Maybe it’s been three or four months since you made that resolution at the turn of the new year and after 10lbs down, you’re wondering why you’re stuck with those last few that just won’t budge. While you may be exercising and eating well, there may be hidden (or less obvious) culprits that are inhibiting your weight loss.
Let’s assume for healthy weight-loss, you incorporated a fitness routine – committing to at least four, maybe even five or six days at the gym, which you’ve kept up consistently. While it worked at the beginning for weight loss because it was a jolt to your system, your body is now adapting to those exertion levels and you’ve come to a plateau. What’s that mean, and how do you jump off of this flat-line? The good news is that you’re in better shape than when you began and your body doesn’t have to work as hard as it did when you started your workouts. However, if you want to continue to see and feel changes, then you’re going to need to jolt your system again by increasing and changing up some variables – think FITT (see below to understand these acronyms).
Frequency – this is how often you are working out each week. If you’re at four days, bump it up to five days. If you’re already at six days, leave frequency alone and focus on the other variables.
Intensity – this is how hard you push yourself during your workouts. Bump your speed or level up on the cardio machines or try intense interval pushes with a ratio of moderate exertion to high intensity. For strength training, add some weight or more reps to your exercises.
Time – this is how long you’re working out. If you’ve continually done a 45-minute workout, add an extra 10 minutes at the end, or if you have a time constraint, make sure you increase your intensity time to get the most out of your allotted time.
Type – this is the type of exercise you’re doing during your workouts. Change your type of exercise from just cardio, to adding strength training, or adding a different kind of cardio. Try interval training or if you belong to a gym that offers classes, find one that would fit your goals for a workout.
Also, as you continue on with your workout regime, another place to check your activity is your everyday life. If you’re hitting the gym for an hour, but then sitting the other 15 hours of your day, you’re not going to see much change. Look for ways to stay active through the day, as well – add walking distance to your commute or errands, take the stairs, stand instead of sitting for a few minutes at your desk, use your break-time to walk around the block, instead of emailing a co-worker for a quick question, walk over to their desk, etc.
Along with increasing exercise for healthy weight loss, you also must integrate a healthy, nutritious diet to give you the fuel you need for that enhanced exercise routine, and all the vitamins and minerals to keep your bodily functions in check.
Over-consuming – in order to lose weight, your body needs to be in a deficit of calories consumed to the calories your body actually uses as energy. About 3,500 calories make up a pound, so if you want to lose one pound in seven days, you need to be at a deficit of 500 calories each day. Keeping track of your daily intake in either a food journal or a calorie counter app is great way to keep yourself accountable and on track – so a handful of treats every time you walk by your co-workers desk doesn’t throw you off.
Under-consuming – if you’ve been tracking calories and are absolutely sure that no extra calorie is sneaking in, then it may be that you’re consuming too few of calories. Yes, too few! A calorie deficit is the only way to lose body fat. However, the caloric deficit must be kept small. When calories are cut too much, or held too low for too long, your body thinks you are starving and sets into motion a series of metabolic and hormonal events, which ultimately result in muscle loss, slow metabolism and plateaus. The average amount of calories it takes for a body to simply function, no physical activity added, is approximately 1,200-1,800 for a female and 1,800-2,400 for a male (varying per individual). So, if you’re already taking in lower than you need to function and then exercising on top of it, it’s most likely that your body is holding on to whatever calories it does take in and storing them as fat. Try adding back 100-200 nutritious calories for a couple weeks until your body understands it doesn’t need to be in starvation mode anymore, and see if you don’t start losing again.
Nutrition – you may be getting the exact number of calories needed to lose, but are you getting the right nutrition? It used to be widely said, “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie,” however, many (I included) argue that quality is definitely over quantity in terms of nutrition. For example, a 400 calorie meal of a lean protein, vegetable and whole grain is way different than eating four 100-Calorie packs of crackers. Same amount of calories, but way different nutrition! Make sure you focus your calories coming from quality sources to get your macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that your body needs to survive and function properly.
Your diet and exercise may be in check, but there are so many other variables that can affect weight loss, and many of them are lifestyle factors.
Rest – lack of sleep is a huge hindrance to weight loss. If you’re not getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night, your hormone balances are thrown off. The hormones ghrelin and leptin are the key players in the sleep and weight loss connection. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you to eat and with sleep deprivation comes an increased amount of ghrelin, while leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and less leptin is produced when you’re sleep deprived. So, it becomes a cycle of increased ghrelin and less leptin, which equals weight gain, not loss.
Travel – not only does travel usually affect your sleeping patterns and typically cause less sleep (problem described above), but it also can cause stress and unusual eating habits – all of which put a wrench in your weight loss. Eating schedules and menus are what can sabotage weight loss, and even maintenance, when you’re traveling a lot. When it’s travel time, planning is the best tool – such as, making sure you have healthy snacks like Real Barre, or small meals to get you through times that you may not be able to eat a proper meal so you’re not famished the next time food is in front of you and eat everything in sight, or ensuring where you’re staying is close to healthy choices that you can choose from for meal time.
Stress – when your body is feeling stressed, it releases hormones, one of them being cortisol to help your body function through that time of stress. Cortisol increases your appetite and the storage of fat around your mid-section to protect your organs – remember your body is smart and understands what survival mechanisms it needs to have in place during a time of trouble (stress). Also, when stressed, emotional or stress-eating can occur, which is when you eat mindlessly without the true feeling of hunger as a way to cope with the stress. Cut down on your stress and “chill out” with Neo-Chill, as it helps promote relaxation without getting drowsy!
Habits – does your dinnertime usually fall after sunset? Are you a late-night snacker? Do you rely on a daily dose of sweets? Do you skip meals? The list could go on and on of not-so-healthy habits, but if you fall into any of them, that could be your weight loss culprit. Whether it takes 14, 21, or 28 days to break a habit (studies have shown all), you first need to be aware why you’re doing it and be conscious of when it happens to be able to substitute a different behavior during that time. It may be too hard to kick all habits at once, so try one at a time with an easy substitution in place.
Charge UP Health | Fitness
Rena Roark, CHC, CPFT, is a Certified Health Coach and Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and owner of Charge Up Health and Fitness, LLC. She works with individuals and group clients as a health and fitness coach to offer support and guidance for their health goals through a holistic look at their lives, helping to find balance between exercise, diet, career, and relationships. Providing accountability and motivation, she can help reduce stress, increase energy and self-confidence, and ultimately help individuals work towards the best version of them.
Please be aware that this article is not a diagnosis, prescription or recommendation for any individual. Before you start a new food program, you should always talk it over with your doctor. He or she may have specific recommendations — or warnings — depending on your health and the other medicines you take.