I recently spoke with a friend who’s had trouble losing weight since the birth of her toddler. I found out that her method has been to run a mile every day and attend some workout classes, yet these methods have not helped. When I asked about her diet, I found she seemed to still be eating for two with lots of creamy pasta and chocolate desserts.
When I was in high school I was placed on birth control and antidepressants at the same time (I was a moody teen). Anyone who has been on even one of these may know the weight gain they can cause. But both, at the same time? I put on 40 lbs in a matter of several weeks. It happened so fast I looked in the mirror one day and didn’t recognize myself.
Enter excessive exercise.
These days, I find myself in a nice middle ground between where I started and where I ended up due to medications. And I’m fairly content with it. I share this story though because I realized it is not uncommon for people wanting to lose weight to go straight to exercise without analyzing or even thinking about changing their diet. In reality, a change in diet should be closer to 80% of the focus in weight loss and exercise around 20% of the focus. This is because we can exercise for hours and still not burn off that one donut.
I’m not saying exercise isn’t important – if you’ve read any of my other posts you’ll know I love working out – I’m just saying it shouldn’t be the #1 focus.
But as difficult as it can be to get a set workout routine down, it is so much harder to change our diet. Even though our diet is meant to simply give us energy to do our daily activities, it is so much more than that in our culture. Food is a comfort for our feelings and stress. Food is a tradition. Food is a social activity. Food is tied to our habits, which can be difficult to break. Food is not just a thing, but a thing we have a relationship with. And for many of us, that relationship can be a bit toxic.
If you have been on a weight loss journey, even if you just want to lose 5 pounds, and your first step is to hit the gym more often, I suggest putting more focus on what you are eating. Maybe keep a food log (I’m not asking you to track calories, just log the types of food you are eating). I often use photos to do this so I don’t waste time writing things down, and thanks to instagram taking photos of your food has become pretty normalized. At the end of the day or week, you can look back and see how much of the food you’ve eaten comprised of healthy foods like vegetables, whole grains, lean meat (unless you’re vegetarian of course), etc. and how much comprised of processed foods like pizza, fried chicken, sweets/baked goods, or restaurant food in general.
I like the idea of following the 80/20 rule in three areas. First, weight loss should include a change in both diet and exercise. As I mentioned earlier, the focus in weight loss should be zoned in a bit more on diet (~80%) and a little bit on exercise (~20%). If you put 100% focus on cranking up your workout routine but don’t think about changing your diet, chances are you will not receive the results you were hoping for (unless you’re a super clean eater to begin with and in that case get off my blog).
My second 80/20 rule is in regard to proportions of healthy food (80% healthy) to junk food (20% unhealthy). I use this rule because eating healthy 100% of the time is often unsustainable and unrealistic. Your diet shouldn’t prevent you from having desserts on special occasions. Often the people who jump in 100% and become overly restrictive or obsessive rebound in a way that could lead them to gaining more weight than they started with. Please don’t get into yo-yo dieting. Allow yourself some comfort food in moderation.
The last 80/20 rule is in regard to when to eat and how much to eat. I learned this in my nutrition class. You eat when you are 80% hungry, and eat until you are 80% full. I’m not sure if I really like this rule, as I don’t follow it whatsoever, but since this is what the “science” says I figured it is worth mentioning. In theory, this would teach you to not starve yourself or wait until you’re about to pass out to eat, but also not snack after recently finishing a meal. It teaches that you should eat until satiety, but not to the point that your stomach feels like it will burst. It’s so simple it should be common sense, but the fact that there is a dietician rule about it shows that it’s not as simple as it seems. For me, it seems my hunger signals are a little messed up and it feels like I could eat forever and never get full. I am studying if there are ways to “retrain” these signals to form a healthier more natural relationship with food.