5 Lessor Known Reasons Why You Aren’t Losing Fat (And 5 Solutions)
You hit the gym consistently. You’ve been eating better. And you’re even incorporating sound recovery methods in your habits, all to improve your body composition. It feels like you’re doing everything right. But you’re not seeing the results you want. There aren’t many things more frustrating than this (ok, maybe being stuck in traffic sucks too).
The media tells you changing your body is easy. Exercise more, eat less, take this pill, chug this drink, and viola, your new body can be yours.
We want everything like yesterday. We’re impatient and this is a by-product of the microwave society we live in today. We’re a click or download away from pretty much anything we want.
This makes it hard to resist the message that is trumpeted to us daily: That changing your body is easy and can be done in an unrealistic time frame with methods that are wonky.
The reality is that in order to troubleshoot your fat loss plateau, it’s not as linear as exercising more or eating less. You’ve got to become your own investigator and dig for the evidence that may be bottlenecks to your progress.
So if you’ve started more diets and training programs than you’d like to admit, only to give up when progress stalls, don’t worry. This article will point out several common, but grossly overlooked mistakes people make when trying to improve their body composition. And, instead of just leaving with you the mistakes, I’ll equip you with some bulletproof strategies to course-correct your journey to get you back on track in no time.
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How to Lose Fat
1. You’re feeding the wrong wolf
There is an old Cherokee legend known as the tale of two wolves.
A grandfather explains to his grandson that there is a battle that goes on inside our minds everyday. He said, “My son, the battle is between the two wolves inside us all. One is evil: anger, envy, jealousy, doubt, regret, greed, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false humility, and ego represent the evil wolf.
The other wolf is good: love, confidence, truth, faith, peace, ambition, kindness, generosity and motivation represents the good wolf.
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The grandfather said, “The one you feed.”
The sports psychology world has revealed that an athlete must not only pay attention to his or her physical game and attributes, but closely monitor their mental game as well. Dr. Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis and his colleges at University of Thessaly in Greece who specializes in sports psychology science says, “The mind guides action. If we succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior.”
When athletes are training for competition or in the event itself, the positive re-enforcement they induce in their minds is crucial. When they feed their good wolf with thoughts that lift them up, confidence, endurance, and grit are all improved. However, when the self talk feeds the bad wolf, doubt, negativity, and fear take over.
Even though you may not be training to qualify for the Olympics, this concept applies to you too. Like an athlete, you’re aiming for an outcome. Specifically, improvement in body composition. Along the way, things will get tough and you’ll hit some road-bumps.
When this happens, it’s important to start monitoring your self-talk. Do you automatically turn to negativity once you don’t see any results? Do you tend to give up when things get hard? Does preparation have a burdensome undertone to you? Better yet, see if these kind of thoughts run through your mind:
“Nothing works out for me…”
“It doesn’t matter what I do…”
“I’m not cut out for this…”
“I don’t have enough help…”
“It’ll never work…”
If you lean towards feeding the bad wolf consistently, below is a practical solution.
Solution: Monitor your self-talk when things get hard or when progress is slow. If you find that you’re feeding the bad wolf, you’ll want to write down 3-5 mantras that you can repeat and count on when the negativity hits.
It’s also important to realize that the goal isn’t to avoid or try to never have negative thoughts. Whatever you resist, usually persist. Instead, let the thoughts come, and replace them with mantras that feed the good wolf. Here are a few examples:
“When things get hard, I get great.”
“I’m capable and willing to do what it takes.”
“I’m worthy of joy and success.”
“I believe in my ability to figure it out.”
Make it a point from here on out to be aware of your thoughts. You can have all the right resources, supplements, and gym equipment in the world, but if your mental game is off, it’ll be like swimming upstream in an attempt to hit your fat loss goals.
2. You haven’t created a sustainable energy deficit
The common approach is losing fat is to severely drop intake (calories) and exercise more. This will work for a while and the scale will tell you that the program is working. You’ll lose some fat. But it comes at a price. With such an aggressive approach, lean muscle mass will also be wasted.
When you cut calories severely in such a short period of time you lose a large combo of weight and muscle. The by-product is that your resting metabolic rate drops too. Your RMR makes up a large amount of the calories you burn each day. Therefore, when you continue to lose muscle mass, your RMR continues to dip and you gradually burn fewer and fewer calories per day.
Ironically, when a crash diet is employed and intake is cut severely, the result is not what you probably were hoping for even though the scale says you lost weight. Often, you’re just a smaller version of yourself that is soft, flat and flabby.
Solution: First, make sure you’re following a training program that involves strength training. This will promote the maintenance or addition of lean muscle mass while you lose fat. By strength training, you’ll keep your metabolism running as high as possible while you continue to drop the fat.
Second, you’ve got to be eating enough protein. Studies show that a diet sufficient in protein intake yields better fat loss when in a caloric deficit. Also, protein highest thermic effect of food from all the macro-nutrients. Meaning, it takes more energy (calories) to digest protein in comparison to fats and carbs.
2. You have an unrealistic time frame
When my dad put a basketball in my hands at four years old, I probably didn’t expect to be on the local high school varsity team in the next twelve weeks. Instead, it was a matter of learning the basics so I could then develop my talent over the years to come.
And that’s what I did. All through grade school and through high school, I practiced everyday. Eventually, it set me up for the reward of a collegiate scholarship to play basketball. Looking back, if I thought that 12 weeks or 12 months of practice was going to earn me the type of talent that took 18 years to accumulate, I would have given up.
Sometimes, you just have to let the process run its course.
When it comes to fat loss, we all want the eight or twelve week transformation. And to be fair, that’s appropriate for some people. Individuals who have 3 or more years under their belt in the gym and have been following a decent diet can have spectacular transformations in several weeks. This is because they’ve forged solid nutritional habits into their life and have built a respectable amount of muscle mass.
But not for most people, this isn’t the case. And when unrealistic deadlines are established for someone who isn’t ready for such a timeline it only sets them up for disappointment, frustration and confusion.
Solution: At the onset of your fat loss journey, what was your expectation? What kind of time-frame did you give yourself in order to have the best possible outcome? If you have less than 3 years of experience in the gym and aren’t versed in basic nutrition principles, you need give yourself at least 6 months to set yourself up for success.
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3. Your diet is to restrictive
Relentlessly resisting pleasurable foods is a fast-track to a diet that is awful, stressful and unnecessary. You can rely on willpower for a short while. But at some point the cravings will build up and you’ll lose control. Obsessive thoughts about that cheesecake or breakfast burrito will override any ability to resist the urge.
Rather than forbidding your favorite comfort foods from your diet, employ a compliance rule.
Meaning, you’ll track how many meals adhere to the guidelines of your diet. The 90/10 rule is premised by following a good diet 90 precent of the time, allowing you to have some wiggle room with the 10 percent in order to have the foods you would normally demonize on a diet.
Things like pizza, ice cream or pancakes are no longer completely off limits when you take up the 90/10 rule. This dramatically takes relieves the guilt when you do indulge a little and eases the pressure of trying to be perfect with your diet.
Solution: If you’ve tried to be perfect with your diet in the past only to fight irresistible cravings, wrestle irritability, and battle severe hunger pains, it’s time to switch over to a sustainable approach.
Gaining control of your eating is done by deciding what you’re going to eat in advance, in what portions and at what times. Only then will you be able to side-step the endless temptations, unconscious cues and alluring surprises that usually override your ability to stay on track.
Adopt the 90/10 with your diet. To demonstrate some perspective, here is an example of the 90/10 rule in action:
If you eat 4 meals per day, that’s 28 meals per week. By following the 90/10 rule you’re allowed ~3 meals out of the 28 to indulge a little bit. You can plan that office lunch, date night, or late night ice cream run in advance each week and not feel guilty or worry about being socially awkward about food.
If you have a plan, you don’t’ let unplanned things get in your way of staying on track.
4. You’re prioritizing cardio over strength training
Research shows that for fat loss, interval training is superior to steady state cardio due to its ability to oxidize fat for energy. Additionally, long bouts of steady state cardio lead a loss of muscle mass, lowering metabolic rate. And, if you don’t continually attempt to eat less while increasing the distance and time with your steady state cardio, further fat loss progress will come to a halt.
Solution: If you’re paramount aim is fat loss, strength training should be your number one priority. Basing your training around lifts that put you in an optimal hormone environment (squats, presses, dips, pulls) in rep range of 6-12 with shorter rest periods is your best bet.
Then, priority number two is interval training. Sprint, sled pushes, farmers walk, airdyne sprints, row sprints, ski erg sprints, kettlbebell swings, battlerope work.
Any of these will work. You need not to do interval training sessions 6 or 7 days a week however. The goal is to find the minimum amount needed that will induce fat loss. Start with two sessions per week.
Lastly, steady state cardio shouldn’t be avoided all together. It just shouldn’t be priority number when when your goal is fat loss. Steady state cardio can help you recover faster and help burn extra calories.
Towards the end of the week, after you’ve put in several hard training sessions, an internal sprint workout is sometimes to demanding to execute at the proper intensity. This would be a good time to do steady state.
One or two days after leg day when the DOMS kick in, doing 40 yard sprints or cranking out 30 second intervals on the airdyne bike isn’t a good look. Opting for a steady state cardio session would suffice here too.
5. You have poor nutritional tracking
A lot of people start out with great enthusiasm when they get a custom meal plan. They’re on point with #mealprepsundays and they got their whole week planned out.
But then something happens.
They go from being precise with tracking their macros to loosly tracking, and eventually maybe even eye-balling. What started out as a calculated approach, has now turned into a casual affair. It’s no longer important to track intake because they’ve gotten good at measuring and the initial results provides a false aptitude that being precise isn’t that important.
As the process becomes easier, they become less disciplined.
Instead of tracking every meal, they start winging it. Then, snacks go totally unaccounted for. Eventually the food tracking app on their phone gets deleted.
Has this ever happened to you?
The overconfidence of thinking you can track everything mentally without needing to measure or monitor your intake is where the problem lies. When you loosen the grip of your discipline, you get lazy.
And when you get lazy, you often think you’re doing better than you actually are. You’ll be able to hide behind the casual approach for a while, but soon, the lack of progress will remind you that you’ve drifted.
MTS Nutrition CEO Marc Lobliner discusses fasted cardio and fat loss.
Solution: Do what works.
You simply can’t manage what you don’t measure. You may claim that tracking your intake is a hassle. And it might be. But I suppose you have to choose what hassle you want to deal with. The hassle of tracking your food as a surefire way to get results or the hassle of guessing how much and what to eat everyday that usually leaves you frustrated and confused as to why you can’t make any progress. It’s your choice.
While everyone will have different needs, here is a good starting point and example to structure your own fat loss diet.
Lets assume that our athlete is 200 lbs and hits the gym 4 to 5 times a week with a goal of fat loss. We’ll take their bodyweight and multiply it by 14, which equals 2,800 calories per day.
Once you arrive at this number you’ll break down your macronutrients. We’ll do 45% protein, 20% carbs, 35% fat.
2,800 calories x 45% (protein) = 1,260 calories/ 4 (g of protein per calorie)= 315g
2,800 calories x 20% (carbs) = 560 calories/ 4 (g of protein per calorie)=140g
2,800 calories x 35% (fat)= 980 calories/9 (g of fat per calorie)=108g
The daily intake and macros of this person would look like this:
- Total daily calories: 2,800
- Protein – 315g
- Carbs – 140g
- Fat – 108g
You’re doing a lot of things right. It’s time to turn that effort and enthusiasm into results. In fact, if you’re on of those people that feels like they’re doing everything right but progress seems to be slow or non-existent, I commend you.
Showing up consistently and doing the work is more than half the battle. Now it’s just time to tweak a few things in your approach to ensure you get the results you’re working so hard for. Take a look at your diet and training over the next few days. Become your own detective and identify if any of the 5 points we went through above apply to you.
Does your mental game need an overhaul? Did you set an unrealistic time frame? Is your diet too server or restrictive? Has cardio taken precedence over strength training? Or have you step off the gas in your discipline with tracking your intake?
Regardless of where you relate, there’s a practical solution to get you back on track.
Afremow, J. A. The champion’s mind: How great athletes think, train, and thrive. N.p., 2013. Print.
“Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. – PubMed – NCBI.” N.p., Web.
“Increased protein intake and meal frequency reduces abdominal fat during energy balance and energy deficit. – PubMed – NCBI.” N.p.,
Schwartz, T., J. Gomes, C. McCarthy, and T. Schwartz. Be excellent at anything: The four keys to transforming the way we work and live. New York: Free Press, 2011. Print.