While we certainly see a wide range of weight loss goals in our practice, you may find that the final few pounds you would like to lose are indeed the most stubborn. “If I could just drop 5 pounds” is a common statement we hear in our nutrition counselling practice. Here are some things to consider if you have been struggling with the dilemma of what else you can do:
The closer you get to your body’s natural set point or weight that it prefers to be, the harder it is to budge the scale. If you have a poor lifestyle habits and have significant weight to lose you will often lose weight at a faster rate than if you have been at it a long time and are trying to lose the last few pounds.
2. Is changing my nutrition the best way to lose the final 5 pounds?
It may or may not be depending on your current eating habits. Working with a registered dietitian for one-on-one nutrition counselling is one of the best ways to have custom feedback on if there are some additional changes that you could make to your diet or to assure you that you are on the right track. The best self assessment tool you can find to get started yourself is to keep a food journal for a week and write down everything you are eating and take a good hard look at it. Are there places that you could make changes or is your nutrition intake at a place that is healthy and removing or cutting back on anything else would lead to feelings of deprivation and be unsustainable for the long term?
3. If my nutrition needs some work, what are the best strategies to focus on?
There are broadly two things to consider:
#1 Could I make changes to the TYPE of foods that I eat?
Take a good look at your pantry, fridge and plates of food. If I were to visit your kitchen, eat lunch with you at work, sit down at your table at supper and eat snacks with you what would I say? What would you be proud of and what might you change? Since we often eat whatever is convenient start by managing your environment (what you stash in your cupboards, cars and at work). A good place to start is thinking about having a supper plate with half a plate veggies, one-quarter plate grains/starches and one-quarter plate protein.
Remember you don’t need to be perfect but really take a hard look and consider what you could change with a bit better planning and focus. Also consider what I call non-negotiables or foods chosen for fun such as sweets, savory foods – which ones are really worth it?
#2 Could I make changes to the AMOUNT of food that I eat?
If you are generally a healthy eater and make good choices chances are you could benefit from shifting your portion sizes. Think about switching to smaller plates and bowls and taller slimmer glasses for calorie containing beverages. When I eat ice cream as much as I would like to have a large soup bowl it will always result in scooping out a bigger portion than I really need. It is best to choose a smaller dessert bowl since the same amount of ice cream looks bigger in a smaller bowl and will “fill up our eyes.” Purchase hard to manage foods in the smallest size packages possible and just at the time of purchase. For example waiting to purchase a small individual bag of chips from the convenience store when you have a strong craving is far better than leaving a 2-pack of family size bags of chips home in your pantry. Research shows when we have more we eat more.
4. Why is having realistic expectations so important?
It is important to set ourselves up for success by recognizing our limitations and what good progress really looks like. Research shows even being able to maintain our weight as we age is very good success. I would also like you to consider if you are currently healthy and have good nutrition and exercise habits, what in your life would really change if you lost 5 pounds? Chances are nothing will change and you may want to give yourself a pat on the back for the health and strength of your body right now as is. Consider replacing your “never enough” mindset with “good enough.”
I am also reminded of a research study from a few years ago in which 60 obese women were assessed for their goals, expectations and outcomes regarding their weight loss journey over 48 weeks.
Before starting they defined their goal weight, their ‘dream weight,’ ‘happy weight,’ ‘acceptable weight’ and ‘disappointed weight’. Their goal weights required an average loss of 32% of body weight! A 37 pounds weight loss was generally defined as ‘disappointed’; a 55 pound weight loss was merely seen as ‘acceptable’.
The results of the program showed that the participants lost an average of approximately 35 pounds. Ironically despite amazing progress almost half (47%) of the patients did not feel that they had achieved even a ‘disappointed weight’.
Polivy J. The false hope syndrome: unrealistic expectations of self-change. International Journal of Obesity (2001) 25, Suppl 1, S80–S84 ß 2001. http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v25/n1s/pdf/0801705a.pdf
Foster GD, Wadden TA, Vogt RA, Brewer G. What is a reasonable weight loss? Patients’ expectations and evaluations of obesity treatment outcomes. J Consult Clin Psychol 1997; 65: 79 – 85.