Losing weight is easy, right?

So what do you think? Is losing weight easy? 

The one conclusion I have from my years of popular research and personal experience is that the science of weight loss is complicated.

On the one hand, you have the calories in/calories out folks who say weight loss is a matter of math. Burn more calories than you take in over a period of time, and you’ll lose weight. On the fingers of the other hand, you have the folks with fringe beliefs. There are the Paleo and Primal folks that follow a diet based on what our ancestors would have eaten thousands of years ago. Lots of animal protein, fats, non-starchy vegetables, a little fruit, some nuts and dairy, and no grains. You’ve got the vegan crowd. Plant-based foods only. No animal products at all. You’ve got the Weight Watchers followers that subscribe to the ever-evolving WW plan which claims to be based on the latest nutritional science. There’s the South Beach and Akin diets which now seem old school in light of the trendier Dukan diet. We can’t forget the French Women Don’t Get Fat hype, nor the Eat Right for Your Type diet based on our blood type.

Is your head spinning yet? 

Over the years, I’ve done the fad diets. I’ve been a Lifetime member of Weight Watchers, and rejoined a handful of times to help lose weight I’ve regained. I’ve done short jaunts on South Beach. I ate a primarily Primal diet for nearly four months last year. I’ve dabbled in mainly vegetarian eating. With all of these, I’ve lost weight. I’ve regained it. Lost it again. And gained it back again. 

Last year, I decided the yo-yo had to stop. I made the decision to focus on building a healthy, strong body through exercise. I committed to training for a few running races, but I didn’t change my diet. I went from a couch potato to running a half marathon in 6 months. And I didn’t lose a single pound.

Here, let me repeat that for you. I.didn’t.lose.a.single.freaking.pound. 

How does that happen? And what does that tell us about effectively losing weight?

Well, I think this happened to me because I sometimes rewarded myself for my workouts with food. I let myself have the cookie because I was going to run that night. I had the Blizzard or sundae over the weekend because, hey, I just ran 7 miles. I didn’t do this every day, but it was enough to stall any weight loss impact my increased activity could have had.

And ultimately, I think this tells us that exercise alone will not get us to an ideal weight. We need the combination of the right foods to fuel our bodies along with the right activities to strengthen and work them.

For me, I’ve had the most success when I view food as fuel. I think first about fueling my body with the nutrition it needs. This means I’m more apt to choose a salad as the base for my lunch rather than a sandwich because I realize my body needs the vitamins in leafy greens more than the carbs in whole-wheat bread. Similarly, I try to make my snacks work for me, nutrition-wise. Crackers don’t do a whole lot nutritionally. But fruit and some peanut or almond butter, that’s providing me vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, fiber and protein. Also this is why I love Shakeology. It packs a ton of nutrition into an easy-to-make shake that I drink daily for breakfast. (Ask me about Shakeology in the comments if you want more info.)

The other thing I’m striving to do is to “eat clean” when possible. There’s no real definition of clean eating out there, so I’ve kind of made my own. For me, eating clean is avoiding packaged, processed foods. It’s shopping the perimeter of the store and focusing on whole foods. 

Don’t be fooled…I’m not perfect by any means. I struggle with this every day. I cheat and get fast food with my kids on the weekend. Sometimes I eat entirely too much dry cereal in the evenings while watching TV. But no one’s perfect. What matters here is that I’ve found a way of thinking about food that is generally working for me, and one that helps me avoid the fad diet mentality, yo-yo weight loss and emotional eating. (Oh yes, my friend emotional eating. You’ve met her, right? When we use food as a reward, like I did when I started running, that is emotional eating at its finest. Craving chocolate when you’ve had a bad day…that’s emotional eating too. Conquering emotional eating deserves its own post, and I have to say, I don’t have all the answers there.) 

It’s not producing mind-shattering weight loss. (So far, just about 10 lbs over several months.) But I feel good. I can tell my body is getting stronger. I am healthier. And that’s what really matters to me.