By Dr. Karlie Moore, Fit for Duty Consulting
Losing weight can be really hard, especially for firefighters. With all the misinformation and nutrition myths out there, it’s no wonder people are confused. Here are three big mistakes I’ve observed throughout my work helping thousands of firefighters to lose weight.
Mistake No. 1: Dieting
Yep. If you set out to lose weight by temporarily “dieting” – eating less food and/or eating different foods than you plan to once you’re done with your diet – you will not lose weight.
Every size body requires a certain number of calories to sustain. If you’re my size, you require about 2,400 calories a day. If I had less mass, let’s say I was much shorter, I might require only 2,000 calories per day. So you can see if you cut calories to get down to a certain size, you have to continue to eat that number of calories to maintain that size.
If your plan is to temporarily eat certain foods (like a diet program where you buy their food) or plan to severely cut back on calories for a bit, that won’t work. As soon as you go back to eating what you ate before, you’ll get back to the size that you were before.
Really, the worst thing you can do is yo-yo like this. Because when you lose weight, it’s typically about 25 percent lean mass. Once you gain it back, it’s all fat. So each time you lose weight and put it back on, your body fat percentage gets higher.
Mistake No. 2: Forbidding Certain Foods
Although it seems counterintuitive, if you have a no tolerance policy toward any unhealthy foods – and I am talking about the things you really like – you may be doing yourself more harm than good.
Research shows that when people give in and eat a food that they were trying to avoid, they feel bad and that starts a spiral that is more likely to end in the person giving up altogether. So you want to give yourself a little leeway. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
If you do have that ice cream that someone brought to the fire station, focus on just having a smaller portion than usual. Make sure you savor it (don’t do something that takes your mind off what you’re eating) and don’t feel bad about it.
One caveat: this really only applies to unhealthy foods that you love. One problem that I see with firefighters at the station is eating a treat simply because it’s there.
Before eating it, ask yourself if it’s really worth it. A donut has about 200 calories. Your half hour workout might only burn 200 calories. If you could take it or leave it, then leave it!
This is a tough balance because you only want to eat something if you’re really jonesing for it. But if you do, don’t send yourself down the shame spiral. Pat yourself on the back for all the healthy eating you’ve been doing and don’t see this as a setback.
Mistake No. 3: Not Getting Enough Sleep
Obviously this is a big problem for firefighters. Lack of sleep has been shown to both cause weight gain and impede weight loss efforts.
The likely reason is because your body turns up your hunger sense when you’re tired. Without enough sleep, your body senses that you’re low on energy. If you’re energy-deficient then you must need more fuel, and that means more calories. It essentially kicks your hunger into overdrive.
This is why you feel like a bottomless pit when you’re tired. Getting more sleep alone could help you lose weight – and then there are the positive side effects of feeling better, looking better and being healthier!
If you find yourself sleep-deprived, remind yourself that the hunger isn’t because you actually need the calories, your body just thinks you do. What you need is sleep.
When I’m sleep deprived and feeling famished all day, I’ve found that (second to taking a nap) doing something to get my heart rate up helps to get rid of those misguided hunger signals.
Dr. Karlie Moore has been providing wellness programs to fire departments since 2008. She conducts hundreds of firefighter fitness tests per year and provides online education to firefighters about nutrition, exercise, weight loss, heart health and back health at www.fitfordutyconsulting.com. Dr. Moore has a Ph.D. in Exercise Science and Nutrition from Oregon State University and she specializes in firefighter health.