A few weeks ago after I posted the status on my Facebook page about finding “what works for you”, I realized that “what works” can mean completely different things to different people.  And it can also be warped by what you think you should look like, what you think you should weigh, what size you think you should wear vs. the reality of what kind of lifestyle you are able and willing to maintain.  
You see, through every point in my life through all the diet/eating/exercise approaches I’ve tried, they’ve all “worked” in one way or another. The black coffee and prune diet along with heavy amounts of exercise did work. I got really thin. And reeeeally unhealthy.  And obviously it was not maintainable. 

From Starved Runner to Paleo CrossFitter to Now
I moved on to eating more but constantly counting calories in vs. calories out, combined with excessive use of fat burners and again, over-exercising.  Did this “work” for me?  Yes.  Was it maintainable? For about 6 years; through 3+ stress fractures and unknowingly damaging my hormones, yes – it was maintainable.  But it certainly didn’t come without repercussions.  Again, here I was chasing a certain weight, wanting to wear a certain size and look a certain way – no thought of the longterm affects ever crossed my mind.
Fast forward to the Paleo/Primal diet.  Did it work for me? Definitely not in the sense of aesthetics, but it did give me the mental break I needed from counting calories. It also helped me realize that when I omit food groups/items based on what a “diet” tells me vs. my own biofeedback, I crave massive amounts of not so great foods.  Ie: eating a very limited amount of carbs for my activity level and underproducing thyroid caused me to become chronically fatigued and crave sugar ALL THE TIME. 
Zone/Counting Macros. Did it work for me? Yes. I had consistent energy, felt really good, and it helped me realize that I could actually eat more food, more frequently and it wouldn’t impact me negatively.  Is it maintainable for me?  Not really. Constantly counting, measuring, weighing, tracking, graphing and given my history with being preoccupied with food and counting calories, grams, etc. for many years prior, it just makes me anxious. I also don’t particularly enjoy meal prepping many meals in advance. I like to eat when I want to, not when I “have” to just to be able to “fit in all my macros” at the right time or by the end of the day.
If you’re still reading this, many of you may be saying, “Sounds to me like she’s making excuses and doesn’t want to do the work.”  And sure, you can go ahead and make that assumption, but the truth is I wouldn’t have known whether or not any of these approaches “worked for me” if I didn’t “do the work” with each one before.  
My “what works” is not about fat loss. It’s not about whether or not I wear a size 6 or a size 8 in lululemon. It’s not what you think I should look like as a fitness professional (I’m not an aspiring fitness model).  It’s not a number on a scale; it’s not a daily calorie limit or pie chart percentage. 
My “what works for ME” in this moment is to eat foods that give me energy, foods that my body can tolerate and foods that I enjoy.  It’s eating when I’m hungry, stopping before I’m full, and allowing myself some flexibility when necessary. It’s doing exercises that I enjoy in any amount or duration I choose depending on what I am (or not) training for.  It’s finding a way that I can eat without obsession while managing my hunger, energy, and cravings and enjoying all the other things life has to offer.  Will this approach change? Maybe, but I hope not – because this is a sustainable lifestyle. Do I weigh more than I prefer? Sure. Could I stand to lose some body fat? Probably.  But is it worth me being all-consumed with what, when, and how often I eat? Not really. 

But Mel, How Do I Find Out What Works (Or Doesn’t Work) For Me?  What’s the Magic Formula?

Again, how realistic are your expectations? Maybe you don’t need to be in “fat loss mode” right now.  Maybe you need to ease your mind.  Maybe you just want to maintain. We don’t always need to be making progress….NeverthelessI like to use the Metabolic Effect approach by asking these questions first:

How’s your hunger? Are you satisfied after you eat?
Do you have sustained energy throughout the day?
Are you able to control your cravings? Can you go from meal to meal without extreme hunger or cravings?
If you answered yes to all of the above, then whatever you are doing works for you! Even if you aren’t at the size/weight/physique you’ve imagined – if your hunger, energy, and cravings are balanced then something is working.  You may not necessarily be in fat loss mode (because that requires a caloric deficit and balanced hormones) but it’s at least a start.  
Is what you are trying to accomplish in line with the lifestyle you imagine yourself living? Do you have time (or willing to make the time) to prepare your own meals? 
Do you exercise frequently enough to reach your goals? 
Do you exercise too much? 
Do you sleep restfully throughout the night? 
Are you able to recover from workouts/exercise?
I’m not saying these are the questions that will lead to the magic answer (because there isn’t one) but they are good questions to check in with yourself and reevaluate what it is that you are trying to accomplish.


Real Life Examples of “What Works

I had a girlfriend once tell me, “You know, I pretty much look the same when I track my macros, weigh my food and obsess over things as I do when I have ice cream every now and then. So I may as well eat the freaking ice cream when I want to and still look the same.”

I’ve also heard this said before, “I know I need to eat more. I know I can’t live off protein shakes all day and a salad for dinner, but right now, I can’t slow down – so I’m fine with being 3 pounds heavier.”

Do those 2 examples “work for them”? I’d say, “Yes”.  Would they work for you? I can’t answer that. Because you are YOU.  Finding what works for ME and what works for YOU is a multi-faceted approach.  Food is more than just calories and macros and even hormones – it’s about lifestyle, traditions, habits,  etc. that take time to change or adapt and evolve as you do. 

Try – Be Patient – Adjust -and Try Again.  But ultimately you must be happy

In the end, discovering what works for YOU is a continual journey – one that changes as your body changes, as your hormones change, as your activity level changes, as priorities change, as your life changes.  It’s a trial and error approach that requires patience, adjusting and trying again.  It’s a journey that should empower you along the way – one that allows you to be happy at any size, any weight  – because hating yourself or being miserable doesn’t work for anybody.