Shelby is a 44-year-old woman who has been active most of her life. She enjoys weight-lifting, takes indoor cycling classes, and goes out for hikes whenever she is able to geta way from her hectic schedule. Like so many of us, she had significant weight gain during the pandemic. A previous weight loss attempt was initially successful by restricting her calorie intake to 1500 calories per day, but Shelby found this unsustainable and regained the weight. Now, attempts to go back to caloric restriction were not working for her the way it used to. Her initial goals included lowering her body fat percentage, fueling her fitness goals, and establishing a long-term healthy and sustainable diet.
- Lower Body Fat Percentage: Shelby knew losing 20 pounds would make her feel better and felt it was a realistic goal for her, as it was a weight she had maintained pre-pandemic
- Fuel Her Fitness Goals: Shelby found herself struggling with fatigue while pushing herself and wanted to learn to fuel her activity properly to get the most from her workouts without gaining weight.
- Establish a Sustainable Diet: Knowing that calorie restriction was unsustainable, Shelby was eager to find a long-term plan that was both healthy and sustainable.
Initial Actions Taken:
Shelby had a high degree of work demands and stress. She struggled with cravings and reported a tendency to eat quickly at meals and unwind in the evening by enjoying a glass of wine or beer with her husband. An initial food log showed that Shelby was under-eating by an estimated 600 calories per day, but not seeing any improvement in physique. We immediately implemented the following:
- Slow Down Eating: Shelby began to practice mindful eating to address her tendency to eat quickly. This improves digestive function and is also helpful for reducing overall stress.
- Alcohol reduction: Shelby replaced alcohol consumption in the evening with some non-alcoholic alternatives and became more discerning about when she drank.
- Walking After Work: Instead of consuming wine, she initiated a daily walking routine after work to break-free from this after-work reward.
- Setting Boundaries at Work: Shelby recognized the importance of prioritizing her health and began asserting healthy work boundaries in a work culture where this was not modeled and not the norm. I will say this is a bold and uncommon move but was essential to her ability to commit to herself and her health. Her new boundaries included: not checking work email after work hours, taking lunch daily, and leaving work at a reasonable hour to allow time for non-work activities like fitness and evening meal prep.
- More Protein: To combat cravings, Shelby began incorporating high-protein breakfasts into her day. This also served to begin increasing her total caloric intake.
After 1 month:
- Shelby’s average total calorie intake increased by 210 kcal per day.
- She reported a weight loss of 3 pounds.
- Within the first month, she achieved a personal record in cycling via improved wattage output during class.
- Utilizing some strategies she began implementing at home for pre-planning meals, Shelby successfully maintained her weight loss during a 2-week vacation by reviewing restaurant menus and making decisions before she became hungry.
- A total weight loss of 7 pounds at 9 weeks, along with improved endurance and strength as measured by her weight-lifting capacity and overall output in cycling.
- Her caloric intake was increased by 3-500 calories per day.
By mid-summer, due to a mix of increased stress and family health challenges, Shelby found herself in a weight loss plateau. A review of her food log showed that her caloric intake dropped back down to around her baseline intake and her alcohol intake began creeping up. She also reported poor recovery from workouts and an increase in overall fatigue.
- Shelby increased her daily calorie intake by 200-300 calories a day
- We also began focusing on increasing her iron intake through food and consuming more nutrients before and after workouts to ensure adequate adaptation and recovery.
At our next session, Shelby reported that she was able to increase her deadlift by 3 sets of 5 reps at what was formerly her 1 rep max weight. She reported,
“Holy calories, Batman! I increased my calories per day to 1800-1900, focused on increasing iron and eating more before and after my workouts, and I feel like it’s helping with fatigue! I also decreased my alcohol consumption.
I’m definitely getting stronger and increasing my endurance. I want to keep doing that, while still lowering my body fat percentage. Lifting very heavy right now; last friday did deadlifts and much stronger! “Thank youuuu, calories!”
The increase in total caloric intake with an emphasis on nutrition around her workouts allowed her to perform better. The effort was still hard, but she no longer felt her energy tanking or that she was “hitting the wall”.
Shelby reported that the dietary changes she made were sustainable so long as her stress was well-managed. Any slips she had were easy to course correct and in 3-4 months she was able to meet her initial goals of fueling her fitness and finding a sustainable plan she could rely upon. By holding onto her commitment to her health, she successfully navigated through challenges with work and travel and has learned the importance of eating more protein and overall calories to support her active lifestyle. Shelby is continuing this journey, focusing on maintaining her progress and achieving her long-term physique goals this winter.
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