to move just because you dropped 5 pounds of fat, think again. Will your marriage turn blissful, will you get that promotion or will you find the meaning of life once you can slip into smaller size jeans? Be careful. Make sure you realize you’re dropping body fat and getting healthier. Yes, you’ll be happier and proud of your accomplishment (if it’s all done safely and healthfully). But be careful about assuming life will change dramatically. That’s a mental landmine you don’t want to fall into.