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Why You Should Avoid Jumping to Weight Loss Solutions - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Well it’s that time of year, when being fat and jolly is starting to feel overrated. Your summer and fall clothes have been put away with care and all the winter attire, including lots of big sweaters and stretchy leggings encourage our bad eating behavior. How do we snap out of our holiday ruts?

After the tenth cupcake, reality starts to set in. We can’t live off of gingerbread cookies and homemade pie without consequences. Many of us decide that our New Year’s Resolutions should include a weight loss goal, kick starting a plethora of random diet and exercise activities.

Diet and exercise may be the answers, but it wouldn’t hurt to inject a more methodical approach like root cause analysis to help you reach your weight loss goals more quickly – especially if weight gain is a longer-term issue than just over the holidays.

Fad Diets - GoLeanSixSigma.com
The Problem With Diet Fads

What typically happens when people decide to lose weight is that they choose to diet, which means researching the latest trendy diet program. There are so many to choose from:

  • Paleo
  • Atkins
  • Weight Watchers
  • Jenny Craig
  • Miami South Beach
  • and many more

What is the problem with this approach? In process improvement speak, it is called “jumping to solution,” or throwing random solutions (diets) at a problem (weight gain) rather than understanding the root causes of the problem first.

In process improvement speak, it is called “jumping to solution,” or throwing random solutions (diets) at a problem (weight gain) rather than understanding the root causes of the problem first.

The likely culprits may be eating too many calories or not exercising enough but sometimes there may be other problems like:

  • organ health
  • food allergies or intolerances
  • bad habits

Finding a Better Approach

I’ll share a personal experience I had a while ago when I was struggling to lose some weight.

I was living on yogurt for breakfast, protein shakes for lunch and salad for dinner without much progress in weight loss. This meal plan had always worked for me in the past, but this time it wasn’t.

So, I decided to take a step back, put on my root causes analysis hat and brainstorm some other root cause hypotheses that might be at play. One hypothesis my doctor had was food sensitivities. I’ve never had food allergies or sensitivities, so I pushed back. But my doctor encouraged me to get tested.

Surprising Data & Root Cause #1: Having Food Allergies

In my process improvement head, I knew by gathering some data I would be able to check that root cause hypothesis off the list. So I took the test. Surprisingly, we discovered with a blood panel, I had acquired an adult-onset sensitivity to dairy and soy products. I had been able to eat milk, cheese and ice cream all of my life until now! As a middle-aged adult, I can no longer eat dairy or my favorite food, cheese, without consequences. ☹

I knew by gathering some data I would be able to check that root cause hypothesis off the list.

Upon discovering this root cause, I surveyed my meal plan. Yogurt is obviously a dairy product. In my shakes I was using whey, a milk protein. On my salads I was putting a few ounces of Feta cheese. So even though I reduced my daily caloric intake significantly, I had managed to keep dairy in every meal! I immediately eliminated all dairy from my diet and lost 3 ½ inches from my waistline in 7 days.

If I had neglected to get tested and, instead, implemented a random diet solution, I would not have discovered one of my primary root causes for weight gain.

Knowledge Is Power

Most of us are trained to implement solutions instead of analyzing root causes first. This is where trying diet after diet may be unsuccessful. Once a root cause is confirmed, the solution may look a lot different than it might have before getting to a root cause – just like my dieting experience with dairy. Rather than eating less, I eliminated dairy and I was actually able to eat more! If you are clear about root causes, you can brainstorm and experiment with actions to specifically address each root cause.

Rather than eating less, I eliminated dairy and I was actually able to eat more!

Here are some of my own personal root cause discoveries related to weight gain. I’ve listed each root cause below with my current countermeasures. I like the term countermeasure, which is an action taken to counteract the root cause.

Conceptually, this term de-emphasizes a permanent fix solution and places emphasis on trying experiments to address the root cause. As we know, what works today may not work tomorrow if conditions change.

As we know, what works today may not work tomorrow if conditions change.

Root Cause #2: Having Portions That Are Too Large

Because I travel for work, I frequently eat in restaurants and serving portions are much greater than the target portion size to maintain a good weight.

During one of my root cause studies, I discovered some nutrition statistics for someone of my height and weight. The nutrition study broke out the amount of calories and portion sizes for each meal as a guideline. For dinner, my target portion size for protein (fish, chicken or steak) is 4 ounces. Where can I go to order a 4-ounce steak? More frequently, the portions are 6, 8, 12, and 24 ounces! 4-ounces is not a common portion size in restaurants.

Portion Size - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Current Countermeasures For Oversized Portions

  1. On the road, I use my fist size as visual guidance for the proper protein portion size.
  2. At home, I use smaller plates for dinner. Research shows that using smaller plates helps limit the amount of food we eat.
  3. To improve my visual acuity for portion size, I guess the weight of a protein portion at home, then measure it on a scale to confirm the actual weight.

Root Cause #3: Consuming Hidden Calories

I am a fairly healthy eater, but there are times that I have miscalculated the amount of calories I was eating.

My sister had introduced me to one of her tasty, healthy shake concoctions. One day as I was making the shake I decided to record the amount of calories. I thought the shake would total somewhere between 300-400 calories. The shake totaled 900 calories! And most of those calories came from the rice milk I was using.

Current Countermeasures For Hidden Calories

  1. Instead of using rice milk for the whole shake, I use water for ¾ of the shake and only ¼ of the shake is rice milk.
  2. To discover other hidden calories I use the Lose It! iPhone application to track the calories I eat.

Root Cause #4: Consuming Hidden Dairy

After I found out about my dairy sensitivity, I was determined to minimize the amount of dairy in my diet. I discovered that dairy-free creamer does not necessarily mean that it’s free of dairy!

I discovered that dairy-free creamer does not necessarily mean that it’s free of dairy!

There are some dairy products that remove the lactose and then can claim to be a dairy-free product, but that’s not entirely true. Hidden dairy was also creeping in when I was traveling. It’s definitely much more challenging to eliminate dairy on the road.

Hidden Dairy - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Current Countermeasures For Hidden Dairy

  1. At home, I use almond creamer now instead of the “dairy-free” brand. I also found that although my brain understood that dairy was not good, but emotions didn’t always agree.
  2. I had to find a good-tasting almond milk ice cream (otherwise my favorite dairy-based ice cream calls my name!)
  3. On the road, I inform food servers of the sensitivity and avoid ordering meals that may have dairy.

Root Cause #5: Attending Kids’ Events With Unhealthy Food Choices

I have two boys ages 12 and 7 and when we are invited to kids’ events we are constantly bombarded with bad food choices including, hot dogs, pizza, chips, soda, cake and candy.

Before you know it, you’re on your second slice of pizza.

Although none of these really sound good, things change when the smell of hot pizza surrounds you. Before you know it, you’re on your second slice of pizza. On a particularly busy Saturday, between my two sons, we attended three birthday parties. Every single party served pizza that day. So, although I started out the day with good willpower, by the 3rd party I was munching on cheese pizza with all the other parents.

Birthday Party - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Current Countermeasures for Kids’ Events

My introverted husband would say, “Don’t go to the party,” which is probably a countermeasure he would implement for himself! However, that doesn’t really work for my kids’ social life or mine.

  1. Now, I eat something healthy prior to going to the party.
  2. Or, I bring food with me.
  3. Countermeasure failure: I discovered that if I bring a boring shake, or carrots and celery, I have a higher tendency to blow it off and eat the hot dog.
  4. New Countermeasure: Now, I prepare one of my favorite salads. I want to eat the salad, rather than pizza.

Root Cause #6: Having a Boring Exercise Routine

Having an exercise routine is important, but I find that I’m much more likely to exercise if I enjoy it.

For example, I do not enjoy going to the gym or running long distances. If my exercise routine involves either of these two things, I am less motivated and less likely to do it.

Boring Workouts - GoLeanSixSigma.com
Current Countermeasures For Boring Exercise Routines

  1. Find something fun to do. At the moment, I really enjoy mountain biking and if I’m not traveling for work, I will go on a 10-mile bike ride 3 or 4 times a week.
  2. When my exercise routine gets boring, I look for new routines, like Zumba, Yoga, or Spin classes. For me, novelty in exercise is important.

Root Cause #7 – Loving Chocolate and Wine

Do I need to say anymore here?

Wine and chocolate - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Current Countermeasures For Chocolate and Wine

  1. Chocolate and wine are two factors that I constantly manage, by keeping them out of the house as much as possible!

The Key to Weight Loss: Root Cause Analysis

I’m not a health and nutrition expert, but I’ve seen success throughout the years by applying root cause analysis.

What I’m finding is that some solutions that worked when I was younger, no longer work! As I get older, new root causes are appearing, adding increased importance to using root cause analysis. Process Improvement methodology can help you manage your waistline!

Find your own root causes and customize your countermeasures to deliver better results

Ring in the New Year with a different approach to weight loss! If you want to lose weight, I would encourage you to apply process improvement principles, find your own root causes and customize your countermeasures to deliver better results rather than applying random diet solutions.

Happy New Year!

If you would like to see DMAIC applied to weight loss, click here to read more or if you’d like to learn how to perform root cause analysis step-by-step, register for our Green Belt course!

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at University of California San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.