Ever set a physical self-care goal to lose weight and then failed miserably? Me, too. This week I uncover some of the myths about weight loss and share how an after-action review plan can help you really get to know your body.
What if you could adapt one of the most successful methods of achievement for groups to your personal life? This month for Self-Care Sundays we’ll explore the after-action review (AAR) and how we can apply it to the different areas of our lives where we need to focus our self-care efforts.
Marathons Won’t Help You Lose Weight
“I can’t understand why I’m gaining weight,” I whined to my best friend. “I’m training for a marathon. You’d think those extra pounds would melt right off me.”
“Have you started eating differently?” she asked.
“I’ve added a protein shake to my breakfast.”
“That sounds reasonable,” she replied. “After all, you ARE burning more calories on those long runs!”
I set our conversation aside, but disappointment continued to nibble at me long after I ran my marathon. Why wouldn’t exercising more actually help me lose weight? Changes in my cardiovascular system and endurance took place, naturally, but I had hoped to drop 5-10 lbs from around my midsection.
We Might be Created Equal, but We Don’t All Operate the Same
It turns out I had fallen prey to one of the many myths surrounding weight loss. Why? Because I never applied the after-action-review process to my weight loss endeavors. If researchers know anything for certain about weight loss, it is this: Every single person loses weight differently.
One person may walk between Subway stores for all his meals and experience amazing weight loss results. Another may eat sort-of-keto and experience the same amazing results. Training for a marathon might shed the belly fat off a man but do nothing to lose the spare tire on a woman.
If we truly want to achieve our weight loss goals, we must find a better way to become students of our own bodies. Trying random diet or exercise plans without really looking at how they affect our bodies subjects us to a recurring cycle of failure. Some people call it yo-yo dieting.
Don’t get me wrong—we should never link our value to a number on a scale or a dress size. But because our bodies are God’s temple, we should do everything in our power to maintain optimal health.
Trust me, I have ignored this advice many times over the course of my life. I do know I have a happy healthy weight range where I have plenty of energy, can keep up with my grandson or my students, and feel confident wearing the clothes in my closet. Do I look great in a bikini? No. Does it matter? No.
Seven Myths About Weight Loss that Might Surprise You
Any journey towards improved physical self-care should include a deep look at our why. But before we go there, I’ll share some of the reasons people struggle to lose weight.
1. We trade good behaviors for bad ones.
I’ve fallen prey to this one more times that I can count. In fact, it’s the culprit behind my marathon training weight gain. I figured if I ran more every day, I should also eat more every day. Unfortunately, I didn’t make healthy choices. You can’t run for an hour (good behavior) and eat a monster cookie (bad behavior) with impunity. This article goes into greater depth.
2. We don’t accurately measure our effort when we exercise.
Many people overestimate the number of calories they burn when they exercise (and then they fall into trap number one). The only way to have a pretty good idea is to wear a heart-rate sensor or a fitness tracker such as a FitBit or Apple Watch.
3. We believe exercise will help us lose weight, when in reality, it will only help us maintain weight loss.
This one shocked me. I grew up believing I had to meet a magic formula of energy in (food) and energy out (exercise). It turns out exercise plays a very small role in actual weight loss. Exercise will benefit your health in other areas, just don’t expect it to help you lose weight.
4. We suffer from metabolic compensation
Your body may fight itself to hang on to unwanted weight. If you exercise while trying to lose weight, don’t add calories to your diet. New theories suggest our bodies will fight to hang on to weight—metabolic compensation—instead of adjusting.
5. We think we can substantially change our metabolic rate.
We can change our metabolic rate (the rate which we consume energy) slightly, but not through eating hot chili peppers. The more lean muscle mass we have, the speedier our metabolic rate. But most of us don’t have time to maintain a body builder’s physique. If we want to increase our muscle mass for health’s sake, by all means, start a weightlifting regime. Toned muscles will help us in other areas of our life, and we shouldn’t rely on muscle mass to increase our metabolism.
6. We could have an underlying medical condition.
WebMD lists seven possibilities, including PCOS, hypothyroidism and chronic stress. For some reason, seeing chronic stress on the list surprised me. Even though I’ve suffered extreme weight gain due to chronic stress. Which goes to prove we need to get to know ourselves better.
7. We don’t exercise hard enough.
Trust me, I run, but I would go the same slow pace all day long rather than sprint to the next telephone pole. Unfortunately, some studies indicate low-to moderate intensity aerobic activity (such as a brisk stroll or cruising on your bicycle) will make you hungrier AND lower your ability to control yourself around food.
Higher intensity exercise (sprinting, HIIT workouts) may have the opposite effect. Researchers looked at ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol levels as part of their studies. While scientists don’t have a perfect understanding of how these work in our bodies, they know enough to caution us to exercise vigorously some of the time and not just rely on ‘fat-burning’ exercises.
How to Apply the After-Action Review Process to Improving Your Physical Self-Care
- Step 1. Planning
- Step 2. Preparing
- Step 3. Conducting
- Step 4. Following up (using AAR results)
If you feel like you’re seeing this formula a lot, you are. Repetition helps us internalize and learn. I grew up knowing how to eat healthfully, but not practicing everything I know. For many vegetarians, their unspoken motto becomes “Vegetarianism: eat sweets, not meats.” Vegetarianism (among other things) plays a role in longevity. But not all vegetarianism is equal, and not all vegetarians eat healthfully.
Somewhere between youth and middle age, I have acquired some very unhealthy eating habits and thought distortions about food. I value physical self-care, but recognized a problem area I needed to work on. The after-action review process will make this a more effective process.
How to Do an After-Action Review of Your Physical Self-Care Goals
Plan in Advance for Success
Remember, the AAR doesn’t actually start with after the event. It starts with planning. The four steps of planning include:
- Task (what actions to take)
- Purpose (why it’s important)
- Intent (statement of goals)
- End state (what the desired result is)
My task (or goal)? Repair my relationship with food. Why? Because I want to maintain my happy healthy weight without extremes in eating styles. Intent: I will learn how to eat mindfully and listen to my body. End state: I will maintain my health through mindful eating, healthy exercise (including weight training and vigorous aerobic exercise) and recognize my thought distortions about food and my eating habits.
Preparations Make it Real
Right before Christmas I finally decided I had had enough of the same five-pound battle to maintain my weight. I knew how I could lose the weight (again), but one can only eat a ketogenic diet for so long. And Noom’s advertising got to me. So I caved and found a great deal on Noom (keep starting to sign up but don’t go through with it, and they’ll eventually offer you a reasonable deal).
Once I spend money on something, I have a big incentive to follow through with it. Participants should plan on spending 5-10 minutes a day reading the psychology materials and a few minutes each time you eat logging your meals. I chose a time for the daily readings and started on my journey.
Conducting the After-Action Review
I have done an after-action review on a weekly basis, and I’ve noticed these things. I struggled to eat more carbs at first because I’d eaten low carb for so long. My weight didn’t shoot up (I half expected it to), so I continued to eat lots of fruits and veggies. Weight does not melt off me in the same way it does each time I get 20 lbs. overweight and start eating low carb again. I like the instant gratification, so I struggle with the reality of slow weight loss.
Eating mindfully takes practice, but it really does help me enjoy my food more. Not as much as Bob in What About Bob?, but I do enjoy my food more.
I feel as if I’ve learned invaluable things about how our bodies handle weight, what triggers us to overeat, and how to implement a growth mindset in my relationship with food. For me, the coaching hasn’t played a huge part, but I can see how it would really help others.
Once again, I like the way Noom tries to change our relationship with food rather than declare foods as off-limits or evil. The only real complaint I have so far is how Noom links calories burned through exercise to an increased caloric budget for the day. Doing so makes it easy to fall into the good behaviors for bad behaviors myth (or justifying our milkshake with a five-mile run).
According the Noom app, I should arrive at my goal weight on February 4. Whether it happens or not, I will still commit to following up. So far, I feel as if I am making sustainable changes. More importantly, I have gained understanding into my thought distortions and my bordering-on-unhealthy relationship with food.
Because I value physical self-care, I feel motivated to make the changes part of a healthier lifestyle.
Other Physical Self-Care Ideas
- Establish a bedtime routine to improve your sleep.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Cut down on meat.
- Walk outside every day.
- Learn a new sport (birdwatching is a great way to start).
- Reduce stress by parking as far away from the store as possible (you won’t get frustrated trying to find a spot, you’ll spend more time outside, and you might not buy as much because you won’t want to haul it all to your car).
- Cut down on caffeine.
- Grow a garden.
- Get a dog (or take your dog on more walks).
Baby Steps Equal Sustainable Changes
In an epoch of instant gratification, learning to put the hard work into making sustainable changes seems overwhelming. Get to know yourself and your physical self-care needs. Just because something works for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Dig deep into your why. Why do you want to make changes? You can check out this post for more guidance. Use the after-action review format to get to really know your body and what works for it. Life is a journey, enjoy it!