We don’t all have brown hair. Nor do we all have blue eyes. Some of us are tall; others are short. Individual differences are inherent in humans. So why would we expect to all lose weight in the same way? In the last several weeks, this blog has focused on how to deal with plateaus—when weight loss stops for no apparent reason—and the importance of tracking your progress with a measuring tape as well as (or in lieu of) a scale. Your comments and queries in response to these blogs suggested the topic for this week: realistic expectations.
By that I mean establishing what’s likely for you . Not your spouse, not your best friend, not your diet buddy and certainly not your son or daughter. Not even you when you were a few years younger. No, I’m talking about you today, at your current age, fitness level and weight. Once you understand what’s reasonable as well as that your body doesn’t work like clockwork (meaning one week may well differ from the next), you can stop beating yourself up for not losing the 2.5 pounds (or whatever) that you think you should be erasing each week. Instead, you can have realistic expectations, which will probably be lower than the magic number in your head. But at least those expectations won’t set you up for self-imposed failure.
Okay, so how do you achieve that reality check?
The First Two Weeks
Your first two weeks in Phase 1, Induction, serve many purposes. You’ll learn a new way of eating as you count carbs instead of calories, find that dietary fat is your friend and eat carbohydrate foods rich in nutrients and fiber instead of those full of sugar, white flour and other empty carbs. As long as you follow the program correctly, your body will begin to burn primarily fat (including the stuff on your tummy and thighs) for energy. In addition to kick-starting weight loss, Induction also typically makes people feel better and more energetic after a week or two at the most.
But this phase also serves another purpose. Your progress in those first two weeks can predict what your personal slimming-down process will look in the weeks and months to come. Another way to express this is that not everyone gets into fat burning with the same ease. The number of pounds you trim during the first 14 days of Induction will help give you a general understanding of your personal degree of what doctors call metabolic resistance. I prefer to refer to it simply as your ease or difficulty in losing weight.
Now let’s look at some hypothetical men and women to help you get an idea of where you might fall in this range. We’ll take into consideration their starting weight and the weight lost in the first two weeks on Induction. Not surprisingly, the more weight you have to lose, the faster you’ll lose, at least initially.
Are You an Easy Loser?
If you’re a woman with 50 or more pounds to lose and your 14-day weight loss tallied 12 pounds, you fall into this category. An easy-loser guy with a similar weight goal would likely lose at least 16 pounds. A woman with 20 to 50 pounds to shed who pares off 9 pounds would also be considered an easy loser, as does an equally overweight man who sheds 12 pounds. So would a woman with less to 20 pounds to banish who dispatches 6 pounds or a man who sheds 9 pounds in two weeks. If these patterns align with your experience in the first two weeks on Atkins, your metabolism rate is in your favor and you’ll probably have a relatively easy time slimming down. That’s not to say weight loss won’t slow progressively as you approach your goal weight. Nor will being an easy loser protect you from experiencing one or more plateaus. But you will probably have a certain metabolic advantage.
Are You a Slow Loser?
Now let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum: people resistant to weight loss. A woman with more than 50 pounds to lose who is a slow loser might do away with only 4 pounds (or less) in the first two weeks of Induction. Her male counterpart might lose 8 pounds. A woman and a man with 20- to 50-pound weight loss goal in this category might lose 3 and 6 pounds, respectively. Finally, women and men with modest weight loss goals who are slow losers might lose only 2 and 4 pounds, respectively, or only 1 and 2 pounds a week. While you may not consider this pace anything to write home about, if you understand that your results in the first two weeks are predictive of very gradual weight loss, you can be prepared for this pattern.
The consolation prize is that folks who lose weight at a slow but steady pace are more apt to keep the weight off long term.Just think of it this way: with an average weight loss of 1 pound per week, you’ll be 52 pounds lighter a year from now! Plus, you’ll be experiencing less knee pain, more energy, clothes and rings that keep getting looser, glowing skin—and a reduced risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease! And here’s another bonus: people who take off pounds and inches more slowly appreciate the hard work to get there and may be less likely to sabotage their efforts than folks who reached their goal easily and are of the mind set of: “Oh I can go off course for a bit because the weight just rolls off me when I do Atkins.”
Are You Somewhere in the Middle?
Many people wind up somewhere between these two extremes. A woman who is more than 50 pounds overweight and loses 8 pounds in her first two weeks on Atkins is considered to have average resistance to weight loss. In the case of a similarly overweight man, the number would be about 12 pounds. If that woman with average resistance was between 20 and 50 pounds overweight, she could expect to lose about 6 pounds in two weeks. For a comparably overweight man also with average resistance to weight loss, a 9-pound loss would be likely. Their friends who are also average in their resistance to weight loss but had no more than 20 pounds each to lose could expect to drop about 4 and 6 pounds, respectively, over the 14-day period.
Predicting Your Own Pace
Assuming you’ve completed Induction and moved on to Phase 2, Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), or have remained in Induction, you should be able to place yourself in one of these three categories. That’s not to say that your weight loss will mirror what you lost in the first two weeks. Again, most people lose more initially than they do in subsequent weeks. The point is that once you figure out where you are on this spectrum, you’ll know whether to expect to lose relatively faster or slower than other individuals or whether you’ll fetch up somewhere in the middle. If you resistance to weight loss is high, don’t set yourself up for failure by setting an unreasonable goal each week.
If you are someone whose body resists weight loss you’ll probably have to climb the Carb Ladder more slowly, perhaps increasing another 5 grams of Net Carbs and a introducing a new food group every three or four weeks. If you’re an easy loser, on the other hand, you’ll probably be able to increase your carb intake relatively quickly, perhaps inching up every week. The sooner you understand where you stand, the better equipped you are to adapt Atkins to your own needs.
Can You Impact Your Resistance to Weight Loss?
The answer to that is both “yes” and “no.” As we’ve discussed before, men generally shed extra baggage more easily than women do. Younger people also usually have an advantage over their older fellow dieters. Other factors that impact your personal rate of weight loss include your activity level, a history of yo-yo dieting, your hormonal status and whether you’re taking certain prescription drugs. You can impact some of these influences, but certainly not all of them. You obviously can’t change your age or gender, but you can increase your activity level or build more muscle (which burns more calories even when you’re at re
st) with weight-bearing or resistance exercise.
Certain drugs inhibit weight loss. If you cannot seem to lose weight and are taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) prescribed for a condition such as arthritis, talk to your physician about whether there’s an alternative without the same side effect.The same applies to steroids. But never make any change without consulting with your doctor.
Knowledge Is Power
I can’t guarantee that you’ll be happy when you figure out how resistant you are to losing weight, but at least you’ll have a better understanding of why it may be more difficult for you than it is for others. Nonetheless, understanding can bring acceptance, allowing you to focus on the task in front of you instead of blaming yourself for not keeping up with your friend or your spouse or partner. Instead, if the reality is that you’re a slow loser, adjust your expectations and congratulate yourself on each and every hard-won pound and inch.
Share and Share Alike
Please share with the Atkins Community your own experience with expectations about weight loss—and if and how you’ve learned to deal with them. And as always, please let me know what you’d like me to discuss in this blog.