The Summertime is the second most popular time of the year for people trying to lose weight (the first, of course, being New Year’s). As vacations loom, pools open, and grills fire up, we frantically jump on the newest diet or exercise program to get our body’s bathing suit ready.
And, if you’re lucky, you’ve been able to make some progress toward that goal (I know that most of our Slim for Summer crew has been kicking butt and taking names). But maybe you’ve finally gotten to the point where you just don’t seem to be able to get rid of any more weight.
This is typically the downfall of all people who are hopeful to go those 6-pack abs or lose 20lbs at any time of year. The problem is, once you’ve started a program, you have no backup plan. You have no “what’s next” for when things stop working (which they ALWAYS will still working, as you’ll see. After all, just about any diet or exercise program will work for 6 weeks).
Today, I want to help you understand why you might be stuck in the non-weight-loss rut. These are the top 5 reasons you’ve reached your weight loss plateau. And, although they are specifically related to weight loss in this article, you can usually find similar connections in other goals you may be pursuing as well.
It All Starts with The Basics
Before we get in-depth on the top 5 reasons, I first want to cover some ground on the basics of weight loss to make sure that you’re at least doing these things first.
As you probably know, exercise burns calories. Calories are what our bodies use to create energy. And Calories come from food. Therefore, generally speaking, the food you take in is used to create the energy you use to perform exercise.
That was super basic, I know. But we have to start somewhere. Now, again on the most basic level, it is important that you burn more calories throughout the day than you take in if your goal is weight loss. This is called creating a calorie deficit. A simplified example would be, if walking burns about 80 calories per mile, and you ingested a meal that had 500 calories, you would have to walk just over 6 miles to burn off that meal.
As I said, I’m keeping this super simple and super basic. There is much more that goes into this than simply “calories in VS calories out”. As a matter of fact, in today’s world, the idea of calories-in, calories-out is usually a non-factor. This is because of the metabolic diseases that are rampant today, the overlooked calories burned during certain metabolic processes, and the simple fact that one calorie does not equal another calorie.
None the less, it is at least important to pay attention to your calories as a baseline. If you are taking in 3000 calories a day but you’re not exercising regularly and live a sedentary lifestyle like most of America, then you should start with closing this deficit. On the other hand, if you generally keep your calories within a healthy range, move often, and exercise 3-5 days a week, but are still hitting those plateaus, look at these top 5 reasons to see if any of them make sense.
The Top 5 Reasons for Your Weight Loss Plateau
Now it’s time to jump into the good stuff. But before we get there, let’s talk about a few things you need to know. First, some of this list will surprise you. And your general instinct may be to resist them at first. However, you have to remember that, if you’re not achieving the goals you’re shooting for, then what you’re doing has stopped working. Which means it’s time to do something different.
Second, these are not necessarily in order from least important to most important. What is holding one person back may not matter to another. However, I’ve tried to order them in order of effect. Meaning, number 1 has a bigger effect on lack of weight loss than number 2 and so on. So, let’s get started…
#1) Chronic Stress and Hormone Imbalance
In today’s society, we wear our stress like a badge of honor. We boast about how “life is so stressful because I have to work 12 hours a day and take the kids to soccer practice and cook dinner and go home and work some more”. However, the truth is, your chronic stress is killing your weight loss and, more importantly, your overall health.
In small doses, stress is the best thing that can happen to your body. Proper exercise is a perfect example of this. You workout hard for 45-60 minutes, tax your nervous system, break muscle down and release hormones in the process. Then, with proper rest, your body recuperates to a stronger point where it was before that bout of exercise.
However, many of us live in a state of chronic stress. Which, as you may imagine, has a counter-effect to health and longevity. When you become chronically stressed, your body produces higher amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol. When you have high amounts of cortisol in the body for long periods of time, the body becomes insulin resistant. Which means when you ingest food, and carbs especially, the body isn’t able to process them effectively. Therefore, more and more carbs are stored as fat, leaving you wondering why your low-calorie diet isn’t working.
A simple, yet effective, way of getting stress under control is by creating a morning routine. Instead of waiting until the last minute to jump out of bed and get ready, set your alarm so you have ample time to get up, go out in the living room, drink some water, and collect your thoughts for 15-20 minutes. This may be in the form of journaling, meditation or simply sitting and thinking. If you start your day right, you’ll be more likely to own the rest of your day moving forward.
#2) Sleep Deprivation
Sleep is another shortfall that we tend to wear on our sleeves. We know that we should get 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but brag about only getting 5 or 6. And that lack of sleep is hurting you much more than you know.
To be honest, stress and sleep are likely tied for having the biggest effect on your lack of weight loss and overall health. Lack of sleep is another way for your body to build up chronic stress. Not only does sleep deprivation add to the high cortisol issue we discussed above, it also throws off a whole other host of hormones and processes that regulate the body.
Take your nervous system, for example. One of the things that happens while you sleep is repair. The body spends time rebuilding and repairing itself, getting rid of old, crappy cells and replacing them with new ones. So, when you wake up, your body is fresh, calm and in a parasympathetic state.
When you don’t get adequate sleep, the body doesn’t have time for these repairs. Therefore, you may develop aches and pains that weren’t there a week ago and, eventually, your nervous system will fall into the sympathetic state of fight or flight (AKA stressed out). This will exacerbate an already stressful life and increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
A good rule of thumb to help get your sleep under control is to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day, making sure that window is 8 hours long. So, for instance, if you need to get up at 6:00am, go to bed by 10:00pm. If you do this, I’m sure that you will not only reboot your weight loss, but increase your energy throughout the day and start to see other areas of your health improve as well.
#3) Incessant Cardio
Cardio is the one thing that everyone hates to do, but, at the same time, understand that we need to do it in order improve our health and achieve our weight loss goals. However, do you need to do as much as you do? And are you doing the right type of cardio in the first place?
What most people deem as “cardio” is getting a treadmill or elliptical or recumbent bike and plodding, pedaling or ellipticalling away for hours on end. This is the exact reason why your local Globo Gym as 125 treadmills, 231 ellipticals and 173 recumbent bikes. You think that you need it, and they’re willing to give it to you.
Ironically, or, maybe, counter-intuitively, the cardio that so many of us are doing is more likely holding us back from achieving our goals than it is helping us move towards them. For example, a common scene at Globo Gyms across the country is someone coming in, getting on the treadmill, and walking or running for 60-90 minutes 3-5 days a week. Besides the fact that this person would be much better off doing this sort of activity outside, this form of cardio works in the opposite way of which we would like.
When you high amounts of aerobic activity, the body wants to become metabolically efficient. This means that it will do what it needs to in order to conserve as much energy as possible. Generally speaking, you have 2 types of tissue on your body: active tissue and passive tissue. Active tissue or things that require energy to utilize, mostly muscle. Passive tissue, on the other hand, doesn’t require energy, in other words, fat. Actually, fat is simply stored energy. So, when you do chronic aerobic cardio sessions, your body will burn muscle, which uses energy, and store fat to use later.
Instead of wasting hours on end on the treadmill, save yourself the sanity and incorporate HIIT training into your routine. Proper HIIT training (short for High-Intensity Interval Training) can be done in as little as 4 minutes. By all means, don’t be afraid to get up and move around as often you can throughout the day. Just don’t push yourself to do these long, drawn-out cardio sessions in hopes of improving your health.
#4) You Heard What I SAID
Another reason why long-term use of aerobic cardio becomes insufficient for your fat loss goals is because, like I mentioned before, your body becomes efficient at it. Most aerobic exercise is cyclic in nature, meaning, it’s a repetitive motion, over and over again. The more often you do a motion, the more efficient your body becomes at doing it, which means the less energy it has to burn in order to perform the motion. This is good from a technical stand point but not-so-good from a fat burning stand point.
This process of adaptation is referred to as the SAID Principle, which stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Basically, the principle states that your body will adapt and become efficient at the regular demands you place upon it. For instance, think about the first time you went for a run or did a set of squats or did a set of pushups after not doing them for a long time. Now, assuming you’ve kept up your running and squatting or pushupping, do you feel like you get as tired doing those same reps or that same distance you started with? Of course not. That’s because your body adapted to it.
Therefore, in order to continue to burn calories effectively, increasing your likelihood of burning fat, you must impose different demands on your body periodically. Think of it as always looking to do inefficient exercise to maximize calorie burning. This is why, at Thriveology, we incorporate a 4-week cycle into all of our workouts. This is long enough to get some strength and hypertrophy gains, but short enough that the body doesn’t adapt too much.
Well, we’ve reached the end of the top 5 reasons for not losing fat, and we’re just now talking about food. There’s a strong reason for this. And that’s because most people primarily focus on nutrition when it comes to fat loss and completely ignore everything else. And, while nutrition certainly plays a leading role in the matter, if these other areas aren’t addressed, nutrition means nothing.
Which brings us to the last idea of snacking. Now, I know you’re probably thinking “but, Jerry, I’m supposed to have 3 meals a day with snacks in between so that I can keep my metabolism going”. Well, that’s what you’ve been told. And, unless you’re a professional bodybuilder, powerlifter, professional athlete or just want to put on excess weight for no reason, you’ve been lied to once again.
Snacking is a myth that started a couple of decades ago. As the story goes, you should feed your body every couple of hours to keep your metabolism going throughout the day. But this myth has been busted over and over again. Instead, snacking has been proven to lead to excess calorie intake.
Instead of focusing on snacking and calorie intake, try to utilize a smaller eating window for your meals. For instance, instead of eating from first thing in the morning until right before bed, try not eating until 10:00am and stop eating by 8:00pm. This gives you a 10-hour window of which to eat all your meals.
Some of you may know this strategy as intermittent fasting. It’s also known as time-restricted eating. But, whatever you want to call it, closing your eating window to 8-12 hours has been proven to have greater effects on your health than counting calories, so give it a try.
If you take the time to incorporate at least one of these strategies into your routine, you’ll likely restart your fat loss furnace. Read through these top 5 reasons a couple of times so that you know which area to focus on the most. Like I mentioned in the beginning, each person is different, so know which area you need to improve to reach your health and fitness goals.
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