I have lost count of how many times client’s or people seeking out advice about weight loss have talked to me about how frustrated they are that with all their effort, it just doesn’t seem to be working for them.
The tension in their necks, the defeated look on their face and the devastation in their voice is enough to break your heart (at least if you’re a fitness coach who cares like me).
Over the years I’ve had to play the “fat loss detective” on several hundred occasions and I’ve seen quite a few things that can stop fat loss dead in it’s tracks, and sometimes when you are putting in an effort to lose fat and it’s not coming off, the reasons why are not always apparent especially when it feels like you are doing everything right.
So for those of you who are already putting in the effort, but are seeing your fat loss stall out, these tips are for you.
- You’re super stressed out
I thought I would get the most usual suspect out of they right here. Stay with me because this first one is kind of long. High stress can stall our your fat loss effort big time. When you have high or prolonged stress your hormones start to work against you in terms of fat loss.
One thing that pains me as that quite often if fat loss doesn’t happen fast enough, or if you have a “perfectionist” mindset or an already poor attitude around food or exercise it typically adds to the stress, often to the point where logic and science no longer matter and you become vulnerable to the fast “fad” bull crap that’s out there which for a short time relieves your stress with the short term results… only to heighten your stress when the effects of the fad wear off and you are left heavier and more exhausted than ever.
I am sure many of you reading this article will see some of these tips below as things that have also caused you stress and you will be able to see just how stressing about them just compounds against you.
So how do you get over your stress?
There is no one single way, everyone is different and had different needs to relax. In fact I will have to one day write a series of articles on this one topic, it’s that important. But until then let me give you a few examples:
Take my client Caitlynn for our first example. When her stress goes up her fat loss stalls, if it’s just going to be a knowingly stressful month before things get back to “normal” we don’t worry about it, instead we focus on the types of exercises that make her feel strong and invigorated as exercise is always a great way to de-stress if you are focusing on the positive benefits rather than (“I have to do this to lose fat OR ELSE”)
Another client of mine is a stress fiend. She has struggled with stress all her life. She chose a high stress career and demands so much from herself that when she doesn’t get fast results with her fat loss it just makes things that much worse. For her, it takes some straight talk about the science of fat loss and some mandated rituals that we came up with in her everyday life to help her relax more. Creating rituals that provide a mental break and some self love went a long way for her to be able to calm her emotions down, focus on her actions rather than the outcomes and as a result her fat loss started to pick up again.
If you fat loss has stalled ask yourself on a scale of 1-10 how stressed are you in life, how much stress does working on fat loss cause you? If you are 7 or more you might want to talk to your coach about what you can do to get that stress down.
- You aren’t tracking so we don’t know for sure
If you are putting in a solid effort but have no data then it’s very difficult to be accountable to yourself or a coach that’s helping you. In this case the simple solution is ask yourself exactly what I would ask my clients… “Show me”. Often when we want to change something, what gets tracked gets changed. Eventually those changes become habits and you no longer need to track them, but in the beginning it can make all the difference in the world.
3.You are having too many licks sips nibbles and bites between meals
My client Evan was seemingly doing everything right, but not losing any more fat after a drop of 20pounds over the fall. I asked him to write down everything we ate for a week, even if a fly flew into his mouth, he was to record it. Turns out Evan would eat Hershey’s Kisses from his office mate’s desk several times a day, then at home he would munch while cooking dinner for his family. Those little nibbles and bites really add up and once we saw that he put a stop to it and voila, fat loss was back on track.
- You have unrealistic expectations
Sometimes fat loss has nothing to do with… well fat loss. There are one of three things going on here. Either you think you should be losing it faster which is common if you are experienced with going on diets for many years. (Permanent fat loss doesn’t happen this way) or you lost a lot of fat already but to get to the next level what worked before is not going to be enough and there will have to be addition sacrifices that you will have to determine if it’s even worth it or if just working on being strong, healthy and happy is enough for you.
(Side note: If you are determined to get really “ripped” but it’s going to sacrifice your quality of life and risk your health I am not the trainer for you, I refuse to participate in lowering a person’s quality of life and health)
Thirdly, you might be already quite lean and suffer from a dismorphia of some kind (you look in the mirror and see a terrible flabby body which is not proportionate to what you actually are).
- You determine your success by the number on the scale
There is a difference between weight loss and fat loss, sorry to say but the scale is not a great way to measure fat loss. Weight loss is just that, you total weight including muscle mass, fat mass, bone density, stomach content, blood volume, skin etc. When people tell me the want to lose weight, upon deeper conversations it’s more about looking leaner (more toned) feeling stronger, healthier, having more body confidence and confidence in who they are and what they can do. It’s also about defying “age” and reducing risk of injury. Tell me, how can you possibly sum all of that up by stepping on a scale? And yet everyone does it, and some do it to the detriment of their day (“I stepped on the scale, I was .0045 pounds heavier, my entire day is ruined…. Again.”) I had a client almost a decade ago Olivia. She lost 7 inches from her hips chest and waist combined in 6 weeks, but the scale went up 2 pounds so she gave up. I have never been able to get in touch with her so I don’t know how she faired after that experience. All I know is that in spite of telling her what an awesome job she had done, and to “F” the scale, she could get passed it.
Don’t do that to yourself. You are worth so much more.
- You simply have no patience
Program jumpers, diet hopers, high intensity everything chasers…. STOP. Take a step back, close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose and exhale twice as long through the mouth. Ok I’m going to tell you something you might not want to hear, but it needs to be said. Fat loss… permanent fat loss takes time, it takes lifestyle change and making new habits one at a time. Changing your lifestyle doesn’t happen over night, there are no short cuts and no it doesn’t happen linearly, you are going to have ups and down. Changing these things is hard work, it usually requires gaining more knowledge, having support, accountability (until you can be self accountable) it takes self love not self loathing, and it takes making mistakes and learning from them, that’s why having a coach is in my opinion so important. Life will ebb and flow, thousands of factors will be altered from one week to the next (the more hectic your life is the more factors you have). Learning how to make those changes in the wake of that by focusing on how you can be just 1% better is the key.
My client Erin was struggling to lose fat, some things came up in her life after a huge amount of fat loss had occurred. I was able to coach her through and stay patient and focus on what she CAN do right now in her program (not jumping to something else). It’s like driving in dense fog at night, you don’t need to see the whole way, just enough ahead of you to keep going. Well we got through the “fog” and ended up losing another 60 pounds some time down the road.
- You Think You Can Out Train Your Eating
I’ve said it and wrote it a million times, but it bears repeating at least once more; “You can’t out train your diet”. Exercise is important for sustaining weight loss, regulating hormones, being healthy and yes it adds to calories burning to give your fat loss a boost…. But only if your eating is on point. If you workout then go and overeat (a whole food meal or something else) you won’t be able to lose body fat.
Former clients of mine, a husband and wife duo who have since moved to Calgary (you know who you are) but are still Oilers fans first started training with me to lose fat and thought if they just started working out they would lose a bunch of weight. Unfortunately in the beginning they didn’t lose all that much making no changes in how they ate. Yes they go stronger, and yes they did lose some inches, and health benefits soared and all that good stuff, but their pants were still the same size. Needless to say they were frustrated until they finally started tracking what they ate, and made small changes at a time. As a result of changing how they ate (eating distraction free until satisfied not stuffed, exchanging juice for water and less sugar all around) they were able to lose a combined 70ish pounds.
- You are struggling with too much
Have you ever tried to lose weight and decided to make a complete overhaul of everything all at once? How did that work for you in the long run? Most of the time we think that in order to make a change we have to do it all “right now!” Soon after all those changes overwhelm us and when life takes over we just can’t keep that up and eventually slide back to where we were before doing all that entire “overhaul” thing. Plain and simple for about 92% of us doing everything at once doesn’t work.
You want to workout harder, with more exercises, you want to master eating all of your meals, meal prepping, going out to eat etc. like a boss.
Look, all of those things will come in time, but for the moment focusing on just one or two things and doing them really, really well will get you far better results than doing a whole bunch of things while just barely holding on and stressing out about it (see tip #1).
The theme you want to embody à “Less But Better, and More Often”
Here is a simple way to start:
- Get really strong at 3-4 exercises first (maybe even less). 1 pushing, 1 pulling, 1 lower body, 1 core. You don’t need the next “fancy” celebrity move that got so and so’s butt to pop in that Oscar nominated movie, the best bodies are masters of fundamental movement.
- Get really good a 1-2 fundamental nutritional changes at a time. In tip #6 I talked about being patient. Masters of fat loss are masters of the fundamentals of eating meaning they consistently practice them over and over again.
- Get your attitude right one thought at a time. It’s easy to have those pesky mental “gremlins” put those nasty and demotivating words in your head, forget those suckers. Start by focusing on what you CAN do and why you CHOOSE to take action. Attitude is in most cases the game changer.
- You “let go” on the weekends
You were a perfect prince or princess during the week but on the weekends it’s time to let loose and your eating goes to the wayside. This is a huge problem for a few reasons. First obviously is that the amount of food and drink you put in your mouth on the weekend could be even more than what you cut back on during the week. But the second reason this is troublesome is because it fall inline with the typical “dieters” mentality. Your eating should be for life and eating healthy isn’t a punishment to get through the week until you can’t take it any more and eat poorly on the weekend because you needed a vacation from your eating. That’s no way to live. Your eating habits and your mindset around them need to give you peace of mind, and become a “it’s just what I do” and not be a chore or a bore.
One of my Vanessa clients (I have a handful who go by that name) is a prime example of someone who used to chow down on the weekends after a great week. We worked on eating until 80% full and eating slowly no matter what she was eating or where. This resulted in a much easier action for the weekends and to enjoy eating something other than salad and chicken during the week. Eventually as we worked on her portion control and how to do it with flexibility in her nutrition she was able to successfully get out of that “diet on the week, cinnibon & red wine galore on the weekend” mentality. As a result her habits have helped her drop a few jeans sizes and keep it off… easily.
- Your Sleep Sucks
Maybe the biggest reason for stalled fat loss aside from stress is sleep… or lack there of. Now I know many clients have hectic lives and don’t sleep very well due to spouses sleep habits or pets needing to be let out at 2:51am and again at 4:03am or a cat that decides to get up to no good in the kitchen and you think it’s a burglar and you run down the stairs with a bat ready to defend your life, then you see said cat on the counter with a broken glass on the floor and you look at the bat then the cat and for second you think…. Oh sorry where was I? Oh yes lack of sleep.
Getting 7-9 quality hour of sleep is the greatest “detox” you can ever do to your body. (Sorry those detox diets are complete bunk). You body goes through metabolic processes and a hormonal reset when you are sleeping. Lacking sleep can put those processes in jeopardy making fat loss harder as well as your focus and keeping a positive mood. Oh and lack of sleep and all the hormonal issues it can cause will likely give you food cravings for sweets.
I have had many clients with terrible sleep habits, typically we look to change their pre-sleep rituals to help them calm down, relax the mind and body. With practice their new ritual becomes a stabilizing factor that helps them sleep better, longer and de-stress. It’s another game changer for a lot of struggling fat loss clients.
- You are not very NEAT
NEAT is an acronym for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. There are some people that workout but then sit all day from work to watching TV. In those cases your NEAT is very low and so your calorie needs in the day is low. But then you get someone like my client John who has made an effort to boost his step count every day (aiming for 10,000 now). Being active outside of your workout means you burn more calories in the day. Going for walks, dancing and playing are all great way to get more NEAT in your day and like interest on your investments, it’s not a lot when you look at just one day, but it adds up and make a bigger impact when done consistently day in day out.
So there you have it… phew that was a long one wasn’t it? I sure hope you found something of use in here and if you have any questions or would like to add a 12th know that my door is open as are my ears.