Is your approach to fat loss customized or one size-fits-all?

Whenever I get a phone call from someone inquiring about one-on-one nutrition coaching who used to go to Weight Watchers, I have the following thoughts

  • She’ll likely have really high body fat (Weight Watchers people lose a lot of muscle due to too little protein, low calorie intake and lack of strength training)
  • She will likely have a bigger bottom and skinny top (because with that diet model she will switch on fat storage in her lower body and speed up fat loss in the upper body)
  • She will likely be focused on the number of the scale and into counting mode (points, calories)
  • She will measure her progress solely on the scale (that’s how WW measures progress)

I’ve come to have these expectations based on hundreds of WW people I’ve counseled and worked with in my Slim & Strong program. It’s not their fault that they think that way and have those results, but I feel bad for them for having worked so hard to still not be happy with their bodies and have to continue the search with a slowed-down metabolism. The accountability portion of the program is a smart idea, but there are so many things that are just wrong about their approach. They sell foods that are loaded with chemicals and no nutritional value to make money. They teach you restriction and dieting, which doesn’t work for someone whose hormones are out of balance from too much dieting, stress, and wrong food choices. Unfortunately 95% of Weight Watchers people gain the weight back. Bam! 95%! Doesn’t that tell you that something’s not adding up?

There are so many things I want my clients to understand so that they don’t have to rely on a diet program, a diet book or jump on the next juice cleanse or ever feel out of control in their own bodies again. When I started working with this woman whose goal was to get back into her pre-baby shape, it became clear she was following diet rules that just didn’t work for her body type, metabolic type, her lifestyle, her genetics and her hormonal issues. I taught her how to eat a clean diet to sensitize herself to the foods she used to consider ‘treats’. Once she cut out the sugar, alcohol and processed foods, she felt immediately lighter, lost several pounds of water weight and started to sleep through the night. She also noticed that she was reacting to grains with lethargy, got congested when she had dairy (out went the Greek yogurt) and realized that her sugar addiction was in large part driven by her massive stress.

After the first 2 weeks she had lost 8 lbs already and felt like a different person. Her clothes started to fit better and she had enough energy to start working out. She hadn’t lifted a weight for over 2 years. As a result of low-protein dieting and high stress she had lost a lot of muscle mass, which only slowed down her metabolism even more. Once we added a simple 20-minute strength routine 3x a week to her schedule, she started to feel more energized and saw her shape changing. Her lower body (hips, thighs, butt) was more resistant to change and so I taught her how to work with her menstrual cycle. She was surprised to hear that there are two weeks in the month when fat burning in the lower body is more active and where her butt, thighs and hips will respond better to a special type of training. And, there are two weeks where muscle building is easier, so during those weeks we upped the weights and focused on high intensity interval training.  We discussed how to eat before and after her workouts and how to eat on days she didn’t work out (you wan to eat more and differently on workout days than on rest days). We also discussed supplements called adaptogens that helped her adapt to stress better so that she reduces her output of adrenaline, cortisol and insulin.

During the entire month she never even counted a single calorie, but learned to choose food based on her appetite, her energy and her activity level. She also learned how to combat sweet cravings and what they mean (high stress, lack of sleep, low estrogen, serotonin and dopamine levels). Ultimately, she learned how to trust her body’s signals again and not blindly follow the latest diet trend without any regard for how she feels.

A month later for our follow-up meeting she had lost 11 lbs, 5 inches off her waist and 3 inches around her hips – a sure sign that her hormones were well-balanced, her appetite controlled and the workouts targeting the right body parts to shed body fat. Her loss of weight and inches wasn’t the most important thing to her, however. Her great skin, improved sleep, balanced mood, improved digestion and the reduction of her sugar cravings, along with the fact that she could make decent choices anywhere and still was able to have her indulgences once in a while,  were so much of a reward that she realized that no amount of candy can create the sense of joy she feels by working with her body.

Here are a few tips on how to make your diet and workout work for you:

  • Your diet is the single most important factor in shaping your body. How you control your insulin levels determines whether you store fat, lose fat, gain muscle or lose muscle.
  • Eat slightly more on workout days (right before or after your workout) and stick to protein and veggies only on rest days. That way you’ll keep your metabolism guessing.
  • Ongoing stress can diminish the effects of even the cleanest diet and most effective workout. If your adrenaline and cortisol are high, so will be  your insulin and that means you’re storing fat even while kicking ass in the gym. Reduce your stress and that means alternate your intense workout days with rest or relaxation days. Sleep at least 7-8 hours. Add R&R, such as meditation, yoga, walking, hiking, nature time, relaxing baths, massages or sauna sessions to your week.
  • Make sure your workout works for you. Not all workouts are for everyone. For example, if you are super-stressed, then long-distance running will only create a bigger stress response . Your HIIT workouts may be overkill when you’re stressed as well. The more stress, the more you need yoga, pilates, walking, restful workouts and heavy lifting workouts as balance to reduce the amount of stress hormones (remember, stress hormones create fat storage). You can go for a hard and tough workout if you’re well rested, slept well and your stress is balanced. Then you can create muscle growth and a fat burning effect. If you haven’t seen your body change, it’s time to change course!