I meet people every day who are struggling to find the reason as to why their hard work and sacrifice hasn’t led them to the lean, strong body they’re looking for. Quite honestly, it sucks to see people work so hard and still not be comfortable in their own skin. I put together a list of the 7 most common reasons I see as to why people aren’t reaching their fat loss goals, as well as solutions to each. I hope it’s beneficial and helps you change your mindset and plan on how to achieve a body that looks, performs, and feels the way that you work so hard for.
Nutrition is like religion, and people really dig their heels in and fight to the death on what they believe in no matter what. While calories in vs. calories out isn’t the whole story, it’s a lot of it. No matter how hard you work, you can’t outwork a bad nutritional profile. All diets work, whether it’s Paleo, Vegan, or the Zone diet or whatever, because it removes a bunch of food from your menu. This generally leads to a caloric deficit, hence we lose some weight. But even if you “eat clean,” it’s possible to over eat based on your activity level. Avocados, nuts, and quality oils aren’t bad and offer a host of benefits, but they’re also very calorically dense and if we take in too much of them, we can still be in a caloric surplus. Use an app like MyFitnessPal.com or an old school pen and paper and track what you eat for a week or two and you might be surprised at how many calories you’re actually eating.
Once you get some data, you don’t necessarily have to radically change things. Just find out where you can make small changes that will yield big results. That might be eating out less for lunch, increasing your protein a bit at breakfast, or going olive oil and vinegar on your salad instead of a Ranch. Small, consistent steps=big rewards.
When we sleep, we recover. This is the time that the good hormones that help our systems rejuvenate are released, and not sleeping enough will obviously hinder that. In fact, some research has shown that just 8 nights of sleep deprivation can decrease testosterone levels by 10-15%. On top of that, lack of sleep drives cortisol levels up, which is a stress response, which, when chronic, isn’t an ideal situation for fat loss.
We live in a society that values, “the grind,” and not sleeping enough is like a badge of honor. While I totally agree that sacrifices have to be made to get ahead in life, sacrificing sleep consistently will have a negative impact on your ability to get leaner.
Get to bed earlier, practice good sleep hygiene, and get away from TV and computer screens for awhile before going to bed. I swear by the Headspace guided sleep meditation to help me knock out within 10 minutes, and supplementing with ZMA is a proven tool to help as well. I also always have a boring ass book on my nightstand to read that will have my eyes closed within a few pages, so find one of those too.
Sometimes, this industry pisses me off. For ages, the traditional bodybuilding practice of cutting and bulking has been handed down to us as the way to get lean or build muscle. The missing part of the story is that the legends of bodybuilding that spouted this were full of horse drugs and unicorn piss. Everything works better when you’re on the sauce, so it’s an important point to not forget about. So as they “cut,” they would use lighter weights, more reps, decrease calories, and presto, they’d look like chiseled greek Gods when they stepped on stage.
That’s not how it works for the rest of us. When training to lose fat, the role of strength training is to keep muscle mass. This ensures that the weight we lose is fat and we don’t just turn into a smaller version of our current body composition.
The same way we keep muscle is how we build it-through getting stronger. Working to progressively improve our performance in compound exercises in a moderate rep range of 5-12, while mixing in a few higher rep bodyweight and dumbbell sets is how this is best achieved. So skip the pink dumbbell marathons and train for strength-the look will follow.
I’ll say it again-you can’t outwork a bad diet. Exercise is great, but it’s also a stressor to our system. Doing too much just drives our stress response, which isn’t what we’re looking for. There’s a spectrum in which our activity will fall: on one end is a casual walk, and on the other end is sprinting like you’re being chased by a pack of rabid wolves. Spending time on each end of the spectrum is great, but the space that fills the middle of that spectrum isn’t nearly as effective in terms of fat loss.
Sure, a jog will burn a few calories, but it’ll drive a stress response that, if chronic, is not positive. I’m not saying going for a few jogs will make you fat, and while burning 250 calories is nice, it’s not if it’s at the expense of chronically increasing cortisol levels, so keep the midrange stuff in check and spend the majority of your time on the ends of the spectrum.
Try walking and hiking to complement your sprinting (whether on your feet or on a bike) and sled pushing to hit each end of the spectrum, but limit how much time you spend on activity in the middle. You only have so much gas in the tank, so use it on things that are most beneficial for your goals.
Fitbits are all the rage these days. Hell my mom walks around the house back in Maine when the weather turns shitty just to make sure she gets her steps in. While that might be a little neurotic, your daily activity levels are where the bulk of your calories are used.
I’ve worked with thousands of clients and the ones who struggle to lose fat the most tend to be sedentary and struggle to get at least 5000 steps each day. Research has shown that getting in 10,000 steps a day, while it began as an arbitrary number, leads to improved body composition. Figuring out how to bridge that gap is vital.
Start wearing a Fitbit or some other pedometer and see how much you move each day, and gradually increase it until you’re averaging 10,000 steps each day. That might mean taking your dog for a longer walk in the morning, doubling up and going in the morning and evening, spending a bit of your lunch hour going for a walk, or going on longer hikes on the weekends to counteract the inactivity of the week.
Being educated on food is important to making smart, healthy decisions on how to fuel your body. Going over the top and stressing about your macros and every ounce of food you put in your face is just another stress that impacts your hormonal profile negatively. Whether you are plant based, vegetarian, or keto, just commit to what you want to stick with and go. Don’t stress the small stuff and stick to the process, understanding that fat loss takes time.
I’d never heard the term forest bathing before listening to my buddy Kevin Carr give a talk a little while back. Basically, it’s getting immersed in nature: to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the natural environment. If you live in a city, you might not have been out in the woods in quite some time, so I’d start making it a regular part of your week. Just 2 hours a month of being in nature can have some pretty significant benefits, from stress hormone reduction and decreased blood pressure to significant increases in NK cells, which are vital to our immune system function. Use the app AllTrails and find some woods nearby and make it a regular part of your life.