Have you been working out and eating healthy in an effort to get a better body? Are you not getting the results you would expect? Do you wrack your brain trying to figure out what the problem is?
Chances are that without even knowing it you're falling prey to one of the more surprising acts of sabotage regarding training and diet. This article will help you identify and troubleshoot common body composition errors.
#1: Completely Ignoring Calorie Intake
Hopefully, you’re aware that the amount of calories you consume has a large impact on your ability to change your body. To lose fat, you need to consume fewer calories than you expend for a sustained period of time. To put on measurable muscle, you need calories to be abundant so that the body is able to sustain protein synthesis.
You need some method for hitting your calorie goals daily. For fat loss, there’s no need to obsess about calories, but you do need to ensure you are creating a calorie deficit and this can be hard to do with temptations overwhelming you from all directions in our obesogenic food environment. Doing an honest food journal or employing some method of portion control and mindful eating can go a long way to ensuring you have more calories going out than coming in.
#2: Skipping Workouts/Meals
Although skipping meals and skipping workouts are two separate problems, they come down to the same bottom line: inconsistency.
One of the secrets of exercise is that almost any type of training program will work as long as you stick to it. The good news is that transforming your body with exercise is pretty simple: Train four days a week for about an hour. Use multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts, pulls, presses, and so on. Do 8 to 15 reps per set with weights in the 65 to 80 percent range. If you have time, fit in two additional sprint interval workouts lasting less than 25 minutes.
Consistency is key for nutrition because it creates structure, which outsmarts the pitfalls that lead to overeating:
You balance blood sugar so you avoid cravings
You eliminate random snacking because you’re bored
You give your body a chance to burn fat, which is key for metabolic health.
The number of meals you choose will be individualized, but a few principles are recommended:
During the day, avoid going longer than 4 to 4.5 hours without eating.
Eat strictly within a 10 to 12 hour window. This means if your first meal is at 8 am, your last is done by 8 pm.
Plan meals to always include high-quality protein, healthy fat, and vegetables.
#3: Exercising For Fat Loss
There’s a strange paradox that occurs when people exercise in order to burn calories. Research consistently shows that people who work out with the express purpose of burning energy for fat loss end up unwittingly compensating for the calories they used by eating more. Scientists think that people have become conditioned to reward themselves for physical efforts that they associate with fat loss. It’s the main reason exercise can’t be the sole focus of any fat loss program.
The good news is that people who work out for other purposes such as “to get strong” or “to build muscle” don’t tend to compensate by eating more calories. Set performance-related goals rather than fat loss goals for your training. Know that there are significant body composition benefits to exercise besides calorie burning:
You increase insulin sensitivity for healthier blood sugar levels
You increase lean muscle mass and bone for a higher metabolic rate
You increase levels of fat burning enzymes and hormones
Finally, remember to be mindful of eating behavior and how workouts or life stress influences it.
#4: Cheat Weekends
Many people schedule a cheat meal on the weekend because it’s a time to relax and have fun. Cheat meals allow people on low-carb or restricted diets to replenish glycogen stores, improve insulin sensitivity, and reset hunger hormones. As useful as this tool is, many people go way overboard, turning every meal from Friday to Sunday night into an all-out binge.
Digging yourself a nice little hole might seem like a good way to boost motivation, however, research shows that when people increased calories over a 2-day period, they experience more cravings and hunger on subsequent days than those who took in the quantity of calories that was closer to their daily energy requirements. The people who stuffed themselves also reported a worse mood and were less active during the day.
Avoid sabotaging yourself weekend after weekend by planning your cheat meal in advance and focusing on consistency, as outlined in #2.
#5: Doing Cardio For The Goal of Health Or Fat Loss
A common mistake is to think you have to do aerobic-style cardio like running or cycling to lose body fat or improve your cardiovascular function. In fact, any physical activity that is challenging enough will improve heart and lung function.
And fat loss is best achieved by exercises that are intermittent in nature, requiring you to work very vigorously for the work bout followed by an active rest period.
Weight training and sprint intervals are two examples. This type of training induces a significant oxygen debt, which radically increases the amount of calories your body burns during the 24-hour recovery period. It has the added benefit of increasing enzymes and hormones involved in fat burning and metabolic rate.
Additionally, if your goal is to put on muscle or improve athleticism, be aware that aerobic exercise “interferes” with the adaptation process. The result is that when people lift weights and do endurance exercise, they simply don’t see the strength or muscle gains they expect.
Therefore, the only reason to do traditional cardio would be if you are training for an endurance event, or really like it and your primary reason for exercising is enjoyment.
#6: Comparing Yourself To Others Instead of Pushing Yourself
Comparing yourself to others is likely to lower how you feel about yourself and make you feel constantly frustrated and unhappy.
It’s also a great way to self yourself short. It’s entirely possible that if you set goals, work toward them, and improve your habits, you’ll astound yourself with what you can become. If you don’t focus on competing with yourself you may literally never achieve all that you can.
Instead of sabotaging yourself by envying your best friend’s physique, identify what is limiting you and then set goals to overcome your individual weaknesses. This way, instead of making excuses or blaming others, you take full responsibility for where you are and what you need to do to get to where you want to be.
#7: Getting Sucked In By The Organic/Gluten-Free/”Healthy” Halo
Studies consistently show that we rate foods that are labeled “gluten-free” or “organic” as having fewer calories. Unfortunately, this leads us to consume more of these foods compared to foods that don’t carry the health “halo.” Food marketers take full advantage of this, slapping empty health-related marketing terms on everything from candy bars to peanut butter.
#8: Exhaustion & Chronic Stress
Everyone knows that lack of sleep and high cortisol impacts eating behavior, leading us to choose higher calorie, sugar and fat-filled foods over more nutritious choices. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that the double whammy of exhaustion and stress has numerous other negative effects on metabolism and habits.
For example, just one night of short sleep decreases insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, which means we spend more of the day in fat storing mode. And when we are sleep deprived we get lazy, reducing our spontaneous physical activity.
Being tired even affects our grocery shopping choices: A 2013 study found that volunteers were more likely to purchase higher-calorie food if they shopped when sleep deprived. Compared to shopping when rested, volunteers bought an average of 1,319 more calories when they were tired.
#9: Lack Of Patience
Most people expect immediate results. Unfortunately, that's not how the body works. Fat loss results take weeks, while muscle growth takes months. Our lack of patience often leads us to second guess our programs. We get discouraged and eat an extra helping, indulge in an extra glass of wine, and splurge on dessert. Our discretions lead us to think all is lost. We sabotage ourselves by giving up before we let our efforts pay off.
Understand that the body takes a while to adapt. Have faith in yourself. Stay the course.
#10: Getting Sidetracked By Popular Myths
Unless you’re very experienced, it’s easy to get sidetracked by training and nutrition myths. Whether it's that protein will hurt your kidneys, eggs are unhealthy, or that women will get bulky from lifting weights, the bottom line is that you need to avoid wasting time on these misconceptions.
Avoid the mess by finding refutable sources that you can trust based on proven scientific principles. It’s also smart to question what you learn and make sure you actually understand the mechanism behind different training and nutrition principles so that you can grow your knowledge progressively.