Are you frustrated with your attempts at dropping body fat? Do you feel like you’re doing all the right things without seeing results? Don’t give up. Weight management is not a calorie-counting equation. Weight won’t fall off just from dripping puddles of sweat on the stepmill. The following are six common reasons people fail to see the weight loss they’d expect.
1. You don’t realize what you’re eating
There is often a dramatic difference between what people think they eat and what they actually eat. As a personal trainer, I did dozens of consultations each month. I always asked two questions about nutrition. First, I’d ask “How’s your diet?” Almost every time, the answer I got back would be “My diet’s pretty good.” My next question would be “What did you eat yesterday?” Covering for the reality that it might not be “pretty good,” they’d respond “Well…yesterday wasn’t a normal day.” “No problem,” I’d say, “What did you eat yesterday?”
They’d walk through their previous day, which often sounded like this: “I ate a bagel and coffee because I was in a rush, had a couple cookies at work because someone brought them in, and a sandwich and chips at lunch because there wasn’t time to get something healthy. Dinner was good, though. I made chicken, potatoes and a salad.” “What did you put on the chicken?” I’d ask. Often, some kind of sweetened sauce was added.
“And for a snack?” I’d add. “Oh, I had some ice cream because I just needed something sweet, but I don’t do it that often.” “Ok, over the past seven days, how many times did you eat ice cream at night?” I’d ask. Usually, the response would be something like, “Wow, you know what? I had it almost every night! I didn’t even realize it.”
Until you’re forced to recall exactly what you’ve been eating, you may think your diet is much healthier than it actually is. In the above example, you could say that person eats a little better than the typical North American, but is the typical North American who we should be comparing our diet to?
Be honest with yourself. Write down what you’ve been eating. Is 90% of your diet made up of vegetables, a little fruit, meats, fish, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, high-quality nutritional supplements and good sources of starch (if necessary)? If not, you might be kidding yourself about how well you’re eating, which is keeping you from shedding body fat. Don’t compare the way you eat against the people you know; compare it against what a healthy diet actually entails.
2. You put too much faith in exercise alone
Exercise increases bone density, improves cardiovascular function, helps in managing stress, improves strength and balance, supports the maintenance of lean body mass, increases range of motion and reduces the risk factors of many other health problems. However, exercise by itself does little, if anything for shedding body fat.
The time you spend exercising pales in comparison to the time you spend in the rest of your lifestyle. You can’t undo 23 hours of bad habits each day with an hour spent doing something healthy. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people over the years who were frustrated they weren’t losing fat after starting an exercise program. They were dedicated to their 3 to 4 workouts per week every week. They’d sweat, work hard and push themselves beyond their comfort zone, yet they saw little to no difference in how they looked.
Those who add exercise to their lifestyle without modifying their nutrition tend to eat more. Often, the foods they choose are high-carbohydrate foods. They make these choices for two reasons. They have an increased appetite because of the extra energy they burned or they think they deserve something because they just worked out.
If you finish your workout and can’t wait to bite down on a bagel, or shovel some other source of starch in your mouth, you’re probably training with the wrong level of intensity. If you finish your workout and think you deserve something special, give yourself a pat on the back rather than eating something your body doesn’t need.
3. You haven’t dealt with a dysfunctional metabolism
Our bodies are bombarded by stress, lack of sleep, environmental toxins, poor quality food and nutrient deficiencies. To properly manage body fat levels, hormones must be balanced, inflammation must be managed and we have to create the right environment for the body to burn fat. If your metabolism isn’t functioning properly, you could do everything right and still not achieve the success you’re hoping for.
RealSmartResultSM, the LifeTime WeightLoss three-step approach to weight management, starts each individual with a deep look at his or her metabolism. We use questionnaires, lab testing and metabolic testing. The sad fact is most people rarely, if ever, get comprehensive lab work done. Without understanding how well one’s internal chemistry is working, it can be difficult to ensure they achieve the weight loss results they’re looking for. It would be the equivalent of taking care of your car by just getting a car wash once a week and filling it with gas. Without regular oil changes and tune-ups, the car would eventually wear out under the hood. Your body is way more complicated than a car is, so if you’re not checking your metabolic health through lab testing, you could be missing a major part of the puzzle in your weight loss goals.
Life Time offers a variety of lab tests, but the most complete is the Premium Longevity and Vitality, something those over the age of 30 should consider on an annual basis. I’ll be sharing my own lab test results from last year to this year in an upcoming article. Talk to a fitness professional at the Fitness Services desk about lab testing, or you can email us for more information.
4. You’re counting calories or avoiding fat
Remember the first time you went on a diet? You diligently counted calories, lived through the constant hunger and craving and your weight kept dropping. Then you eased off the diet and your weight crept back on over time. You’ve tried again and it doesn’t work. What gives?
In my experience, calorie-restricted diets often work for someone the first time they try it, but each time thereafter, they have less of an effect. How many times have you had heard your friend say “I’m going back on…” only to hear her say it isn’t working several weeks later? Low-calorie diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can halt weight loss efforts. Low-calorie diets are often higher in carbs, especially because so much of the pre-packaged “diet” food is high in carbs and low in fat and protein.
A low-calorie diet creates a calorie deficit, but the high carbohydrates keep insulin high and prevent the body from burning fat. Without fat available for fuel, the body has to rely on carbohydrates from the diet, which keeps carb cravings painfully high. The dietary carbohydrates contribute part of the energy needs, but not all, so the body’s metabolic rate often drops to save energy. When the body’s metabolic rate adjusts, weight loss efforts stop. The two options are to eat even fewer calories, or give up.
Instead, focus on eating the right foods and only eating when you have true hunger. It requires a lot less mental focus and you’ll be more happy with the results.
5. You’re training too hard
Yup. You read that right. If you think the answer to losing those last 5 to 10 pounds is to exercise harder, you could be mistaken. As exercise intensity and duration increase, cortisol production increases as well. Stress hormones can halt fat loss goals. Training at high intensities also burns a lot of sugar. If you consistently train as a sugar-burner, you’ll be more likely to burn sugar outside of exercise as well. A well-rounded training program incorporates some high-intensity exercise, but complements it with lower-intensity, fat-burning exercise as well.
The easiest way to ensure you’re training at the right intensity level is through an exercise metabolic rate test. We call it a CardioPoint at Life Time. It’s also called a Metabolic Efficiency Point test by other experts. Regardless of what it’s called, the goal is to define the best intensity to burn fat, and then create a training program that includes appropriate time dedicated to the various intensity levels. If you spend too much time training at too high an intensity, you’ll train your body to burn sugar instead of fat. If you spend too much time at too low an intensity, you won’t challenge your body enough to get it to change.
More often than not, the problem is training at too high an intensity, too early in a training program. Popular TV weight loss shows have left people thinking all-out, high-intensity exercise is the answer, but it’s not. It is a good recipe for injury, illness and burnout, though.
6. You’re not ready to lose weight
Whether you’re carrying an extra 10 pounds, 50 pounds or more, becoming lean and healthy requires commitment. Almost everyone would like to be healthy and lean, but not everyone is actually ready. If you think you can live the average American’s lifestyle, eat the average American’s diet, exercise for a few hours each week and get a beach body like you see in magazines, you’re not ready to lose weight. Long-term weight loss and optimal health require a commitment to a lifestyle that’s counter cultural.
The major focus for LifeTime WeightLoss is just that; lifetime weight loss. We don’t promote gimmicks. We don’t promote processed diet food. We don’t make promises that weight loss will be easy because it isn’t. Once you’ve made the commitment to live a different life than the majority of people, you can develop the kind of health and fitness that in today’s world is the exception, not the rule.
When you’re ready to lose weight, you’ll get rid of excuses that can hold you back, you’ll prioritize your lifestyle habits like sleep and stress management, and you’ll focus on eating what your body needs instead of what your friends, co-workers or other family members want you to eat. Finally, when you’re ready to lose weight, you’ll begin surrounding yourself with people on a similar path toward health.
To achieve long-term health and ideal body composition, you have to get your head in the right spot. You have to be ready.
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This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.