Ask Keri: It seems like when I set out to lose weight, I start out okay and then it gets harder and harder. Is it always easier at the beginning?
Keri Says: You’re not alone. Almost everyone loses weight at the beginning when they set out to drop some pounds, only to find it gets harder and harder to make progress.
Here’s why it’s easier at the start and how to stay motivated to reach your personal ideal weight. (And remember—it’s normal to sometimes want to lose a little weight when you’ve gotten off track, but ideally I want to get you to a place where you’ve got a healthy, sustainable diet that works for you, so you don’t need to go through cycles of trying to drop pounds.)
First of all, making any kind of drastic change is going to result in a big initial shift. If you switch from eating pizza every day for lunch to making a salad, for example, your body is going to respond to that pretty quickly. This is why people who eat the worst to begin with often have the best initial results.
Second, you may have heard about “water weight,” and yes, it’s real.
Lots of foods that are not good for you in large amounts—like sugar, salt, and carbs—cause your body to hold onto extra water. When you cut them out, your body lets go of that extra H2O. Also, if you cut your overall calorie intake significantly, your body dips into glycogen stores for energy. Glycogen is bound in the body by water, so burning it means getting rid of that water, too.
Now, here’s where it starts to get more complicated: As you lose weight, your body needs less fuel to do all of the things it does to keep things humming. You know, the daily maintenance. So a person who weighs 150 pounds doesn’t necessarily need the same amount of fuel as someone who weighs 125 pounds. This is tricky though, and it becomes a gray area, because you can’t keep reducing how much you eat as you lose weight. (You need to feed your body enough calories to stay strong and healthy!)
I always liked to just have my clients think about the fact and be aware of it, and maybe instead of reducing calories (because we’re not calorie counters anyway), try changing up what you’re eating more often. Just like at the gym your body gets used to certain exercises and you’ve got to switch things up, it might help to add some diversity to your diet to break out of a rut. While some studies have shown more diversity in diets is associated with weight gain, others have shown that when you compare only people eating healthy foods, those with more diversity in their diets have better metabolic health. Listening to your body and understanding your hunger quotient is super important here, too, since you may not be tuned into the fact that your body is asking for slightly less.
There’s also a theory called “set point,” and a lot of evidence points to the fact that your body does have a weight range it will naturally settle in. That’s because genes play a role in body weight, but it’s important to remember that hormones and habits like diet, exercise, and stress-management are just as important. In other words, your genes are one of many factors, which means you have to acknowledge your personal body type so that you’re not being unrealistic about weight loss goals. You shouldn’t, however, be discouraged by the theory and use it as an excuse to settle for a weight that doesn’t feel good to you, because all of the factors you can control are just as influential.
In that same vein, when you think about why you were losing so much weight in the beginning and then hit a plateau, you’ve got to ask yourself: did you get off track without realizing it? Sometimes in the beginning, you’re super focused on meal prep and staying hydrated and hitting every spin class, and as time goes on, you lose a little of that drive. Or you forget about all of the other non-food components of weight loss, like stress management and getting enough sleep.
It’s worth checking with your food journal, your habits, and your body if you’re frustrated by your progress. Are you settling into new, healthy habits or are you back to old, bad habits you wanted to leave behind? The more you can get to the latter, the closer you’ll be to maintaining a healthy weight 24-7, instead of having to embark on another weight loss journey.