DEAR FFG: I have been overweight — 190 lbs at 5'2” — most of my life and seemed to have gained more weight recently. I have started exercising, going to spinning classes and working out on the elliptical machine, but the numbers do not go down. How do you not get discouraged and keep pushing in the effort of losing weight? — Josie
DEAR JOSIE: The good news is that working out is good for your health even if you’re not exactly dropping dress sizes — yet, anyway. You should be seeing results on the scale, though, especially at your current height and weight and considering that you have gone from inactive to active. I think the first thing to do is figure out why you’re not losing weight before addressing the motivation factor. A great first step is to see your doctor.
Certain conditions can make losing weight nearly impossible but are easily treated by a physician, such as thyroid disorders. Beyond that, the tricky thing about exercise is that it can make you eat more, whether consciously (“Hey, I worked out — I deserve the supersize fries!”) or unconsciously. Studies have supported the idea that people who work out often increase their food intake, sabotaging their weight loss goals.
I would start by keeping a food journal, writing down everything you eat. If you’re a faithful reader of this column, you may be thinking, “BORING!!!” because I often give this answer. But time and time again, I find (and the research backs me up) that people consistently underestimate what they’re eating and overestimate how much they are working out.
Keeping a journal — and being completely and brutally honest — is the best way of figuring out whether you’re really being as “good” as you think you are. I mean, every nibble, every swipe of frosting from the cake pan, every stolen fry or chip must be counted. Note the time you eat as well, and keep your journal for at least a month. Include whether you exercised, how long, and at what intensity, if you have that info available (more on that later). You might also want to record your level of energy and how much sleep you’ve gotten. Each week, review your journal and look for patterns: Is your intake spiking at certain times of the day … or the month? When you sleep less, do you eat more? This info might reveal some unintentional indulging, which can lead to solutions. Maybe you need to eat a larger meal at lunch so you’re not driven to snack away the afternoon; or you find that your baking habit is contributing to your waistline, even though you’re not eating the finished product; or that you’ve been fudging on the amount of time you’re walking or doing the elliptical. I would strongly suggest sharing this info with a nutritionist. I know it’s an expense that may not be covered by insurance, but even a few visits can get you started in the right direction.
As for exercise: Keep on a regular schedule of working out 5 to 7 days a week for 30 minutes a day to build up your endurance. Once you have a few months of regular exercise under your (hopefully shrinking) belt, you may want to try incorporating intervals into your workout. Intervals are short bursts of exercise at a faster pace that you weave into a steady state workout to increase your calorie burn. You could also try exercising with a heart rate monitor, a device that can tell you whether you’re hitting your target heart rate so that you can adjust your pace accordingly. Basic monitors cost about $100 and are available at most sporting goods stores and online fitness retailers. I’m not a huge fan of gadgets, as a rule, but heart rate monitors are simple to use and can really help keep you motivated and be certain that you’re getting the most out of your workouts. I don’t know what your financial situation is like, but please consider these investments — they’re a small price to pay to save your health.