I'm excited to be back to work. I've taken the past five months off to spend time with the new addition to the family. I can only say that we got so lucky. The little guy is so easy, smiles a lot and is just happy to watch whatever his big brother is about to wreck :-)
So, back to business. I want to know:
What are you struggling with the most when it comes to health and fitness?
Every day I get emails from people inquiring to work with me. They tell me their struggles and challenges and I love helping them figure out how to resolve them. The most common issue I hear is this:
I do everything right and can't lose the last 15 lbs.
I work out an hour every day and eat so little and still can't lose this stubborn belly fat.
I've tried every diet in the book and I always end up gaining it all back, but now it's in weird spots like my belly and arms and upper back.
Here's the thing:
If they did everything right, they would be seeing the changes they want, so they're actually not doing things right. What they mean by "I'm doing everything right" is that they follow the 1980's diet model of 'workout a lot and eat very little'. And, here's the shocker: this model only works for a few weeks before it backfires.
The crazy thing about trying to lose weight this way is that 95% of people who attempt it, gain it all back. And, the majority gain back more than before they started!
Diets don't help you lose the body fat for good, but can make your body fat actually more resistant and stubborn.
Here's how this happens:
When you go from being sedentary and eating a high-carb diet to working out a lot and eating little, the body initially gets pushed into a stress response. Because you're doing something new, you lose weight and see your body change for a few weeks, but then your metabolism catches up with you. It adapts to everything you do and balances out this type of stress by making you hungrier. Many people end up eating more than they were able to burn off because of the extreme stress created by exercising a lot and eating little. This has to do with the fact that thyroid hormone output declines within just a week of starting a diet and the stress hormones make your body hold on to body fat. When your body is in a state of stress, it wants to maintain equilibrium and body fat is key for survival.
If this stress continues long-term, a downstream effect can trigger other issues, such as fertility issues (a stressed out body doesn't want to host a new life), digestion troubles, food sensitivities, blood sugar imbalances, energy fluctuations, intense sugar/carb cravings, mood changes (anxiety, depression, anger), and immune system disturbances, to name just a few.
I hope you agree with me that the above are not things you want to put up with when it comes to losing weight. We don't just want to look and feel great. We want to have the robust health of a 20-year old and be able to do what we love.
So, how do you go about losing weight without following the conventional model of working out a ton and eating very little?
Let me share 3 of the most important steps you want to focus on:
1. Don't use exercise to lose weight: Here's a fact you don't want to hear: Exercise affects only about 5-15% of your daily metabolic expenditure. The rest is fixed and can't be changed much. So, why would you invest so much time every day into something with so little return?
Exercise is key to shaping your body and strength training is necessary if you want to look lean and defined. Building muscle is the most effective way to boost your metabolism long-term. So, a focus on weight lifting 3x a week is key. Doing crazy intense cardio sessions several times a week (spinning, HIIT, long-distance running, etc) is going to increase your appetite and also trigger your stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to hold on to body fat instead of burning it. Balance is key. If you're just starting out, I recommend 2-3 full body strength training sessions a week, plus getting your 10,000 steps in every day. Keep your intense cardio sessions to no more than 2-3 a week and use your appetite to gauge if you're overdoing it. My goal for my clients is that they're rarely ever hungry.
2. Nutrition is 80% of the fat loss game: What you eat has a bigger effect on fat loss than exercise. How you live your life has a bigger impact than your exercise (active vs inactive, stressed vs calm). You cannot work off a poor diet in the gym. When you make small nutrition changes that you can keep up, you're building a lifestyle that will get you results you can keep. The most significant step you can take is to reduce sugar, white flour and processed carbohydrates as this results in more balanced blood sugar, reduced inflammation, reduced bloat/water retention and improved energy. Once your blood sugar is balanced, you're allowing your body to burn body fat for energy and that's when you see the shape and size of your body change.
3. Match your workout and nutrition to your hormonal state:
Work with your cycle: The week before and week of your period, you're more stress-sensitive and carb sensitive. The name of the game is to keep carb intake low, along with workouts focused on strength training and lower intensity cardio. This combo will allow body fat loss, especially in the lower body, which is a more resistant body fat storage area for women with a stressed metabolism.
The two weeks after the period ends, the body becomes more stress resilient and can handle carbs better, so the exercise intensity can be increased and carbs can be eaten a little more liberally.
When you cycle your approach every two weeks, you will keep your metabolism responsive, prevent stress on the metabolism and allow your mind to stay focused due to the periods where you get to rest more. To keep it simple, simply cycle two weeks (days 21-7 of your cycle) of lower carb intake with less intense workouts with cycling two weeks (days 7-21 of your cycle) of more intense workouts and slightly increased carb intake.
Menopause: A woman in menopause is very stress-sensitive and carb-sensitive. That means that the workouts she may have loved in there 20s and 30s (long-distance running, intense cardio sessions) can now trigger a stress response and result in fat storage in the belly area, upper back, love handles and underarms. The key to seeing changes in the body is 2-3x weekly strength workouts and lots of relaxed walking. The drop in estrogen and progesterone during menopause makes the body react much more to high-carb foods (fruit, bread, rice, pasta and potatoes). A shift towards fibrous veggies (broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, greens, etc) will help the loss of belly fat quite commonly experienced in menopausal women.
Stressed Metabolism: If you find that no matter how much you diet and work out, your body just doesn't change, chances are your metabolism is stressed. Continuing this intense push effort will only make your body fat more resistant and your appetite and cravings unbearable. A stressed out metabolism needs nothing more than balance in the form of consistency in nutrition, workouts and rest. If you're one who considers an extra hour in bed a waste of time and prefers to add another HIIT and spinning workout to your schedule, you likely fall into this category.
What it comes down to with the above 3 key steps is hormonal balance.
If you want to be lean, strong and fit for the rest of your life, you'll have to be able to keep up with a balanced diet and workout plan for the rest of your life.
You'll only be able to do that if your appetite is quiet, your cravings are under control, and you have great energy. Of course you also want to be regular in your digestion and have a balanced mood and relationship to your body.
I know, that was a lot that I just shared with you, but I hope you appreciate a different view than what we still hear from trainers, gyms, boutique fitness studios and even nutritionists when it comes to weight loss: Just eat less and exercise more. Fortunately we have a much better understanding now of how everything we do affects our hormones and how those then trigger either fat loss or fat storage. Knowing how that works will help you take charge of your own body and ultimately that's why I love working with clients. They get to understand their body's signals and can adjust accordingly.
Stay tuned for more as I want to help you make it through the holidays with success. I hope you're game!