It can be incredibly frustrating to be trying to lose fat and not get results. You improve your diet and start working out, but don't see any changes in your body. What’s going on?
Unfortunately, there is a LOT of bad information out there. It’s probable the changes you have made aren’t sufficient to create the energy deficit that is necessary so that you start losing body fat. Or maybe, in making changes, you’ve inadvertently created other issues that are impeding results.
A classic example is that people will start exercising, but they end up compensating for the extra calories they burned by eating more. Studies show that although not everyone does this, it is a typical response in at least 70 percent of a given population.
What follows are ten solutions for troubleshooting fat loss. Take action to make these babies into habits and you should be well on your way to getting the body you want.
#1: Strength Train
Most people start with aerobic cardio when they want to lose fat, but hitting the weights has some noteworthy advantages. First, it builds muscle, which increases your resting metabolic rate so that your body burns more calories every day.
Second, it improves your metabolism by raising levels of enzymes and catecholamine hormones that help the body access fat to be burned for energy.
Third, lifting weights restores insulin sensitivity so that the body is better able to burn the carbohydrates you consume instead of storing them as fat. And finally, strength training leads to a large afterburn so that your body burns more calories during the 24-hour recovery period—one study showed strength training raised metabolic by 25 percent.
Get started: Try a superset program in which you pick two exercises and go from one to the other without any additional rest. For example, you could do squats and bench press, performing each for 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Then, alternate between dumbbell lunges and seated rows. Finish with step-ups and pull-downs, all with the same set/rep scheme.
#2: Pay Attention To Portions
Maybe you’ve started making healthier food choices but find that you’re extra hungry. Or perhaps you just haven’t gotten in the habit of monitoring how much you’re eating.
You’re not alone. Studies show that we generally are completely out of the habit of paying attention to appetite cues that tell us we’re getting full. Instead, we rely on outside cues such as the completion of TV program or an empty plate to tell us to stop eating.
Three things can help: First, try to eat more slowly by focusing on chewing and enjoying the flavors in your food. Second, eliminate outside distractions like TV or Internet. Third, serve yourself smaller portions. You can do this at restaurants too: Ask for a to-go container at the beginning of your meal and put half of it aside. Having put the food “away” in advance makes it easier to stop eating when you want to.
#3: Eat A High-Quality Protein Breakfast
Many people think that cereal or toast is an acceptable breakfast. This is not so. You’re going to get much better results from switching to a high-protein, lower carb breakfast because the amino acids in protein will suppress appetite and reduce subsequent eating throughout the day. It also sets up your neurotransmitters so that you feel motivated and on-point, making it easier to get in a strong workout and stay active all day long.
How to do it: Eggs, steak, turkey slices, Greek yogurt or smoked salmon are all excellent protein sources for breakfast. Eat them alone, or pair them with salad, sautéed greens, avocado, or other healthy fat. Adding some berries is another option since they are rich in antioxidants and low on the glycemic scale compared to other carbs.
#4: Prioritize Vegetables
Fat loss becomes a whole lot easier if you like vegetables. Not only do veggies provide loads of nutrients, but they contain fiber, and water which help promote satiety. Plus, 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.
This may not be so exciting if you don’t like vegetables, but here’s a hint—figure out a way to enjoy them, whether by trying new ones you’ve never eaten, cooking them with delicious spices and flavorings (vinegars, citrus), or re-training your taste buds.
How to do it: Here is a brief list of low-glycemic vegetables you can eat liberally: Broccoli, zucchini, celery, collards, lettuce, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, eggplant, cucumbers, green beans, cauliflower, asparagus, beets, carrots, mushrooms, and bok choy. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, winter squash, and sweet potatoes can also be included, but be careful with portions because these are higher in both carbohydrates and calories.
#5: Look For Sneaky Calories
Calories have a way of piling up on you in the strangest places. For example, we just talked about how some vegetables can be free-for-all foods, but restaurant salads are notorious for being high in calories. What with cream-based dressings, cheese, processed meats, croutons, nuts, or seeds, a salad can be one of the highest calorie foods on the menu.
That’s not to say that a little bit of healthy fat isn’t okay: Topping a mixed green salad with a small sprinkle of walnuts or pumpkin seeds, or sautéing your kale in a half tablespoon of coconut oil is fine, but you need to be smart about it. Another example is with meat or fish. These are great high-quality proteins but you want to avoid frying or adding calorie-rich sauces, which can make you overshoot your calorie goals for the day.
How to do it: Cooking at home is your first line of defense because you have control over everything you make. Every meal should contain a high-quality protein source (meat, fish, eggs), vegetable, and healthy fat. Oftentimes, your protein will provide fat, which means that additional fat sources should be from condiments such as a sliced avocado, a sprinkling of nuts, or a bit of olive oil in salad dressing.
When eating out, feel free to ask for sauces and dressings on the side. There’s nothing wrong with having the kitchen leave the croutons off your salad or to ask for the burger without the bun.
#6: Walk After Meals, Especially Dinner
The real goal here is to get you more active. Walking after meals is a great way to do it. One reason a lot of people aren’t as active as they should be is that the put it off: They say, “I’ll walk after I finish email” or “I’ll train after work,” or “I’ll get my run in after that meeting with so and so,” but then something else comes up and they never get moving.
Why it works: Developing the habit of walking after meals solves the “I’ll do it later” problem and it gets you active at the time when your metabolism can really use a boost: Studies show walking after eating increases blood sugar tolerance, which is a key component of metabolic health. Ten minutes of brisk walking is all it takes to make a difference.
#7: Consider Nutrient Deficiencies
Lack of certain nutrients can impact your ability to lose body fat in a couple of different ways: First, some nutrients elevate metabolic rate by regulating your cells ability to bind to insulin so that you burn the glucose in your blood instead of storing it as fat. Both magnesium and vitamin D are examples.
Second, certain nutrients are involved in your body’s ability to carry oxygenated blood to the cells and muscles. If your levels are low, you will feel tired a lot of the time and have a low exercise tolerance. Iron and vitamin B12 are examples.
Another common one: Lack of iodine, which can lead to low thyroid function. The thyroid plays a principle role in regulating metabolic rate and insufficient levels make it very difficult to create a calorie deficit so that you lose body fat.
How to solve them: A blood test can easily indicate certain nutrient deficiencies. For example, vitamin D or low iron are easy to diagnose and it’s important to test. With vitamin D your levels fluctuate seasonally and you want to avoid the complications of a deficiency. With iron, you don’t want to supplement unless you need to because iron supplementation is hard for the body to handle, causing oxidative stress and digestive issues.
For something like magnesium, a typical blood test doesn’t accurately reflect your magnesium stores because only 1 percent of magnesium is in the blood with the rest being stored in bone and muscle tissue. A red blood cell test for magnesium is one solution. Because there’s no risk of toxicity with magnesium (diarrhea is an easy indicator you want to cut back on magnesium intake), supplementing with 10 mg/kg of body weight (400 to 1,200 mg) is recommended by scientists. Avoid low-quality magnesium supplements such as magnesium oxide in favor of one that is bound with glycinate or citrate.
#8: No Calorie-Containing Beverages
For many people the greatest source of empty calories is from beverages. This is a huge problem because not only are you getting poor nutrition, but liquid calories don’t register in the brain the same way as real food. You need to chew in order to get the release of hormones that decrease hunger.
Avoid these: Remove soda, juice, smoothies, alcohol, and sweetened coffee or tea. The only beverages you should be drinking are water (plain and sparkling are fine) and unsweetened coffee or tea. A small amount of diet soda can be useful for people who are transitioning off of regular soda but it should generally be avoided as well.
#9: Add Intervals
Interval training in which you go hard for a length of time and then perform active rest before repeating is a great way to kickstart fat loss because it triggers a large afterburn, while leading to adaptations that allow your body to burn fat for energy. For example, recent studies have shown that 3 days a week of intervals for 6 weeks can lead to 3 to 5 pounds of fat loss without any dietary intervention.
Try this: Either on a stationary bike or treadmill, try working vigorously for 1 minute followed by 1 minute of easy exercise. Repeat 10 times for a total of 20 minutes. You can increase the intensity during your work interval by going faster or raising the resistance (on the bike) or incline (on the treadmill).
Another option is hill sprints: Find a hill that is at least 150 meters long and sprint up it. Then walk down and repeat.
#10: Too Many Carbs
Just like sneaky calories, high-carbohydrate foods have a habit of finding their way into your diet. There are lots of reasons for this:
People plan meals around carbs, mistakenly thinking that a steady stream of carbs are necessary to sustain energy. This is not the case if you are metabolically healthy.
We live in a high-stress society, which means that the stress hormone cortisol is elevated, which drives cravings for carbohydrate-based foods.
High-carb foods are often the center of social occasions that revolve around food. This makes them hard to say no to and easy to overeat.
People don’t realize they need to limit healthy high-carb foods in their diets. Fruits and starchy vegetables are packed with nutrition, but they also contain fructose, which can overload the liver (where it is processed) and get turned into fat if you eat too much.
Solve It: The first step is to determine how many carbs you want to be eating. A low-carb diet for fat loss is generally less than 50 grams of carbs a day, not including low-carb vegetables. This will restore insulin sensitivity and help balance blood sugar, which is necessary for fixing your metabolism.
If you’re active and work out regularly, a carb intake in the 150-gram per day range may fit the bill, or you could cycle your carbs so that on heavy workout days you eat more carbs but limit them on rest days.
Next, you want to distinguish between the different kinds of carbs. Refined carbs such as bread, pasta, crackers, cereal, chips, and anything with sugar added are all unhealthy carbs that you want to avoid. Sure, there are variations that are considered healthier such as Ezekiel bread or cooked oats, but even these foods are not appropriate if you are on a very low-carb diet.
Healthy carbs that you can include liberally are leafy greens, low-carb vegetables and fruit (berries, pomegranate). Starchy vegetables, boiled grains, and higher carb fruits are also healthy, but you want to be cautious of portions because they can be easy to overeat.