You’ve been working out five times a week consistently for the last month. You’ve cleaned up your diet; cut out most processed foods, are eating more vegetables, more protein, and healthy fats. You’re feeling good…you’ve been losing a few pounds each week. Your clothes are fitting better. Your excited about the progress you’ve made.
Then it happens…
You step on the scale for your weekly weigh-in and much to your surprise, your weight hasn’t budged. But you know that the scale doesn’t tell the whole story. You take your body stat measurements. But you get the same result…no movement since last week.
You don’t panic however. You know plateaus happen in fat loss. So you continue on, business as usual. But the following week you check your progress again, and still nothing. Now you’re getting a little frustrated. Again though, you don’t panic. You press on.
But the next week it’s the same story. No movement in weight, and measurements are even up a tiny bit! Now you start to panic! What’s going on? Do you need to eat less? Add more exercise? Change your training program?
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, this situation may sound familiar. Even the savviest dieters run into this issue from time to time. A plateau; a period where, despite your best efforts, you can’t seem to move the scale or measuring tape. What do you do?
Fortunately, the situation is rarely ever as dire as you may think, and drastic measures probably aren’t necessary.
Most people believe the formula for fat loss looks something like this: Exercise + Eat Less/Healthier = Lose Fat.
Unfortunately the formula is a little more complicated than that. There are a number of factors that affect fat loss beyond what most people believe. But fear not! As usual, I got your back!
Today we are going to talk about some of the most common factors that affect your fat loss efforts, but are overlooked by a large majority of people.
The reason this is first on the list is, as you have probably heard me say time and time again, calories are and always will be king. While they are not all that matter for fat loss, they are the most important. Yet there are people out there who still say that calories don’t matter. You just “gotta eat clean bro!”
I will say it again: You cannot lose weight if you are not in a caloric deficit! Period. This is not up for debate. It’s science!
Now I am not saying you have to count calories or macros to lose fat. You can create an energy deficit by simply reducing portion size, cutting some carbs out of your diet, eating leaner cuts of protein, more veggies, only eating until your comfortably full…
The problem occurs that if you do hit a fat loss plateau and you are stalled out for a period of time, and you are not counting calories/macros, how do you know if you need to make adjustments in your diet? The reason for your lack of progress could simply just be you are eating more than you think.
People are notoriously bad at estimating caloric intake. Not counting calories or macros makes it very difficult to get an accurate representation of how much you are eating. Participants in this study were shown to underestimate their daily caloric intake by almost 50%! That is a lot of extra calories.
And even if you’ve been dieting, watching what you eat and making healthy choices, it’s not too difficult for extra calories to start creeping their way back into your diet; especially if you’ve been doing it for a while.
Having a grasp on how much your are eating each day lets you make adjustments, saves you time, and allows you to get back on track much quicker.
Most people don’t track because they think it’s too hard or takes too much time. I don’t know about you, but if I was serious about losing fat, I’d rather take a few minutes out of my day to track instead of having my progress stall for weeks or months because I can’t figure out what’s wrong.
Yeah, I said it! You’ve gotten lazy. It’s okay, it happens to the best of us.
Look, dieting is hard. It’s taxing, both physically and mentally. It can break you down, get monotonous, and test your willpower. Its only natural that as time goes on, you may get a little lax in your training, or tracking your macros.
I’ve been there. I lost months of progress because I felt that I had gotten good enough at guesstimating portion sizes, to the point where I thought I didn’t need to weigh my food anymore and could just eyeball it. I stubbornly believed that even if I was off, it wasn’t by that much and there’s no way it could affect my progress.
What happened? For months, I saw no progress. And it wasn’t until I became more diligent about tracking and measuring my portion sizes that I started seeing progress again.
I’m not saying that you need to measure everything from now until the day you die. That would suck. What I am saying is that, if your progress starts to stall, at least have the cognitive wherewithal to realize that maybe you could have gotten a little bit lazy in your tracking and measuring. And if you have, rededicating yourself to being more diligent could make all the difference.
Unfortunately, most people do not get enough sleep. We often sacrifice sleep in favor of other activities, whether that be hitting up the bar with your buddies or staying up to watch Jon Stewart.
The fact of the matter is however, sleep is important. Like super important. Most people need at least 6 hours of sleep per night, although 7-8 would be considered optimal.
It’s not sleep itself that aids in fat loss, but rather what happens when you sleep. First, a lack of sleep increases your body’s production of cortisol. Also known as the stress hormone because it is released during times of high stress, cortisol works within the body to breakdown tissues. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol within the body while dieting increases the chances of muscle tissues being broken down. And a loss in muscle mass means a drop in metabolism as well.
Lack of sleep is also directly related to other hormonal and metabolic issues. When sleep deprived, your body releases ghrelin, a hormone that sends hunger signals to the brain.
This increase in hunger is your body’s way of trying to combat the sleep deprivation, telling you that you’re lacking energy and need to eat. So the more sleep deprived you are, the more likely you are to be feel hungry.
Sleep’s role in your training program cannot be overlooked either. The time you spend sleeping is when your body begins the process of repairing muscle tissue damage sustained during exercise. Without quality sleep, your workout performance will suffer and could lead to a greater chance of injury.
So how do you increase the quality of your sleep? One way is to simply stick to a regular schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, regardless of what you have going on. This will help your body develop a rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up.
Here are some other tips for falling asleep and improving sleep quality:
Sleep is often the most overlooked aspect of a successful fitness regimen, but make no mistake, it is important. Make sure your sleep game is on point in order to get the best results.
Like being sleep deprived, being stressed can inhibit your fat loss efforts; and for many of the same reasons.
Remember our good friend cortisol? Any time you experience stress your body releases cortisol as part of the fight or flight response. As we discussed above, an increase in cortisol also leads to an increase in hunger. And in high stress times, our body craves sweet, salty or high fat foods because these foods are associated with pleasure by our brain.
The brain then sends signals to the body to release tension-reducing chemicals. This is why many people “stress eat” on foods they know are not good for them; because the brain has associated these foods with a reduction in anxiety and tension.
So how can you reduce stress? Here are a few ways:
What?! Not training hard enough?!?!
I know, hard to believe right? I mean, you’re in the gym everyday, pumping out six sets of curls, benching three times a week…how dare I say you’re not training hard enough!
Sadly, look around most commercial gyms in America and its clear very few people have any concept of intensity. It takes them an hour to do three sets of anything because they are watching TV, chatting with friends, or checking Facebook in between sets. Or you see them doing the same weight with the same number of reps workout after workout.
Yes, they are there, and they are working out. Fantastic…if you are just looking for something to do to pass the time. But if you actually want to see results from your program, you need to train with intensity.
What do I mean by intensity? First off, it means if you are at the gym to workout, you are there to workout…not for social hour. You rest only for as long as the rest periods in your workout calls for, then you do your next set. You push yourself from workout to workout, whether that be adding weight, adding sets, adding reps, doing more work in less time…
Training with intensity forces your body to work, and work hard! By sticking to proper rest times, increasing weight/sets/reps, you increase muscle fatigue and damage. This forces your body to work harder to repair and recover, thus burning more calories and shredding fat.
If you’re not seeing the results you think you should be, ask yourself: “Am I working as hard as I could or should be?” If you even have to think about it, the answer is most certainly, “NO!”
Fat loss cannot be boiled down to simply “eat less & move more.” There is far more that goes into it. Creating long-term, sustainable results is about living a balanced lifestyle, wherein everything you do helps move you closer to your goals, while also increases your quality of life.
You do not have to be a master in every area to achieve the results you want. Some people can never count calories, or hardly ever sleep, and still drop body fat like crazy. Everyone is different. But simply being aware of factors and the impact they have on fat loss can help you push your progress to the next level.