Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I Feel Your Pain - Part 5

I’m 2 weeks into my effort to lose 10 pounds before the 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race, and I’ve hit a snag. I’ve stopped losing with 7 pounds to go, and I’m fighting the fat within me. I know I’ll race better without those extra pounds, so I’m not giving up. These plateaus occur frequently during weight loss, and it can be very frustrating and discouraging. It’s normal, so hang in there when you experience them. It will help if you understand why this happens, so you’ll know what to do.

As a survival mechanism, our brains are hardwired to seek high-calorie foods and our metabolism is geared toward preserving the body fat we have accumulated by eating those foods. It goes back to the days when food supplies were uncertain – it was either feast or famine, and in order to survive the famine humans had to feast and store energy as fat whenever they could. There’s a big problem for modern man with this scheme, though. Because of the agricultural, industrial, technologic, and transportation revolutions we now have only one big ongoing feast. Cheap, high calorie foods are readily available, so we keep on storing, storing, storing fat in anticipation for a famine that never happens.

Here I am, doing all of the things needed to lose, but the scale is stuck because my body is fighting me. Natural mechanisms are trying to preserve the species by hanging on to the fat I’ve stored. The less weight I have to lose, the stronger the tendency for this to happen. So what to do? There are 2 choices:

1. Eat less. Provided I’m not overeating calories now, this is what I DON’T want to do. Doing so will make it seem that starvation is occurring, and the body will hang onto body fat even more tenaciously as a defense;

2. Exercise more. When weight loss plateaus occur, the metabolism needs to be given a jump-start, and that’s what exercise does. Aerobic activity (walking, hiking, jogging, dancing, running, biking, swimming, etc.) not only increases the metabolic rate during exercise but also for a period of time afterwards. Resistance exercise (weight training) also boosts the metabolic rate because muscle mass is increased, and muscle burns more calories than does fat. A combination of aerobic and resistance exercise is the best for making the body burn more calories overall, throughout the day.

This is my plan to get off the plateau and drop down to the next level. I’m not going to starve myself, but I’ll cut out any extra calories that may try to find their way into my mouth. The easiest way to do this is by eliminating processed foods. This includes eating extra calories during exercise – “energy bars” are really just candy bars that contain more calories than is typically burned during a workout, unless you’re like Lance Armstrong. I’m going to up my “play time” by adding a little more aerobic activity, as well as some mild weight training. I’ll let you know how it goes. Follow me daily on Twitter @DrSeale.

The author submits this blog posting as a health educator and not in any other capacity. You should seek the advice of your physician regarding a personal health condition or before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.


  1. Stuart, so true...

    these two steps are so effective and easy to implement, yet so many individuals think the answer is in a pill, bar, or can of Slimfast.

    I too am training; in preparation for the fall climbing season. I have started making vegan fruit smoothies everyday with almond milk, almond butter, and occasionally a scoop of plant based protein powder (i like hemp protein because of the omega 3 and essential amino acids.) They are delicious and take about 5 min to prepare.

    With an increase in exercise, a decrease in processed foods, and an afternoon smoothie, I am experiencing increased energy levels, eating smaller dinners (I'm just not as hungry,) and losing body fat. Time to climb hard!

    Thanks for the Great blog, keep it up and good luck with the race!

  2. Thanks Dolan for your input and also great ideas for the smoothies! All of that fiber in them really helps stave off the hunger pains. Keep up the great work - I'm sure you'll be flying up the rocks faster than ever before. Stay safe ~ Stuart