Keep your total carbs low. Shorten your eating window. Move your body. Get enough sleep and manage your stress. Those are the basics. But the road to leaving obesity behind for good is long and winding, and fraught with potential stumbling blocks.
A few things I’ve learned along the way…
1) Hunger. Understanding the many forces that drive appetite is a process, and kind of like a game of whack-a-mole. Got a handle on one? Another immediately pops up. This does not mean you are flawed or broken or that you can’t lose weight, but it does mean you will have to be resourceful in putting several defenses in place to help you get there.
Again and again you will have to gently veer yourself back to figuring out how to not eat if you’re not hungry. Awareness of appetite and the many drivers to eat is the first step.
2) Perfection is a myth perpetuated by your inner food addict having a temper tantrum. Not being perfect (and how quickly you’re able to rebound from that) is an integral part of losing weight. It’s not a matter of if you make a mistake, but when. Don’t wait to restart on some arbitrary date on the calendar that may never come. There is no off-ramp, so learn from your missteps and make tomorrow a little better than today. Just keep going. (And please, please, please…don’t ever compare your worst day to someone else’s beautifully curated Instagram stories! Yet another way your inner toddler will manipulate the situation so it can get its way.)
3) Why. Develop a clear, specific vision for why you want to lose weight, preferably one based on love not self-loathing. Even if you’re scared for your health, try to reframe it as something that is not based on fear. The scale is an unpredictable, slow-moving beast that doesn’t always reward us in ways that reflect how hard we’re working. Nor does it care one iota how fast you want the weight to come off.
Cultivate a strong sense of your big picture goals, along with some tangible things that will help in the moment: how much your last blood test results were improved, how much less your joints ache, how your once-tight pants are more comfortable – anything that will help carry you thru to the next moment. And then the next one after that. String together enough of these moments and you are on your way.
4) Listen. Pay close attention and heed what your body tells you – it is usually much smarter than your brain when it comes to eating. If a food doesn’t make you feel good, pay attention to that. In the moment when you face a decision to eat something that may not align with your health goals, it is this connection to your body that is far more meaningful than fear of what the scale might say tomorrow or some macro you’re trying to hit. Also? The brain will tell you that you should eat a food (“Grandma made it especially for me,” “I’m only at this restaurant once a year”), but your body knows best (“I get a stomachache when I eat that,” “That dessert spikes my blood sugar and makes me ravenously hungry”).
5) Adapt. Be open and willing to learn, adjust and pivot as necessary, and give these tweaks time to work. It’s easy to be swayed by blogs or social media but be wary of paralysis by analysis. Trying a new tactic every few days (Extended fasts! Carnivore! High fat! Egg fasts! Protein sparing!) is a recipe for disaster, will undermine your confidence and quite frankly, make you a little batty. It’s also unlikely to result in much weight loss, and if it does, you won’t know exactly what worked because you’ve thrown so many variables at the situation. When in doubt, go back to basics, keep carbs low, watch added fat intake and see #6.
6) Keep it simple, most of the time. If you spend any time at all reading low carb recipes, blogs, books and social media feeds, you will get the impression that you need to spend a lot of time planning, counting, prepping and cooking your meals or that everyone is eating every morsel of food dripping with butter, bacon and cheese.
The truth is that after you have been low carb for a while, you will be best served by keeping your food relatively simple and avoiding the notion that every meal is an opportunity for a food party. For one, your appetite will be diminished, and you will likely not need quite so much, but also, the more palatable your food is, the more of it you will consume – even if you are fat-adapted: think plain burgers as opposed to burgers with cheese, bacon, and (sugar-free) ketchup. Both offer satiety, but the burgers with all the fixings leads to eating significantly more.
Be honest with yourself about the balance you need to satiate and nourish yourself versus what it will take to make this a lifelong, sustainable way of life where you do not feel deprived or like you’re on a restrictive diet. Your food should taste good and be something you enjoy, but not so hyperpalatable that it makes you eat substantially more of it. The same holds true for ultra-processed keto/low-carb replacement foods – they are a great tool but can easily be abused. Check in with yourself regularly on ways to improve, because as mentioned in #1, this is like a game of whack-a-mole and just when you think you’ve got…it…all…figured…out? Umm…not so much.
7) Baby Steps. Before-and-after photos on Facebook do not show all the blood, sweat and tears that go in to losing weight – all the miniscule and unheralded steps taken day in and day out. Success is made up of countless teeny, tiny unrewarded and unrewarding moments where you bob, weave and navigate challenge after challenge, stressor after stressor…life.
Sometimes you will make the right decision and sometimes you will make the wrong one, but the real win will be if you keep going, even when the scale does not respond, even when the road ahead seems impossibly long and dreadfully painful. A year from now, you will be so grateful you kept at it. Quitting is not going to speed anything up.
8) Get Help. There is no shame in needing and getting help. None. Zero. The real shame is languishing forever in regret over things you tell yourself you should be able to do. Vulnerability is terrifying, but it leads to growth. Every time.
9) Ignore the naysayers. You don’t need to justify your food choices to anyone. If you want to offer an explanation, simply say you don’t want to eat certain foods. “I don’t feel well when I eat xyz, so I’m trying to avoid it.” Who can argue with that rationale? Tell people you’re eating a ketogenic diet, and everyone will be concerned about your clogged arteries and tell you how unsustainable your new way of eating is. Avoid the words keto or low carb, tell everyone you’re avoiding sugar, and suddenly everyone thinks you’re virtuous.
10) Judgment and shame are a one-way ticket to more overeating and a never-ending cycle of regret, binging, restriction. Rinse and repeat.
Remember, always: you are human. And…it’s just food. Self-loathing has never, ever helped anyone make any real, meaningful changes and usually sends us (quickly) in the wrong direction. Treat yourself with the same loving kindness you would a dear friend or loved one. If your child was learning to ride a bike and fell off, would you berate him/her, asking “What the hell is wrong with you?” No, of course not. And yet, eat something “bad” and those are the tapes that play over and over in our heads. Show yourself the same grace, dust yourself off, remind yourself that mistakes are part of the process and try again. And again.
You are worth it.