Published January 17, 2011

Want a Weight Loss Secret?

by Helen M. Ryan

The single most effective tool in weight loss is unpredictability and change. Not letting your body know what to expect, or what’s coming up next. Shocking it on several levels to keep it on its feet and your metabolism fired up.

You hear about “shocking” your body with exercise, but how about shocking your body with changing what you eat? If you are like most people (me, me, me since I start most mornings with oatmeal or yogurt), you get used to eating the same foods day in and day out. It’s surprising to realize that you really do eat close to the same number of calories every day. Your body knows this and depends on it to keep your fat stores.

If you focus on eating, say, 1,300 calories a day for example, your mind will find a way to throw in a whole pizza just to keep your fat stores happy. Just sayin’.

If you vary what you eat, how much you eat, and what you do for exercise, something magical happens. Your life becomes more unpredictable and your body starts to respond…and so does your brain. We humans thrive on variety even though we fight change (huh?). When you surprise your body with both food and exercise changes, it also strengthens your mind and resolve.

The simplest way to excite your body and mind is to plan each week as something different. The first week you might eat fewer carbohydrates and more good fats; the second week more carbs and less fat. The third week you might want to try vegetarian (creativity rocks*) as a change of pace. Cycle back to the first week and start again, or plan something completely new (paleo?). Just make it unique and different.

Change the actual number of calories you eat each day, too. For a couple of days eat fewer calories, then eat in the mid-range. Eat fewer calories again, then mid-range.

Never let your body know what your brain is up to. Don’t let your body predict how many calories will be coming in. Once your body knows that you are restricting calories, it will start to slow things down. Change your calorie intake and don’t let your body think the famine is coming.

Let yourself have one day a week to not pay attention to how much and what you are eating. I’m not saying go the hog wild and binge eat. Try eating like a person who is not watching their weight would on a relaxed day. Just eat and enjoy it. Then start with lower calories the next day, and cycle through your calorie-varying trick.

With exercise, instead of sticking to your usual routine, follow the same “week-by-week” cycling just like with the food. One week do more cardio, one week more strength training, and one week add something completely different (Spinning, Zumba, TRX training, kettlebells, dancing, gilders, ropes, or boxing).

To add on, some weeks work with heavier weights and lower repetitions, and other weeks work with lower weights and higher repetitions. Change the tempo (faster/slower) and even add intervals. Try alternating free weights, body weight and exercise tubing.

As a Spinning instructor, I am often locked into a schedule for cardio, but some weeks I teach more, some weeks less, and I always, always change up my strength training routine (it’s no routine!)

So be unpredictable. Be fearless. See change.

*Fun fact. My grandmother was very strict. As a kid, I lived with her for a while in a small town in Norway. We had to eat all our food, and eat whatever she cooked. When I became a vegetarian at 14, I was a little afraid to visit her because a) I would have to eat a special diet; and b) I wasn’t sure how she would react. To my suprise, my grandma rose to the challenge. During World War II, she told me, they didn’t often get meat. So she learned to improvise and cook with whatever they could find. This is where I learned about kohlrabi “steak.”