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The key is to enact changes in your eating and activity habits that you'll be able to maintain every day for life. HealthNews / Nov. 20, 1999
Q. I've been to all kinds of doctors, from endrocrinologists and sports medicine specialists, and no one seems to have the answer to my problem. I'm a 30-year-old female bodybuilder. I've been overweight most of my life, going from one diet to another. I went on a high protein/extremely low carb diet and lost a lot of weight. I became practically anorexic. I kept my weight down for about 18 months, but whenever I ate anything not on my diet, I gained weight rapidly. I eventually went off my diet and ballooned from 100 pounds to 160 in about six months.
At this point I simply couldn't lose weight. After about a year, however, I tried Weight Watchers and to my surprise I began to lose weight. I also began weight training and aerobics at about this time. I ultimately ended up on a very demanding schedule: weight training six days per week, 2-3 hours; stationary bicycle, six days per week, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes after weight training. I ended up at 102 pounds and was able to maintain that weight for about 2 ½ years, when I began gaining again. During this period, I was under extreme stress (three deaths in the family, change of job, husband unemployed). I fell off the wagon and binged every now and then. I'm now back to 137 pounds at 5'2", with a body fat level of about 23%.
No matter what I do, it's as though I can't lose weight. I cut my calories to 800 a day, but it didn't seem to work. So now I get up at 4 a.m., do an hour on the bike, go to a full-time job, go to the gym for a couple of hours, go home, eat dinner and go to bed at 10:30 p.m. I have been doing this for about two weeks, but I still don't seem to be losing. I am at the point where I'm afraid to eat anything, which I know is dangerous. I suppose I caused my metabolism to go into hibernation, but I simply don't know how to get it going again. I hope you can help.
A. As you seem to know, you're a victim of the yo-yo syndrome. You've gone from one extreme to another, which has compounded your problem. What you need is a diet and exercise program that can be maintained comfortably. You've proved you can lose weight, but like so many others you can't keep it off.
Dr. Maria Simonson, director of the Health, Weight and Stress Program at John's Hopkins University and author of The Complete University Medical Diet, calls this the old bugaboo. Staying thin, she has observed, is harder than getting thin. The reason is that we are willing to restrict ourselves for a certain length of time but not, Heaven forbid, forever. You need a plan you can be comfortable with forever. It is possible, believe me if you'll just stop trying so hard. Let's start by looking at what yo-yoing up and down has done to your body.
Every time you lost weight (making yourself miserable in the process) and then gained it again, you make it harder to lose the next time. That's because research has shown that repeated cycles of weight loss and gain make later weight-loss attempts more difficult and regain more rapid.
In a study with laboratory rats, Kelly Brownell, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, observed that after the animals regained the weight they had lost when they were placed on a diet, it took more than twice as long to lose it the second time around, even though they were fed the same number of calories. And it took less than one-third the time the gain it back! Specifically, the animals lost their excess weight in 21 days on the first try, but it took 46 days to shed the extra weight a second time. It took 45 days to regain the weight the first time, but only 14 days to put it on again.
It works the same way with people. Brownell has found that wrestlers who lose and gain weight frequently have significantly lower metabolic rates than wrestlers who maintain a constant weight. Apparently, the body responds to repeated efforts at weight loss by automatically lowering its metabolic rate to conserve scarce calories. It's our built-in survival mechanism. The body perceives dieting as life-threatening starvation. In addition, it produces more of the enzymes responsible for the depositing of fat. That's why the fat goes back on so fast when eating is resumed.
That probably explains why it's so hard for you to lose weight, and even harder for you to keep it off. But what you really want to know is how to remedy the problem.
First, 23% body fat for a woman your age is not considered overweight. Desirable body fat for a woman is generally set at 25% or less. It's true, of course, that competitive female bodybuilders average about 13%, and that many of them are considerably lower. Nevertheless, the point is that you can afford to take your time losing. Your condition isn't really all that bad. So relax!
Now, sit back and look at what you've been doing to yourself. You've been going from one uncomfortable reducing regimen to the next. You put yourself on an extremely low carbohydrate diet. That kind of diet makes you feel awful. Nobody can stay on it for long, and you're no exception. Weight Watchers worked for you, but you had to plunge into a weight-and-aerobics regimen that would probably overtrain a horse. That training program plus the series of stressful like situations set you off on periodic binges again. Now, you're forcing yourself to train at 4 a.m., et cetera, et cetera. I'm sure you can see you're heading for another failure. So again, please relax. Revise your diet and training schedule to a level that you know you can live with comfortably.
Ask yourself the if your diet and training program is enjoyable. If it's not, then revise it again, until you feel that you'll be happy doing it for the rest of your life. That's the program that will make you permanently lean.
I'll give you a few hints to point you in the right direction. First, stop counting calories. Focus more on the kind of food you eat than on the amount. Try to eat food the way it comes in nature or minimally processed. Eat less fat and more fiber. Pile on the fruit, vegetables and whole grain products, and take it easy on sweets. That doesn't mean, however, that you should deny yourself an ice cream sundae when you really want one. On the contrary, an occasional sweet treat actually helps you stay on a diet most of the time. If you follow this kind of a diet, your natural appetite control mechanism will keep your food intake in balance with your energy output.
By all means, exercise regularly weights and aerobics. As I say in Ripped 3, exercise is the most important factor in getting ripped and staying that way. The key to sticking with an exercise program is to make it fun. My wife Carol likes to walk on the treadmill and ride the Schwinn Air-Dyne. In fact, she's grouchy as all get out if she misses a day. I enjoy a combination of the treadmill, the Concept II rower and the Schwinn Air-Dyne. You may prefer a good game of basketball or handball. If that's the case, by all means, get your aerobics exercise in that manner. Again, whatever form of exercise you do, make sure it's enjoyable. If it's fun, you'll have found your own path to getting lean and staying that way.
It boils down to the comfort factor. If your comfortable with your diet and exercise program, you'll be happy to stay with it, yes, forever.
For further information, I urge you to read my book Ripped 2. A third of the book is devoted to the subject of keeping fat off once you lose it, staying lean.
Here's wishing you a happy, healthy and lean life.
(The above Q & A was taken from my book The Lean Advantage 2, published in 1989, and it's as timely as the day it was written. In my experience, then and now, the biggest mistake people make is to rush the weight loss process, making themselves miserable in the process. They want to lose weight NOW. They think short term and don't consider the long-term consequences of their actions. They forget that becoming and staying lean is a lifelong process.
See our products section for further information on The Lean Advantage series, including a special price for all three books.)
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