It is January 2, 2021. Assuming January 1st was for celebrating or recovery, today is the most popular day to begin a “diet” or New Year’s Resolution. There is a saying among some that “diets don’t work” that is meant to reflect that a dieter’s mentality can lead to weight cycling, and yet we know how important diet is to a healthy body weight, so I would like to propose an alternative approach that is more specific than the long term lifestyle change that we all know is the end game.
I shall borrow lessons from training for Ironman 70.3 and apply them to a weight loss journey. I think one of the reasons that amateur sports events are popular is that they embody the process of identifying a challenge, the fear of failing, the hope of success,
working towards that goal, and ultimately triumph of the human spirit, either through success or through the courage to have made it to the starting line. Allow me to explain.
Before each triathlon, like every other triathlete, I would make a race plan. In this plan, each leg of the race: the swim, bike, and the run, I would have mapped out the route, identified the most difficult parts and the parts where I could make up time, planned strategies for each, and made a way to monitor if I was on target, either through a pace, a heart rate, or both. I planned ahead with equipment, training, water, electrolytes, and nutrition. During the race, things never went exactly as planned. At places, they went better than planned, at others, there aches and pains, or my body did not perform or respond as planned, or there was something outside of my control, like someone kicked me in the face in the water or crashed in front of me on the bike. So, I had to adjust my plan mid race. Things never went just according to plan!
For a weight loss journey, this is how I recommend making your race plan for medically supervised weight loss:
Set Your Pace
Start out with a sprint and maintain it for as long as you can. Twenty percent weight loss, or 12 weeks, whichever is shorter, is a good benchmark. In weight loss, a sprint means that you are staying strictly on your plan. Physiologically, the weight loss curve can be steep for the first 25% of the starting body weight and in the first 6 months, and the lowest weight achieved in the first 6 months is correlated with the final body weight. Metabolic adaptation to weight loss may begin after that. Also, if you are losing weight effectively, you are likely on the right plan and any high insulin levels are likely controlled. If you set it too fast, you may "bonk" and become a "DNF" or "did not finish". Setting a pace is where a coach can come in handy. In weight loss, this is setting a goal weight and weight loss goal or expectations along the way, such as monthly or biweekly weight loss. For our protein sparing modified fast programs, 100% adherence is expected to give 100% results, whereas 99% adherence may give anywhere between zero and 99% results. In other words, the protocol is rather predictable, but a “diet” is not. If you set your pace too slow, you cut yourself short.
Know When You’ve Hit The Wall
When you hit “The Wall” in your race, it may be time to change your pace so you can keep going and not “bonk”. Remember, if you finish, you get a medal, no matter what the time! When you hit your figurative wall, it is important to recognize it, identify it appropriately, and transition from your sprint pace to your marathon pace and settle in for the long haul. Now, do not mistake a little bump in the road for the wall and transition too soon. In a race, this can happen if you are not prepared or don’t have the right coaching. In weight loss, it can happen in the first month if your plan needs to be adjusted or anytime if something needs to be changed. So, be sure to check in with your “coach” or physician before you determine if it is a blip or the wall. If you have lost 25% of your starting body weight, and your Type 2 Diabetes is in remission or controlled with only metformin, and your high blood pressure is in remission or controlled with only one medication, and you do not have any pain, then it is probably time to settle in to your marathon pace. Congratulations!
Plan Your Transitions
In a triathlon, there are two transitions, T1 (from swim to bike) and T2 (from bike to run). There is A LOT of planning and rehearsal that goes into these transitions, even though they only entail changing your shoes, a slight outfit change, a snack, and some sunscreen! They are not even an actual sport! And yet, they can really make or break a race. The same has been told to me many times from people after a successful weight loss journey when they have experienced weight regain. “The weight loss was easy, but the transition to a regular diet did not go well. I need to go back and do it again and really focus on the transition this time.” This happened to me in Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa 2019. I took 16 minutes in T1 (for reference, 7 minutes is typical). Then, I crashed my bike and missed the cutoff for the half marathon by two minutes. Many times, we can adapt to one challenge, but two or three can compound and make it even more difficult.
Transitions in weight loss and health are actually happening continuously, in small and large ways. They happen in a large way when transitioning from weight loss to weight maintenance. But, they happen several times a day as well. You make a transition when you wake up and choose to workout or have breakfast or not. You make a transition when you walk to the printer by the candy dish and get a snack or not. You make a transition when you get in the car and drive home and stop at a drive-thru or not. You make a transition when you get in a fight with a loved one and turn to food to cope or not. You make a transition when you get home from vacation and get back into healthy routines or not. You are making transitions between your roles as parent, intimate partner, worker, individual, child, caregiver many times throughout the day. Food or alcohol are commonly used during these times. Transitions can be sources of stress and need to be planned, practiced, rehearsed, analyzed, re-engineered, and done again.
Plan Your Season
Every triathlete plans his/her season each year by choosing his/her races. You can choose many races, or just a few. You can choose to focus on one pivotal race, and just have a practice one for that, or you can do a bunch of races with friends. If you do too many, you may get injured, overtrain, and not be able to finish. If you do not do enough, you may just miss out. In weight loss, you need to plan not only your weight loss journey, but your entire season. Your health is not the only thing that you do. I always ask people what is competing for their time, attention, energy, and resources. Many times, people will say that they have done “badly” as they have gained their weight back. But, they have kept their job during tough times, cared for their ill parents and multiple children, kept their home, and well…you get the idea. I tell them that they have done a great job, their season just did not include a plan for their health. So, take everything you need to do in your life, and plan your season. Be realistic. If you have a lot of other things you need to do, just plan one race, and make it a flat one. This may mean that your goal is to maintain your weight or do a modified plan and lose 1 pound a week instead of 3 just by having a shake for breakfast. That may be the perfect season for this season. Without a plan, you may gain 15 pounds during that season instead of losing 15 pounds, which means you end up 30 pounds heavier. See the difference a plan makes? Not every season will look the same.
Remember, weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. Making it to the starting line is a success. Forward is a pace. Sometimes, you are just treading water.
You have your own hero story within you. You are living it as we speak. You can not change the start, but you can determine the ending. Write your story. Sans peur.
(Photos were purchased, I just can not find the files!)