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Understanding and Ascending the Phases of Weight Loss

Updated on August 13, 2012

There are many frustrations when you’re a heavy person trying to get thinner. My biggest beef is that so many people, magazines, and coaches offer weight loss suggestions so quickly and enthusiastically that were not right for me. Weight loss methods will yield different results for different people. For example, hopping up and running a 5k is not good advice for a 250-pound, sedentary person. However, if you’ve been exercising for a while and are looking for the next challenge, then that advice might be good for you.

No one goes from being 300 pounds to being 120 pounds overnight. And no one goes from 300 pounds to 120 pounds using the same set of diet and exercise advice the whole time. The truth is that there are steps in the process. The first goal should be to get from 300 pounds to 240 pounds through light activity and portion control. Don’t try to subsist on celery if you’re used to a juicy burger. Rapid, dramatic changes are likely to shock your body and create so much discomfort that you will fall right off the weight-loss wagon. A gradual, tiered approach will allow you to make changes your body will accept, and result in changes that are sustainable. As your body is ready, you can continue to make changes to maximize weight loss and minimize discouraging diet discomfort.

So, what parts of that vast sea of advice will work for you, right now? I’ve put together a few categories or phases of weight loss, and associated diet and exercise tips. As with all diet and exercise routines, be sure to talk with your doctor before you take it on.

PHASE 1: Go from 250+ pounds and sedentary to 200-250 pounds and lightly active

So you weigh more than 250 pounds and you are sedentary. That means you get up to move around only to do the bare necessities. You may have physical ailments that have prevented you from being very active in the past, and that has led to gradual weight gain.

Health – See your doctor about plans for increased activity, and get a referral for physical therapy, massage, or to see any kind of specialist to help you become and stay active. Achy shoulder? Get it checked out. Did you tweak an ankle and it never really snapped back like you thought it would? Ask your doctor about seeing a podiatrist to get it worked out. Physical therapy and a brace may give you the support you need to get walking and build up the necessary muscles to support the ankle and relieve the pain. If you had a leaky roof, you would get it fixed, right? Your body is your soul’s home. If something is broken, get it fixed so you can enjoy your home and it can work for you the way the manufacturer intended.

Exercise – Get moving gently to increase mobility and build good habits. Make exercise enjoyable so it will become a part of your daily routine. Walking and swimming are both great activities to introduce the body to activity. Both are fairly easy on the joints. For walking, invest in a supportive pair of shoes and maybe even splurge for extra cushion with some insoles. When I was 200+ pounds and started exercising, my weight put a lot of pressure on my knees and ankles. Insoles really helped me get moving while minimizing the discomfort. Before I knew it, I was lighter and my joints didn’t hurt as much. Insoles helped me go from sedentary to mildly active.

Eating – At this phase of weight loss, focus on either portion control or types of food but not both. For me, drastically changing portion sizes AND foods is too overwhelming. I had to tackle them one at a time. At this phase in your weight loss, I recommend just doing one or the other. Or, if you want to continue eating a large volume of food but switch to healthier options, pick up a Clean Eating cook book. The emphasis will be on lean meats and vegetables. This is a great option for introducing your tongue and tummy to healthier options without feeling starving and deprived.

Support – Weight loss is a surprisingly emotional process. For a long time I resisted my own weight loss just because I couldn’t visualize myself as a thinner person. For me, getting an awesome personal trainer made all the difference. She said I could do it, and because she’s a professional I believed her! Find support for yourself – maybe a neighbor to join you for daily walks, a Weight Watchers group, a mall walking club, a sibling, spouse, friend, or a trainer at your gym. Ideally your support would be someone with training who can help you navigate the weight-loss waters ahead, but if you don’t have access to someone like that, then at least enlist moral support from a friend or family member.

PHASE 2: Going from 200-250 pound range to the 150-200 pound range

Health – Continue to monitor any aches or ailments that you were addressing during Phase 1. In Phase 2 you weigh less than you did in Phase 1, and that already feels amazing! I remember going from 203 to 170, and how much lighter I felt on my feet. I had more energy and was ready to take on the world!

Exercise – Move MORE! With some of your weight melted off, try some activities that sound like fun! Try a Zumba dance fitness class, take a salsa class with your spouse, take some low-intensity day hikes with friends or spouse, play tennis, and lift weights independently or with a trainer.

Eating – Now is the time to get your food portions and food choices under control. I recommend a program like the AdvoCare 24 Day Challenge, which is very intense but it whips your body and eating habits into shape like nobody’s business. It will give your energy level a nuclear-quality boost, and if you really follow it you could lose another 20 pounds in just 24 days. This accelerated weight loss is great during Phase 2 because it will keep you from drifting into a lull and backsliding. At the end of the 24 Days, you will be lighter and your habits will have shifted to eating healthier foods in smaller portions. Stay on track by repeating the 24 Day Challenge at least once each year.

If an eating/health program like the 24 Day Challenge doesn’t sound good to you, talk with a nutritionist or your trainer to determine the kinds of foods and portion sizes that will help you get to your Phase 3 weight.

Support – If you’re finding your chosen support team isn’t being so supportive, then supplement with additional support personnel. Maybe at this point you’re finding that, while sweet and kind, your husband can only help you get part of the way to your goals. Now may be the time to hire a personal trainer or a nutritionist to help you continue to progress toward your goals.

Peaceful Plateau

If you need to, take a break while you’re in Phase 2. After you’ve lost a good amount of weight, you may feel your motivation flagging. I sure did. All the intense dieting and exercise wore me out, and made me feel like there wasn’t time in my life for anything else I cared about. Maintaining a new, lower weight is just as important as losing weight. If you need to take a break from aggressively losing weight, then do it and practice maintaining at your new weight until you’re ready to go hard again.

PHASE 3: Going from the 150-200 pound range to the 100-150 pound range

Health – While your original pains may have been resolved, keep an eye out for new pains that may result from you newly active lifestyle. I never thought I’d work out so much that I would get blisters on my feet, but now I do and I’m strangely proud of them! Watch out for knee injuries, monitor your form during weightlifting, drink plenty of water, and do everything you can to prevent problems.

Exercise – In order to continue to lose weight, step up the intensity of your aerobic exercise. It’s also time to push yourself more with weight lifting. Try a Step & Strength class, which combines step aerobics with weight lifting for toning. Go climb a mountain! Do a really challenging hike with some friends. Try skiing or snowboarding. Your body is a different machine now than it was during Phase 1, and it will require different, more intense cardiovascular and weight exercises in order to achieve results.

Eating – At this point you have internalized many of the healthy eating patterns that you were introduced to in Phases 1 and 2. Phase 3 will be about implementing all that you’ve learned, and also trimming extra, hidden calories.

Support – Support from friends and professional weight loss consultants is extremely helpful, but during this phase you will probably start to feel another important supporter coming into play: YOU. Who is an expert in your weight loss? You are. Who knows what exercises result in weight loss? You do. Who knows which exercises lift your spirit while working your major muscle groups? You, again. You should be feeling a significant and justifiable confidence lift. It probably took you 6 months or longer to reach this phase, and you’ve learned a lot during that time. You are your own best coach, consoler, work out buddy, and fresh chef. Keep up the great work! You’ve made it so far!

Clearing Weightloss Hurdles

Do not underestimate the difficulty of losing weight. So many thin people in the media and in our lives make it look easy. Maybe being thin is easy once you’ve lost the weight and made all the lifestyle changes, but losing weight – physically changing your body and changing your entire life to support it – is very difficult. Here are some of the hurdles you may encounter and how to overcome them.

BODY – Your body will resist losing weight. If your body is provided too little food to maintain its current weight, then it perceives that an emergency is happening and its very livelihood is threatened. Your body will light up every alarm system and discomfort to tell you to eat more food. How to address this hurdle? Volumes of lettuce and celery will help you feel full without consuming mountains of calories. Also, drink lots of water to feel satisfied and trick your body. Take vitamins, and eat a healthy, balanced diet including a lot of lean protein and vegetables so while you may be losing weight, your body doesn’t feel deprived of necessary vitamins and minerals.

FAMILY & FRIENDS – It’s so tough for me to turn down my grandma’s homemade cookies or my mother-in-law’s home-squeezed fruit juices. We express love to each other through food – both by giving it and by gratefully accepting it. Going out for dinner is also how we enjoy each other’s company. But you don’t want to turn down a friend’s kind suggestion to go out to dinner. So what to do? With my grandma and my mother-in-law I told them ahead of time that I was trying to lose weight. I told them that, specifically, I wanted to lose about 60 pounds. As fellow women, they respected the magnitude of the task I had ahead of me. I shared with them my dread of the dietary restrictions that were in my future. They understood. Later, when my diet had begun and I had to turn down cookies or juice, they completely understood and they expressed their support of my efforts. Wasn’t that nice? And for my friends who want to go out to eat, we instead meet at a park and I bring food for us to eat that meets my dietary plan. Surprisingly, my friends love it when I bring them grilled salmon on a bed of brown rice with some steamed veggies. To me, that’s boring since I eat healthy stuff like this all the time now. I’d much rather eat at a restaurant. But for typical restaurant-goers, a healthy, homemade, and free meal from a friend is a huge treat!

LOGISTICS – Ah, the logistics of weight loss. This is a subject that does not get enough attention. Fitting weight loss activities into my already busy day is a huge challenge. When you are losing weight, you need to schedule your cardio and weight workouts into your day. Make sure your appropriate exercise clothes and accessories are clean and ready. If you have lost the lock for your gym locker, go buy a new one. I have personally busted two supposedly “indestructible” water bottles, so now I just buy bottles of water at the gym and reuse them until they get gross, and then buy a new one. I have four exercise bras so I always have a clean one in my drawer. I do not want the lack of a clean bra to stand between me and my weight loss goals. Food preparation is very important for weight loss. Eating right is 80% of the weight loss puzzle. Weight lifting and aerobic exercise is just 20%. So find a time to grill chicken breasts, slice your celery, bake salted yam medallions, and prepare all your food for the next day or two. A lack of healthy and available foods when you’re famished will derail your efforts.

You can do it!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist or weight-loss expert. I’m just a girl who has been there. If this article provides you one ounce of help, then it was worth it for me. You are worth it. You can do it. I believe in you!


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