The Wrong Scale

"How do I lose weight?"

This is one of the most common questions you'll hear as a personal trainer, and it's a fair one. For the first time ever, the obesity rate amongst American adults is over 40%. Saying we are an obese nation isn't merely saying as a nation we are overweight, it literally is saying we are overly fat.

It's a hard truth for many to swallow (pun halfway implied) but unfortunately, it's where we are as a nation. Covid hasn't helped as gyms have been shut down more than once in most places, we've been stuck at home without much to do most nights so we eat, and our stress levels are through the roof which raises cortisol levels which can lead to overeating and poor sleep.

What we're left with is someone in the mirror who is almost unrecognizable, to the point we think it can't possibly be true. We run to the scale, jump on, and wait the longest 4 seconds of our lives as we are mortified by the number we see screaming back at us.

"How did I get here?" "What do I do now?" "I need to lose weight!"

These are understandable reactions, but during this time of the year, we tend to put off doing anything bout it until after the holidays. So January 1st rolls around and all of a sudden we are ready to make a change to the scale and still have no idea where to start. Where do you turn? What do you do? Most of us will simply pull up the Google machine and search something along the lines of "best weight-loss diets". To which you are bombarded by results claiming you should try Intermittent Fasting, Keto, Plant-Based, Carnivore Diet, simply to name a few. Then you'll have friends and/or influencers talking about how you need to do their juice cleanse challenge, or buy their skinny tea, or take this new Apple Cider vinegar product.

Quite frankly, it's overwhelming and the best-case scenario is we hope to stumble into something which ends up working for us without any real knowledge as to what we are actually doing. We pick a plan which seems like it could work for us and VOILA! we begin seeing results.

"Keto works because it's getting my body to learn how to burn its own fat by only consuming fat and protein!"

"Intermittent fasting is the best because I can eat whatever I want as long it's during my eating window!"

"I'm losing weight from my juice cleanse because it's removing all the toxins out of my gut and allowing my body to digest food faster, thereby burning more calories!"

We can pick any diet fad, cleanse, product, etc. but all these trains of thought which tout "this is the best way to lose weight" is a bunch of non-sensical, mumble-jumble sprinkled with some small truths which cover up what the real truth is... lose weight you MUST be in a CALORIC DEFICIT!

All these fad diets work on some level because they reduce calories.

Intermittent fasting - you eat less often giving you a higher probability of being in a caloric deficit

Keto diet - removes nearly all carbs from your diet, thereby creating a higher probability you are in a caloric deficit.

Whole 30 - removes sugar, alcohol, nuts, legumes, snacks, etc. which are all calorically dense thereby creating a higher probability you are in a caloric deficit.

I'm not here to bash these diets, my goal is to help you understand the fact you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. This isn't the only factor, long-term, you should focus on for your health but it really does come down to the simple fact you need to burn more calories than you are consuming if you want to lose weight. Almost without fail the response I hear from people when they realize I'm encouraging them to count calories is "I don't like counting calories" and/or "I've tried counting calories and it didn't work."

Can I give you two more hard pills to swallow? You need to toughen up a bit, and you're not counting right. The latter is what I want to focus on though.

Here's our problem when it comes to counting calories. We are lazy and we don't want to actually measure our food, so we default to counting based on the nutrition labels, and therein lies our downfall. Nutrition labels are not always an accurate representation of what we are actually consuming. Let me give you an example.

I absolutely love steak, I eat top sirloin on a weekly basis. I typically do my grocery shopping at grocery outlet and I love the fact I can buy a family pack of sirloin, with each steak individually wrapped, for $4.99/lb. It's a great deal because the one steak is a perfect size serving for me, but here's where you can get into trouble. It would be easy to assume because the steaks are individually wrapped that one steak would be one serving size. It isn't. One serving size of steak is 4oz and is roughly around 230 calories. Each one of those steaks is actually between 6.5oz - 7oz. I also don't take into account the tbsp of butter I used to panfry the steak and all of a sudden my 230 calorie steak is pushing 500 calories.

Now is there anything wrong with me having a panfried steak in butter? No, not as long as I'm aware of how much I'm actually consuming. I know how much I'm eating because I take everything into account, and most importantly, I weigh my food. Is it annoying to do? sure, but is it necessary? I lean towards yes, and here's why.

Blindly tracking your calories is like trying to keep an accurate budget but you're using your credit card to make purchases without ever being given the amount due upon checkout. It would be asinine to do such a thing! Even if we weren't concerned over how much something would cost, we'd still never blindly purchase something without knowing the cost. So why do we accept doing this with our food?

Doing this with your money is the quickest and easiest way to find yourself in serious debt, and when we've accumulated too much fat on our bodies, it's our way of knowing we've accumulated a "calorie debt" due to improper tracking, or a complete lack thereof.

Any debt specialist will tell you before you can start making changes to your spending habits, you have to get a strong grasp on what you're actually spending and what you are spending it on. The same goes for calories, you have to gauge how you are spending your calories every day. Hence, the title of this post.

Stop obsessing so much about the number on the bathroom scale and focus more on the numbers on the kitchen scale. You need to get a food scale, and you need to consistently use it. Once you start becoming more aware of your actual serving size then you can start accurately tracking your caloric intake.

I know it can seem daunting, and annoying to do, but like anything, the more you consistently get used to doing it the easier it will become. What's more daunting is knowing experts say severe obesity can reduce life expectancy by as much as 20 years (especially in men). What's more annoying is constantly feeling tired, sluggish, in pain from your overly stressed back and knees, and lacking self-confidence.

So where do you start?

Well, as I already said, start by buying a food scale. There are plenty of options on Amazon between $10-$20, or even splurge a little and get one that will literally log your food for you on a synced app when you weigh it for $30.

There isn't anything too tricky about using your food scale, the instructions will walk you through everything you need to know, but make sure you are weighing your food AFTER cooking it.

The next thing is to make sure you have actual measuring cups, particularly a tablespoon measure. This isn't as pressing but it's highly recommended, especially if you're like me and you enjoy cooking with oils (yes, those calories do count) or eating peanut/almond/any butter. Did you know a serving of peanut butter is 2 tbsp? Probably yes, but how many of you have actually ever measured it out before putting it on a rice cake, sandwich, apple, etc.? 2 tbsp of peanut butter is 190 calories, which means if you underestimate how much you eat by 1 tbsp (very easy to do as 2 tbsp isn't a lot) you have 95 extra calories you didn't account for. Measure your food.

Finally, get a food journal. You can use an app such as MyFitnessPal, Lose It!, FatSecret to name a few, but it's easier to build a habit of regularly tracking when you physically write it down. You can use a notepad, buy a template you like off of Etsy, design your own, or buy an actual food log journal off Amazon, but start writing down what you are having, and I mean everything. Cooking oils, butter, snacks, alcohol, soda, fruit, it all counts and it the more accurately you track the better.

Here's an important thing to remember when you start doing this. You are going to be surprised by how much you actually eat. You are going to want to beat yourself up for what you are eating, how much, and how often... don't.

Don't even worry about trying to cut food out at first, this isn't a practice to get you to self-shame but rather to become self-aware.

If you were my client and you came to me the first week of doing a food journal and I saw you were putting down 5,000+ calories a day, I'd be so ridiculously proud of you for honestly tracking your intake. I'd be hyping you up, patting you on the back, and be annoyingly overjoyed simply from weighing and tracking your food appropriately. Have that attitude with yourself the first week or two of doing this. If you grab a snack, order a pizza, have a donut, be excited about writing it down. Don't beat yourself up, realize you're giving yourself more opportunity to practice tracking your calories.

Should you be consistently having 5,000+ calories a day? no. Do you get a free pass to eat whatever you want just because you write it down? no. But the point of this isn't to radically change your eating habits or guilt you into making drastic changes right away. The point is to start building awareness of your daily eating habits. I'll be addressing ways to cut calories, figure out your macros (to a reasonable extent), build healthy habits, and how to eat out smarter in a different post. For now though, simply begin the process of weighing and tracking your food. Do this consistently for one week before even thinking about making changes.

Remember, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. You now have a starting point, it's up to you now to take the first step. If you still feel a bit overwhelmed by doing this on your own don't be afraid to ask a friend, significant other, or family member to help hold you accountable, or even better, do it with you. Or, please feel free to contact me for hands-on guidance. I wrote this blog to help address the general questions for the masses but my services are always available to anyone who's needing additional guidance.

Your journey starts now, go take the first step and get to tracking!

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