Why is it so hard to lose the last 5, 10 pounds?
I know I’m not alone in this thought. Maybe you’ve had this thought before. Maybe you’re having it right now.
I want to show you 10 ways to lose the last 10 pounds.
First I have to point out that, if you are only 5 or 10 pounds from your goal or ideal weight, then way to go. You are so close.
Chances are though, while you’re in the healthy range, you still want to lose a few more pounds because you know the last few pounds mean the difference between how you fit in your jeans, whether or not you have that little bit of belly flab (or wherever your stubborn pounds happen to lurk), and often, whether or not you see some muscle definition.
It’s not just in your head, it IS more challenging to lose weight as you get closer to your “ideal” (or rather a much lower body fat percentage) weight.
The last 5 or 10 pounds hang on for dear life, and sometimes it seems like only but near-starvation will make them go away.
Have you experienced this, or is it just me?
An awesome reader, Ashlee, writes the following, as part of the discussion on this post:
Thank you for posting the foods that you eat on a daily basis. Pictures are so helpful; although I know it’s not easy to take time/effort to take all those pics and post everything (with four kids! I have three so I kinda’ relate).
I love that your lunch has variety, flair, and a lot of bulk. And it looks very tasty, yet easy to make.
My weight has not been cooperating with me lately and I keep wondering if I am eating too much? But seeing your lunch makes me think I am not.
During six months of vegan eating, I have solidly lost 15 lbs but feel like I would just love to shed 5-10 lbs more. I could exercise more, that’s for sure! The gym where I worked shut down so I don’t teach my “boot camp” classes anymore — bummer! But I am starting to run/walk and hope to get back into super-weight lifting (one of my favorites).
Did you find after being vegan for a few months that you could eat a lot more bulk of vegan foods than when you first started? Like your body adjusts to this new way of eating and then tries to make up for the calorie deficit by screaming at you to eat more? Some days I feel like all I am eating are green salads (no oil) and vegetable soups (again, no oil) but then weigh more the next day! Any tips?
I mostly just wanted to say how much I love your blog, and cheer you on to keep going because you are making a huge difference! I love that you focus so much on optimal nutrition (not JUST veganism) because that is my daily goal.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!! And keep these awesome posts comin‘!
You bring up a lot of really great questions (and thank you for the compliment!).
Today I want to focus on what I think is your key question: “Why can’t I lose the last 10 pounds?”
It’s certainly one I’ve had over the years as I’ve tried to get to my “ideal” weight or “ideal” size (which as I explain later, there is no such thing).
And as you know, I’ve had plenty of experience gaining weight (pregnancy) and having to lose a lot of weight (again, thanks pregnancy) as well as the various times when I’ve noticed the scale creep.
Since I’m a list-maker, I’ve made a little list just for you:
10 ways to lose those last stubborn-as-gum-on-a-shoe pounds.
1. Remember, it’s just a number.
Don’t attach emotions to it. Women are notorious for this.
We step on the scale, and based on those three little numbers, we are happy, or sad, but most times sad, because it’s never enough. We’re never quite where we want to be. Even if our weight is within a healthy range (18.5-25 BMI is considered a healthy range).
The tricky thing with numbers on the scale is that they are so one-dimensional. It doesn’t tell you how much you weigh in fat or how much your organs, muscles and bones weigh. It’s just a number.
2. Determine if you really need to lose 5 or 10 pounds.
Is your goal weight realistic? Do you want to just lose those pounds because that’s what you weighed in high school? When you got married?
Calculate your BMI, get your body fat percentage tested (one inexpensive way is with body fat calipers–I like and useAccumeasure), and look at those numbers in conjunction with the numbers on the scale. This should give you a much better idea of whether or not you need or even should lose weight.
3. Weigh yourself on a regular basis.
For most people a good rule of thumb is once a week. In my opinion, daily weigh-ins aren’t necessary and seem a bit excessive, but for some people, a daily weigh-in works for them.
Truth be told, I don’t like to weigh myself. I mean, I really abhor the scale. But I think it’s a good idea to come to terms with the scale and remember that it is simply one tool to gauge your progress, or maintenance.
Again, going back to point #1–don’t attach emotions to the number. It’s just one way of gauging your body composition, not the way.
4. Understand the importance of body composition.
Your weight is comprised of your lean body mass (organs, fluids, food/waste) & fat mass (storage and essential fat). You want to be somewhere in the range of 18-25% body fat, as a woman (athletes tend to be in the 14-20% range, body builders even lower).
Any lower than 17 or 18%, for most women, and it becomes really hard to maintain, unless you are naturally (by naturally I mean a mix of genetics, feeding habits in infancy/childhood, and environment) at this level.
Many female body builders, during competition time are in the unhealthy ranges of 8-10%, but do not maintain this during their off season (not healthy, and very difficult, if not impossible to maintain).
Essential body fat % for a woman is 12%, any lower than that and you are putting your health at risk. You want essential body fat, plus some storage fat. Your body fat gets too low, and this starts messing with hormone levels and fertility, among other physiological functions such as body heat and metabolism.
5. Focus more on lowering your body fat percentage to the appropriate level rather than focusing on the numbers on the scale.
Body fat percentage is a lot more important than your weight. The numbers on a scale just tell you one thing–your total weight.
It doesn’t tell you how much fat you are carrying, or more importantly, how much your bones, muscles, and organs (your lean body weight) weigh.
This is a range, and there is no “perfect” %. I think it’s safe to say most men find curvy women more attractive than the “supermodel” thin look, or the muscle-woman. I know Joseph has threatened, light-heartedly, to leave me if I ever look like a body builder.
Since there is a range of healthy body fat percentage, it comes down to a matter of preference. Personally, I like to be at about 18-20% body fat, which is where I can comfortably maintain my weight, have some curves, and still fit in size 4/6 jeans.
Leigh Peele has an interesting post and discussion on her blog about women and body fat percentage, here.
6. Brush up on some of the principles of weight loss.
Sometimes it just takes some reminding to get back where you need to be.
7. Realize that your body: is finely-tuned machine, is excellent at adapting, and has your fertility in mind.
Part of the reason why it’s much more difficult to lose the last 10 pounds than it is the first 10 pounds is because our bodies are fine-tuned machines that adapt.
One way that the body does that is by decreasing it’s caloric needs as you lose weight. So at 170 pounds your body required more calories on a daily basis than it does at 140 pounds (250-300 calories less), which means you have to eat fewer calories than you did before.
Your body needs a certain level of fat (called your essential fat) for normal physiologic functions. Some experts point out that a little storage fat, rather than none, is better for overall health (ie. it is better to have 18% body fat, 12% being essential and 6% storage, than to only have 12%).
In regards to fertility. The female body’s hormonal levels shift in conjunction to fat storage levels.
Women need a healthy level of fat stores for fertility and childbearing, and because of this, our appetite controls are closely regulated by hormone levels. These hormonal levels, are tied to the level of our fat stores.
In other words, as a woman (men don’t have quite the problem that we have, thanks to biology, but this is not to say they don’t struggle with losing the last 10 pounds either), the lower your fat %, the more your body sends messages to the brain to eat. This insures that you’re keeping a healthy level of fat in the body, that you’re not dipping into the danger zone.
Ask any female body builder who has gotten down to 9 or 10% body fat, and I guarantee you it was accomplished with a lot of white-knuckling and hunger pangs (along with lots of focused, intense exercise sessions).
8. Calorie swap & make every food choice, a good food choice.
Trade your higher calorie foods for lower calorie foods.
For example, instead of using dressing (albeit oil-free and low calorie), use freshly squeezed lemon and herbs which contain virtually no calories. Use low-calorie almond milk (there are brands that are as low as 30 calories per cup) instead of the higher calorie plant milks.
Instead of bread for your veggie burger, use a few large lettuce leaves. All of these swaps add up and will help you to achieve the consistent, daily caloric deficiet you need to lose weight.
When you get down to just the last few pounds, every food choice matters. There is little wiggle room or room for any empty calories (this is part of the reason why it can feel so restrictive and infuriating).
Think of calorie swapping as coupons. You get more bang for your buck and make your calorie budget stretch even further.
9. Establish eating times and non-eating times.
For some people, a cut off time is helpful. You could say, between meals are your non-eating times. Or after 7 pm. Or no eating between 7 pm and 7 am.
While there is nothing magical about this, it helps to prevent mindless grazing (helping you to achieve that calorie deficit you need to lose the last pounds) and prepares you to have true hunger when it finally is time to eat.
10. Know when enough is enough.
Maybe you’d just love to lose that extra 1 or 2 pounds and you’ve done everything and it’s just not coming off. If you opted for more drastic measures (ie. cutting calories significantly for a consistent and prolonged period of time), you would lose weight, but there comes a point when enough is enough or good enough.
It’s not about achieving a certain number or percentage. While these things can be helpful, they can also be sources of frustration and obsession. In our body crazed world, it’s important to keep things in perspective.
I can (and have) gotten down to about 15% body fat.
I was often cranky, hungry all the time, and didn’t enjoy life. I realized that I’m much happier just a few pounds heavier, which for me translates into being able to eat the kinds of foods I want in more comfortable amounts.
In conclusion, Ashlee, ask yourself:
Overall, do I make good food choices? Do I have enough energy to perform my day to day activities because I have a healthy body fat % and am getting enough nutrient-rich calories, or am I lagging because of the chronic caloric deficit and low body fat storage? Do I have a healthy BMI?
In the end, the most important thing is about being healthy, having energy, feeling good and strong and confident in your own skin.
I think a lot of women, myself included, sometimes think it would be nice to be thin as a rail, but unless your genes dictate it, or you’re determined to eat a very low calorie diet (not recommended), most women aren’t going to ever get there.
And why should we? Curves are beautiful (I happen to know many men who love ‘em), and you can’t have curves if you don’t have any fat on your body.
In time, you’ll find a joyful place. One where you and your body can be okay, even happy with!