We’ve all been there, hours of graft in the gym, being careful with your nutrition choices, yet you jump on the scales and that mischievous arrow points to the exact same number as last week. It’s no surprise lots of us give up on our quest for a beach body after a few weeks.
What’s going so wrong?
Fitness contributor and Director of the Better Body Group Chris Wharton explains why you aren’t shifting that stubborn body fat.
You don’t want it enough
Let’s get the most obvious cause out of the way first. We all love the idea of being in great shape, but are not so in love with the hard work it takes to get there. The science of fat loss is relatively simple (for most), aside from some rare gut issues and genetic disorders the majority of us will lose body fat simply by lowering our calorie intake, and raising our activity levels.
Simple, however, does not mean easy. The harsh truth is that most people aren’t prepared to sacrifice the nights out, glasses of wine after work, or the odd crème brûlée after dinner in order to get in shape. Whilst I’m not saying that you can never eat your favourite foods again, if you really want to lose a significant amount of fat, in a short amount of time, there has to be some sacrifice along the way. You have to want it enough!
Your best bet is to set aside a period of 4-6 weeks where you have fewer social commitments, schedule time for your training, plan your nutrition and go for it. Also aim to be as active as possible outside of the gym by increasing your calories burned through NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis). Activities like taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking the dog, or cleaning the house all chip away at that body fat.
If you are certain you want to get in shape. Have a word with yourself, figure out how much you want it, make the time and commit.
You are not tracking your food intake.
Regardless of how much you ‘want’ it, a laissez faire approach to nutrition is likely to leave you disappointed with the results. I’ve had countless conversations with clients who have been eating with the right intentions, only to find that they have not been tracking their calorie intake.
Put it this way, someone eating 1000kcal of chocolate each day, would lose more body fat than someone eating 1600kcal of vegetables. Despite feeling terrible, the milky bar kid has consumed less energy overall, thus creating a bigger calorie deficit over time.
I am by no means suggesting you nail 1000kcal of Malteasers each day to lose weight, only that for fat loss, the all important rule is that you burn more calories than you consume.
Download a simple food tracking app like ‘MyFitnessPal’, to make monitoring your intake less of a chore. Set yourself a realistic calorie target and try sticking to it for a week. If you are starving hungry at the end of the day try raising your target by 100kcal until you find a manageable level.
Note- Going to bed feeling a ‘bit’ hungry is not going to do you any harm. Go to sleep.
Not eating enough protein
Despite by rant above, it’s important to consider that all food groups are not created equal. Protein may well be the single most important nutrient for fat loss. Increased protein intake helps us lose fat in three important ways:
- Increased thermic effect. A certain amount of energy is needed to digest and metabolise all foods. In other words, we burn a number of calories just by eating them. This ‘thermic effect’ of food is known to be as much as 30% higher in protein than its counterparts; fat and carbohydrate.
- Improved hormone release. In order to know when we are full or hungry we release hormones to send signals to the brain. Increased protein intake is known to both increase levels of the appetite reducing hormones; GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin, whilst simultaneously decreasing the hunger hormone Ghrelin. The result; increased satiety and fewer cravings. Win-win.
- High protein diets are also known to have a higher ‘Metabolic advantage’ to the tune of about 80-100kcal per day, than those with a higher carb content. It may not sound a lot but when it comes to fat loss, every little helps.
Increase the amount of protein in your diet to between 30-40% of your total daily caloric intake. Opt for lean sources of protein such as; Chicken, turkey, seafood, eggs, soy and beans.
You’re not lifting weights
Despite being popularised in recent years, there seems to still be some misunderstanding surrounding resistance training, and its benefits for fat loss.
The truth is, that weight training is perhaps the most important tool you can use for fat loss. Those taking part in weight training just twice a week will benefit from;
- An elevated number of calories burned post work-out for up to 36 hours
- An increase in total lean muscle mass, resulting in a higher basal metabolic rate, therefore, increasing the number of calories you need to eat to maintain weight.
- Improved hormonal environment, promoting growth of lean tissue.
- Ability to define certain areas of the body once body fat is reduced.
- A myriad of other health benefits not restricted to fat loss.
A sad misrepresentation of weight training is that it will make women bulky. THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN. Women possess far too little testosterone to get bulky. This is even more unlikely when they maintain a calorie deficit. In fact, it’s pretty impossible! The only women that you see walking around looking ‘hench’ are those that have trained specifically to look that way…and that’s no easy feat! It requires a LOT of food, and a LOT of training.
Start simple. Learn to master the basic compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, horizontal and vertical press and a rowing variation. It’s well worth having a few sessions with a properly qualified personal trainer to become proficient at the basics.
You’re not sleeping enough
If you’ve covered all of the points above, it may be a lack of shut eye that’s putting the brakes on your fat loss. Fat loss is often simplified into ‘move more eat less’, yet it seems that a lack of sleep can scupper even the best training plans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention around 35% of brits are sleep deprived. Scarily, roughly the same amount are suffering from obesity. Whilst not getting 8 hours a night is unlikely to make you obese, there is no denying the likely connection between the two.
Burning the candle at both ends causes your cortisol levels rise. Cortisol is the stress hormone that is frequently associated with fat gain. It is also known to activate reward centers in your brain that make you crave more food. At the same time, the loss of sleep causes your body to produce more ghrelin, the hormone responsible for hunger. Not a good mix.
It gets worse. A chronic lack of sleep is known to reduce growth hormone release, (your natural source of fat burning and anti-ageing) and produce excess insulin resulting in fat being stored in all of the wrong places.
Not great news for us night owls.
- Remove all screens from your bedroom. The blue light emitted from your phone, TV and laptop send signals to your brain encouraging it to stay awake.
- Use your bedroom for sleeping, reading, and sex only.
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible. Consider adding shutters or extra thick curtains.
- Get the temperature right. Aim for a room temp of between 60-67 degrees F
- Avoid stimulants and alcohol before bed – the booze might knock you out but your sleep is likely to be restless and broken.
- Try and stick to a regular schedule when possible. Being consistent reinforces your circadian rhythms (essentially, our body clock), helping you to fall asleep quicker and wake up with a spring in your step.
- Most importantly, leave your mobile phone in another room. If you use the alarm function on your phone it’s worth investing in an alarm clock instead.
You’re drinking too many calories
All too often, those on the fat loss quest manage to keep their food choices relatively sensible yet completely neglect the types of fluid they ingest throughout the day. People just don’t seem to evaluate drink in the same way as they do food.
Smoothies, green juices, soft drinks, coffees, and pretty much all alcoholic drinks will ramp up your calorie consumption more than you give credit for.
Stick to water, green tea, and black coffee for 90% of your week. Sounds incredibly boring but it will start to show on the scales in no time.
You are not prepared
You’ve all heard the famous Benjamin Franklin quote “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. Never could a truer word be said when it comes to fat loss. In a world dominated by convenience and instant gratification, it’s all too easy to pop into your local petrol station or coffee shop to grab a quick bite for lunch. Unfortunately, a cheese ploughman’s and Ribena don’t quite count as optimal nutrition.
By neglecting the planning stage of our nutrition plans, we often end up throwing a load of ingredients together with little regard to portion size and/or macronutrient intake. What’s more, as soon as we get the slightest craving, we head straight to cupboards to raid the kids sweet stash.
Your safest bet is to clear the house of any foods that don’t fit your nutrition plan. Then use an online shopping service to set up a repeat weekly delivery of all of the ingredients needed to provide you with a week’s worth of nutrient dense meals. This should keep you under you calorie target and remove temptation. Remember, out of sight- out of mind.
I’m not saying there should be zero treats for the kids, but for those with children, it’s important to remember that an ‘optimal’ nutrition plan will benefit them in a myriad of ways also, think improved brain function and concentration, less stress and more sleep, not to mention reduced restlessness and hyperactivity. Homework anyone
Your trainer is rubbish ?
With no governing body in our industry, becoming a personal trainer is as difficult as printing off some business cards and buying some dumbbells! Sadly, there are a huge amount of well intentioned fitness addicts who dish out exercise and nutrition advice with very little training. Leading to some poorly educated clients with very little to show for their money.
Most formal personal training courses don’t tend to be much better either, some lasting as little as two weeks before handing out a certification. It’s no surprise that you’re struggling with your progress if you aren’t getting the right support and advice.
Before starting any fat loss plan, make sure you do your research! whether using a Personal Trainer or simply following a blog post or magazine fat loss plan, make sure you do your research. Look for trainers/authors with lots of relevant qualifications and experience and above all a proven track record of results!
For more tips and advice on fat loss and weight management feel free to contact me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.