It’s incredibly frustrating to try to lose body fat and not get results.
Common opinion tells us that improving our bodies should be easy: Just eat less and work out more so you take in less energy than you burn.
So why isn’t it working for you?
The reality is that in practice, fat loss is never as simple as we hope and there are lots of ways we can go wrong. In addition, studies show that many of the most accepted strategies for losing fat don’t work at all and they may even cause you to gain fat in the process.
Don’t worry. This article will point out several common, but often ignored, mistakes people make when trying to get lean and provide simple solutions for getting on track fast.
#1: You aren’t creating a sustainable energy deficit.
In order to lose body fat, you have to burn more energy than you take in every day. The typical mainstream way of doing is to cut calories and exercise so that you eat fewer calories than your body burns.
It may lead to temporary fat loss, but it’s almost never sustainable because there’s a HUGE flaw to this plan:
When you cut calories, you lose both body fat and lean muscle, which means your resting metabolic rate (RMR) drops. The RMR makes up the bulk of energy you burn every day. Burning energy in addition to the RMR when working out is great, but the impact on total energy burned is fairly small compared to the total RMR.
Therefore, as your body shrinks day-by-day, your RMR decreases, and you burn fewer calories. The unfortunate thing is that that metabolic rate often slows down beyond the amount expected from decreased body mass because metabolic hormone levels get reduced.
To create a sustainable energy deficit two things have to happen:
First, you must do exercise that promotes the maintenance of lean muscle mass. By maintaining lean mass, your RMR won’t drop as much as you lose body fat, and this type of exercise has additional metabolic benefits, which will be described in #2. You can lift weights, do interval training, or do both.
Second, you must eat the most nutrient-dense foods and favor protein because eating adequate protein promotes the maintenance of lean muscle and raises metabolic rate.
#2: You’re prioritizing cardio instead of intervals and lifting.
Research shows that cardio aerobic training is not only ineffective for fat loss, but can actually be detrimental. For example, in one study, subjects who did 40-minute cardio workouts for 3 months gained an average of 0.44 kg of fat, whereas a group that did cycle sprints lost 1.5 kg of body fat.
Or, in a survey of regular runners, the majority of them gained body fat over the 10-year study period. The only ones who did not gain body fat increased either their training intensity or weekly mileage significantly.
The reason people sometimes gain fat with is cardio is twofold: Often they reward themselves by eating more, and over the long term, cardio leads to the loss of lean mass, degrading metabolic rate. If you don’t concurrently eat less, or ratchet up how hard and long you train, you’ll gain fat.
Sprint training and lifting are powerful tools that give you back considerably more in terms of fat loss and health than the effort required.
If your goal is fat loss, your number one priority should be strength training 4 days a week for one hour. Use mainly multi-joint exercises (squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, and pulls), short rest intervals (10 to 60 seconds), with moderately heavy weights that you can do for 8 to 12 reps.
Priority number two should be on sprint intervals or strongman workouts 2 to 3 days a week for 30 minutes or less.
#3: You are sedentary even though you work out.
If you have a desk job or have to work at a computer all day, you might not realize that you’re leading a sedentary life even if you work out regularly. When you sit for long periods of time, insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance drop, which means that your body isn’t burning energy effectively and is more likely to store it as fat.
Studies show that regular workouts can’t solve sedentariness. Sure, if you train frequently, you’ll be in better shape, have more muscle mass, and have a healthier metabolism than someone who never touches a weight. But regular workouts probably aren’t enough if you’re spending 7 to 12 hours a day in a chair.
Make a conscious effort to be as active as possible:
* Track your daily steps with a pedometer, making sure you get 10,000 a day.
* Get rid of your TV and limit your leisure screen time in favor of physical activity that is relaxing—try yoga or a martial art.
* Make a pact with friends and family to do social physical activity together.
#4: Your reason for exercising is to burn calories.
When people are motivated to work out in order to lose fat, they usually aren’t successful because they end up eating more calories afterwards.
In contrast, people who work out for other purposes, such as “for fun,” “to get strong,” or “to build muscle” don’t tend to compensate by eating more calories. Scientists think that people have become conditioned to reward themselves for physical efforts that they associate with weight loss.
Now, this does NOT mean that you shouldn’t work out if you want to improve your body. We’ve already talked about the importance of frequent activity and how lifting weights and sprints will promote fat loss by maintaining your RMR and improving your muscle mass. The point is to be aware of this pitfall so it doesn’t trip YOU up.
The Solution: Set performance-related goals rather than fat loss goals for your training. Know that the calories burned during workouts are a drop in your metabolic bucket compared to these other amazing benefits you get from exercising:
* Increased lean muscle mass and better bone strength from intense training.
* Improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance for a healthier metabolism.
* Greater motivation to engage in other healthful behaviors that make you feel energized, strong, and lean.
Finally, be aware of your eating behavior and how workouts or life stresses influence it. Humans are amazingly good at rationalizing behavior that goes against their goals. Track your habits (food and water intake, sleep, and workouts) to get an honest picture of your behavior.
#5: Your carbohydrate intake is off.
Lower carb diet done the right way can help you lose body fat because they lead people to naturally eat fewer calories, thereby creating an energy deficit.
However, most of the popular lower carb diets aren’t robust to faults, which means that there are a lot of things that can go wrong with them. A few the biggest pitfalls include:
- relying on processed/packaged food instead of real food,
- lack of vegetables
- lack of fiber and water
- not being flexible enough to fit into a busy social life
- low energy levels due to low glycogen stores
Fortunately, many of these problems can be solved with a few basic guidelines.
Get your daily carb intake right. If you’re in shape and active but just want to lean up a bit, a carb intake as high 150 g/day can be ideal if you eat primarily lower glycemic whole carbs. But, if you’re sedentary and somewhat insulin resistant (if you have 15 or more pounds to lose), less than 50 grams of carbs a day from low-glycemic sources is ideal for fat loss because this will lead to the productions of ketones.
Get rid of refined carbs from your diet and replace them with fibrous carbs that are filling and packed with nutrients. Include a green vegetable in every meal and eat dark-colored fruits such as blueberries or blackberries to satisfy sweet cravings.
If poor sleep, slow recovery from training, or low energy are getting you down, try eating higher glycemic whole carbs such as starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes) and boiled grains (rice, millet, oats) after hard workouts to replenish muscle glycogen and reduce cortisol.
#6: You’ve decided to go the calorie-cutting route rather than the high-protein, lower carb route.
We’ve already talked about a bunch of reasons that slashing calories doesn’t work (you lose lean muscle, RMR drops, your metabolic rate downregulates), but the bad news goes even further. Cutting calories drastically (to the 1,200 to 1,500 a day range) requires you to fight off hunger with willpower.
Life becomes miserable quickly, and because fuel stores are low, you experience an increase in your stress levels because the hormone cortisol is elevated. Choosing a high-protein, lower carb diet can solve these problems and allow you to lose body fat with minimal pain and struggle.
Plan every meal around a whole protein source such as fish, meat, poultry, Greek yogurt, or eggs. In addition to sustaining lean muscle, a higher protein intake has the following fat los benefits:
* It elevates your metabolic rate because the body burns more calories digesting protein than it does carbs or fat.
* It’s highly satisfying, reduces hunger, and leads people to eat fewer calories
overall. A review of the issue found that for every 1 percent increase in protein intake, people naturally decrease calorie intake by between 32 and 51 calories daily.
* It helps you manage blood sugar and insulin, thereby decreasing cravings for sugar.
#7: You’re not eating enough dietary fat on a lower carb diet.
If you have previously been eating a lower fat diet, and decide to go low-carb but don’t increase your fat intake, you’re unlikely to feel very good. Many people feel very tired, sluggish, “off,” or have brain fog, and give up before their bodies can effectively adapt.
One thing that needs to happen when you go low-carb is your body must adapt to be able to burn fat instead of glucose. If you don’t adequately increase the fat you eat to offset the lack of carbs, energy production will be sluggish and you won’t be able to sustain your new way of eating.
Chances are you need at least 50 percent of your calories to come from fat to make a low-carb diet work. The actual percentage will obviously vary based on carb and protein intake, but you absolutely want to make fat intake a priority.
Do this by eating fat at every meal, opting for fats from the following sources: Omega-3s from fish and organic meats, medium chain triglycerides from coconut and red palm oil, and monounsaturated fats from olives, olive oil, nuts, and avocados.
#8: You’re not getting enough sleep or have too much stress.
Our bodies rely on a cascade of hormones that regulate metabolic rate, stress, and when we eat and sleep. Therefore, if part of the hormone cascade is disrupted by lack of sleep, too much stress, or skipped meals, our whole biorhythm can get thrown off in the following ways:
* Insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance drop and the body shifts (or stays) in fat storage mode.
* People feel hungrier, and make poorer food choices, eating as much as 300 calories a day extra (due to elevated cortisol).
* Both men and women suffer from lower growth hormone release since you experience the bulk of GH release during sleep, and men experience an acute drop in testosterone when they are sleep deprived.
Develop good sleep and stress-management habits.
Set a regular bedtime and follow it on the weekends.
Sleep in darkness and cover any electronic lights (a new study found that exposure to dim light at night leads to increased body weight and altered metabolism).
Adopt a bedtime ritual and try meditation to reduce stress and improve hormone balance.
Try these nutritional sleep aids if nothing else works.
#9: You have low vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is consistently associated with greater fat mass in all ages, races, and both genders. Raising vitamin D levels to a “sufficient” range above 30 ng/ml can lead to fat loss.
For example, a new AJCN study found that in women who supplemented with vitamin D to raise their level above 32 ng/ml over the course of a diet and exercise trial lost significantly more body fat than those who took a placebo. Scientists think this is because adequate vitamin D is necessary for insulin sensitivity and parathyroid hormone function.
The Solution: It’s worthwhile to get your vitamin D level tested with a simple blood test (most doctors do it as part of your physical but you often have to ask to find out your level). Methods of raising D include getting regular sun exposure (without sunscreen or sunglasses), supplementation, and eating meat and dairy products (it’s hard to reach a sufficient D level through food alone).
#10: Something small that has big effects.
There are a lot of little things that can significantly influence your ability to lose body fat. Here are a few to watch out for:
Not eating enough vegetables. Vegetables are a godsend for anyone working to lose body fat for the following reasons:
Lower carb vegetables are a “free for all food” and you can eat as much of them as you want, which is helpful in reducing hunger and filling up your stomach.
Veggies provide water and indigestible fiber, which has been found to make people less hungry so they eat less. Low-carb diets are particularly susceptible to lack of fiber since many people eliminate or reduce grains, which are a principal source of fiber.
Plants are some of the most nutrient-packed foods on the planet and they go a long way towards reducing inflammation in the body and preventing disease. They also provide key nutrients involved in metabolism like potassium and magnesium, both of which are reduced on lower carb diets.
Not drinking enough water. Staying hydrated is extremely important for fat loss because water is necessary for beta-oxidation, which is how the body burns fat as an energy source. In addition, if you’re eating a lower carb, higher protein diet adequate water will help reduce carbohydrate cravings because you automatically lose a significant amount of storage water as your body sheds its muscle glycogen stores.
Not being honest with yourself. This applies to all your habits including how much you eat, how much sleep you get, and how hard you train. Not being honest with yourself, or blaming others for your lack of results is only going to set you up failure and to be miserable in the process.
Being honest with yourself will make things easier because you will finally be able to troubleshoot what’s really going wrong. If you tighten up your efforts and give it all you’ve got, the fat will start to melt away and you’ll get the physique you desire.
- body fat
- fat loss
- insulin sensitivity
- interval training
- muscle mass
- sprint intervals
- weight loss