QUESTION: I was put on the pill in high school to help clear up skin problems and was on it for about five years during which I gained about 40 pounds. Now some of that weight was part of going to college and getting stuck with dining hall food and I'm aware of that. I switched pills about mid-way through my freshmen year (from Yasmin to generic Ortho-Tricyclin for insurance purposes) and that was when I put the bulk of the weight on. I had food cravings all the time and it was nearly impossible for me to lose the weight. I tried literally everything. Weight Watchers, South Beach, you name it I did it. I went off the pill about a year ago and have since dropped 25 pounds without making any real change to my diet (which is high in veggies and whole grains and low in saturated fats) and exercise. Intense food cravings are gone and my normal hunger signals have seemed to return. However, I can't seem to lose another pound. I've been stuck at the same weight about two months now. I eat pretty healthy, trying to get lots of vegetables and I exercise regularly. So I guess this very very long winded question boils down to what suggestions do you have to help me drop the last 10 to 15 pounds besides the typical stuff you can read in most health magazines about plateaus.
ANSWER: There are so many drugs out there it is amazing. The funny thing with drugs is that the same drug can be used by one person to help with a life debilitating problem whereas another person can take the same drug for aesthetic results. Take viagra (which I talked about in a previous post). Men take it to help with sexual performance and women take it to improve blood pressure. Same thing with supplements. Glutamine can help those with RLS (restless leg syndrome) and athletes swear by glutamine to enhance muscle gain and recovery. The question I posted is a perfect example of a drug known to most people as a way to prevent unwanted pregnancy but in this case, it is being used to clear up acne. The problem with drugs is that there are side effects. While the drug is working to minimize symptoms for a certain aliment, you dread the list of side effects that seems never ending. Some side effects are worse than others. For example, weight gain from a birth control isn't as bad as platelet aggregation, increased BP&HR and tremors from Nicoderm CQ (you may have seen the commercial or at least heard the side effects on the radio). See, the big problem with people taking hormonal medications is that they are designed to alter your hormones in a very POWERFUL way. It is no surprise that a drug makes a person feel depressed, anxious, tired, hungry or without appetite. A foreign substance is in our body and our hormones are reacting to it. I'm not going to be the one to say if a person should or shouldn't be on birth control or on any pill for that matter. However, my role as a nutrition "expert" is to suggest natural ways to keep your body healthy to either prevent, minimize or treat serious problems (ex. disease, illness, infections, etc.).
A big problem with a lot of individuals is the idea that you are doomed with your weight loss goals if you do take prescription meds. Even if you don't take meds, I know how frustrating it is to feel like you are doing everything right with diet and exercise but you still continue to hold onto those stubborn 10-15 extra lbs. Here are some of my suggestions to knock off those extra lbs..even if you think you are doing everything right.
I think the best thing you can do for your body is to feed it healthy foods packed with great nutrients. If you are doing that on most days of the week...that is a perfect start to losing weight! However, even eating healthy foods can cause a person to not lose weight. Just because a food is low fat, sugar free or low in calories, you can't eat more of it and justify that at least you aren't eating the foods that are higher in calories. Healthy eating is all about balance. It is better to eat a little of everything that a lot of one thing.
When it comes to meals and snacks I recommend eating protein with ALL meals and snacks. Secondly, eat a small snack (around 50-80 calories) of protein or fiber about 15-30 min before a meal such as nuts, cheese, milk, yogurt, apple/pear slices, string cheese, cottage cheese, carrots, etc. Not only you will prevent a sudden rise in blood sugar at the meal, but you will also prevent overeating and perhaps, second helpings. You never want to go into a meal starving, especially if you are an athlete trying to teach your body to efficiently use and store potential fuel for a workout or race.
When it comes to teaching your body it use fat your fuel, understand that it won't be the end of the world if you go to bed a little hungry. I'll never forget the first time I told Karel to workout on an empty stomach when we first starting dating. He specifically told me "I will die if I don't eat before a workout!" Oh-Karel :) Furthermore, it is recommended to workout for an hour or less on an empty stomach (if you workout first thing in the morning) at least 3-4 times a week or, eat small protein/carb snack (100-200 calories) before afternoon workouts. Also, when it comes to losing those last 10-15 lbs you want to make sure that your metabolism is burning during the day. It is important that you eat 3 x 400-500 calorie meals and 3-5 x 100-200 calorie snacks + 100-200 extra calories/day for every hour of training. Use those extra training calories as pre and post training snacks, rather than adding those calories to your meals and feeling too full to snack during the day.
Unfortunatly, I find that the time that people don't eat (due to weight loss goals), is immediatly after a workout (protein drink or small snack, depending on the workout) or before a 75-90 or more min workout (around 125-250 calories, depending on the length of a workout). Here's what happens to most people who try to lose weight the unhealthy way...perhaps you didn't want to add calories to your day so you tried to run in the afternoon without a small pre trianing snack. You had no energy during the workout but made yourself run (or partake in a spin class) anyways. Then, later in the evening (after dinner) you have a one-on-one conversation with yourself that it is ok to eat that ice cream in the fridge because you finished the run (or workout) that you did a few hours ago. Then, you end up overindulging on a snack because you plan to workout hard the next day and then the horrible cycle continues day after day. Your goal as an athlete (or exercise enthusiast) is to have energy in the body and to use that energy to push your body out of the comfort zone. If you just "try" to get through a workout on an empty stomach or tell yourself that you will lose weight quicker if you don't eat after a workout, you will only end up overeating later in the day or feeling the effects of poor recovery. Part of losing weight is pushing your body during workouts. You can only cut out so many calories at meals and snacks before your diet gets extremely boring and unhealthy. I agree with low calorie diets but less than 1500 calories a day will not support any daily exercise routine. And, part of being at a healthy weight is having muscles, a brain and a strong heart that are trained with daily exercise. There is no point having a lean body and not being able to do anything with it. Adding intervals or weights to a training plan makes your body work a little harder and because the workouts are designed to be less than an hour, you have plenty of opportunities to recover and work hard in a short amount of time. Intervals are one mega calorie burning workout! You never want your body to get use to the same training routine. However, having said that, your body needs time to train. Your body will not magically let you run for 90 minutes at an 8min/mile per hour pace if you haven't trained it to do so. If you haven't lifted weights in a few weeks, don't lift like a maniac on a monday morning and expect to have a quality week of workouts. Good luck walking on Tuesday for that matter. KEY POINT: if a workout is designed to be more than an hour, be sure that you pace yourself. If your workout is less than an hour, bump up the intensity. Sure there are recovery and tempo days and some days when something is better than nothing but if you are determined to drop those last few lbs, give your body some fuel and make that body work!