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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

I have always been an athletic person, but 2 knee surgeries a few years back slowed me down a bit, and upped my weight a lot! After recovering, I got back into sports, but the extra weight slowed me down, and in general I just wasn't the same. I'm 5'5'' and I weigh about 145, and although I'm in all right shape, it's just not good enough for me. I want to go back to 125 with great leg muscles, etc. I started running again, taking aerobics classes, and doing Pilates about a month ago, and I cut my daily calories by half. For some reason though, I still haven't lost any weight. My stomach is flat from eating less, but my clothes don't fit any better, I don't weigh any less, and I don't feel any healthier. I'm going to need some advice quick... because if I'm not going to lose any weight or look any different, then I might as well just go back to my old ways of living! Help!

(Article continued below.)

You sound unhappy and desperate — in other words, extremely stressed out over your inability to lose weight. Maybe you don't want to hear this, but it's quite possible that your mental attitude is the biggest thing that's getting in the way of your achieving any results. You were probably hoping to hear of some trick to kick your program into gear or some fantastic technique that will make everything work. I'm not saying that techniques and tricks don't exist — everyone needs to tweak their fit lifestyle now and again — but there's something going on underneath all your activity that you should address first.

You've dropped a few hints about what's up, but the biggest clue is when you said, "If I'm not going to lose any weight or look any different, then I might as well just go back to my old ways of living!" That says right away that you really don't enjoy what you are doing right now and that, for whatever reason, if you were given the choice, you'd really rather just keep the lifestyle that allowed you to remain around 145. That's neither good nor bad — it just says that you are making yourself unhappy right now and that perhaps you should take a couple steps back and look the lifestyle you are currently trying to force yourself into.

You don't go into the particulars of your workout regime (how much time and how many days a week you are devoting to your workout schedule, intensity, etc.), but it sounds like you are very busy. In fact, it sounds rather exhausting! You also say you cut your daily calories by half. You don't say how you did this, or how many calories you were eating before, or if you have changed the way you are eating (less starchy carbs, less fat, or just cutting down the portions in general). Being specific is not really necessary when you're writing an anonymous, general question to a fitness website... but being specific is absolutely essential if you want to make serious changes in your body.

The way you've described your routine, it sounds like you may have put your body into starvation mode by eating too little and exercising too much. That means your body is clinging onto the extra weight because it feels undernourished. This is bound to make a person unhappy on a few different levels, the lack of results being just one of them. An undernourished body is also undergoing stress because it's not getting the nutrients it needs, and this will have an effect on your mental attitude. That includes your brain — have you ever been so hungry you couldn't think straight? When you starve your body of nutrients you are not doing yourself any favors.

But the starvation mode theory is just one possibility. The other is that, in spite of all the activity you're describing, you are not really doing as much as you believe you are (maybe you don't like your exercise routine, so it just seems like more work than it actually is). And perhaps you're eating more food than you believe you are. The only way you can know for sure is to keep track of what you are doing and eating, which means keeping a workout log and a food journal. People often resist keeping records of their workouts and food consumption, but it's the one real way to get honest and organized about your quest for a slim, fit body. When it comes to food, every morsel you are eating counts, including the handful of chips you grabbed while passing through the kitchen, that generous dollop of honey you added to your green tea and the extra sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on your low-carb pasta. But details like these are easily forgotten if you don't write them down. As for workouts, you need to know how often, and how intensely, you really are exercising. You also need to own up to the fact that there's something about this lifestyle that you are not enjoying. A log will help you pinpoint the biggest problem areas and help you add structure to a routine that sounds both busy and haphazard.

The logs are important, and you also need to sit down and figure out what kind of eating plan and activities will really make you happy. If what you are doing right now is making you miserable, it's pointless to plug away at it — even if you did start getting results, you wouldn't want to stick with it over the long haul. Create a reasonable, low-calorie eating plan that contains food you enjoy, and even a weekly treat. Take the exercise styles that give you the most pleasure and design your fitness program around them. (When people discover, for example, that weight training actually enhances their favorite activities, whether it's running, playing tennis or belly dancing, they are far more likely to hit the gym on a regular basis.) Fitness should be fun. Healthy food can be adventuresome. So don't force your workouts and calorie counting into a mold that doesn't fit just because you think it's what you should be doing. Think about what you enjoy most and then figure out how to make that into a program that will help you lose weight. You'll be a lot less stressed out and, believe it or not, you'll also be a lot more likely to get rid of those extra pounds. In fact, the joy of moving may become your main focus and weight loss just a side benefit!

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