You’ve likely heard the age-old aphorism that goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.
Well, I believe that most of time the road to fat loss is paved with good intentions, too.
At any given time, someone somewhere is making the promise to himself or herself that they will no longer struggle and cram themselves into their nice jeans. They will no longer let the temptations of happy hour dictate their diet. They will not skip gym or cardio sessions and they most certainly will not go quietly into that good night!
Dylan Thomas poetry aside, these are all very good intentions which, if executed properly and consistently, will yield the results the individual is seeking.
The problem doesn’t lie in the intent though; the problem lies within the follow through – or lack thereof.
If this sounds like a conversation you’ve had with yourself, and after a few weeks of giving it your best shot you still fell short, it could be because of the following sneaky little ways you were sabotaging your efforts all along.
1)You’re consuming too many hidden calories:
Do you drink coffee? Sure you do. You may not even think about it now after being conditioned for so many years to add a splash of cream, a packet or two of sugar or a tablespoon of coconut oil, but those little additions can really add up. Maybe you think switching from soda to fruit juice is a better option on your quest for fat loss, which seems to make sense, right? It may come as a surprise that an 8-ounce glass of orange juice carries with it 24 grams of carbohydrates and almost 100 calories. And I don’t know about you, but fruit juices and other liquid calories never seem to fill me up when compared to a whole food meal (and the science agrees).
A tablespoon here, a quick handful there, these hidden calories can really add up over time and keep you in a surplus when you think you’re in a deficit. And if you refuse to ditch your Bulletproof Coffee and afternoon Big Gulp then I suggest you adjust your calories accordingly the remainder of the day.
2) You’re not cooking enough meals at home:
Sure, I’ve seen the commercials before and I know how much weight that guy Jared lost eating just Subway sandwiches for months on end, but that doesn’t mean you should try it, too. Jared also did a few other things I wouldn’t suggest trying but hey, that’s beyond the scope of this article.
Preparing your meals ahead of time is a bit of a pain, I’ll admit it, but it’s one of the most important weapons in your arsenal against fat loss.
I think one of the best things to happen to the Internet and to restaurants is the advent of the calorie counter function on their websites. You mean to tell me I can pre-plan ahead EXACTLY how many calories will be in my double wrapped burrito at Chipotle?!
Not quite. A recent study on frequently ordered restaurants meals in The Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics revealed that “92% of meals exceeded typical energy requirements for a single eating occasion” and that “restaurants in general expose patrons to excessive portions that induce overeating through established biological mechanisms”.
Damn. American restaurants are trying to sabotage their patrons!
To avoid the trap of being fooled by these restaurants, do your body and your sanity a favor and try to cook just a few more meals at home each week. Start small and build the habit – begin by making a homemade breakfast if your typical meal consists of coffee and a bagel. Once you’ve mastered the art of a delicious breakfast, work your way up to lunch and so on.
3) You’re a chronic under-eater:
- This is sort of counterintuitive because essentially dieting is under-eating. The differences between someone who strategically under-eats for 8-12 weeks and someone who chronically under-eats are vast. For instance, while a slight caloric deficit of 200-400 calories can lead to sustainable weight loss when consistently maintained, a much larger deficit can negatively impact your metabolism, thyroid, sex hormones and raise the stress hormone cortisol. Additionally, consistently elevated cortisol levels can lead to insulin resistance, which will make weight loss more difficult.Somewhere along the line a 1,200-calorie baseline was established as the golden number for fat loss for all people looking to lose weight. If you’ve followed dietary protocols based on that number before, I’d suggest you start to slowly increase your calories over the course of a few weeks. If you have a really difficult time eating more than 1,200 calories, begin by adding just 50 calories each week. My guess is that over the next 4-6 weeks you’ll start to see a resurgence in your energy, your workout performance, your sleep, your mood, and you could see the scale starting to drop again. You wouldn’t only put $5 worth of fuel in your car every time you’re on empty would you? Your body is the same way. Fuel it with enough calories to facilitate whatever activity or goal you’re after.
4)You’re doing too much cardio and not enough weight lifting:
It’s the men and women who ride the Stairmaster every morning and night but never seem to look any different that I’m concerned about. The people that jog on the treadmill for miles on end with the most miserable look on their face, chasing their dream physique. Don’t get me wrong, cardio can and should be a tool in your box for fat loss. In addition to the myriad mental and physical health benefits of cardiovascular work, it can help aid in muscle recovery and can improve insulin sensitivity. But it needs to be incorporated in a productive manner.
When you’re dieting, you’re likely eating fewer calories. If cardio is your means to facilitate fat loss, then you’re missing the forest for the trees. When chasing fat loss, it should be of utmost importance to burn calories while preserving as much muscle as possible. In a caloric deficit, your body won’t be as willing to pack on new muscle, so you should be fighting to keep what you’ve got. This is precisely why we strength train with weights during times of fat loss and times of muscle gain.
The more cardio you do, the more stress you put on your body. The more stress on your body, the less likely you are to effectively recover. In fact, research even shows that those that overdo cardio can become resistant to the exercise and in some cases even gain weight.
So here’s what to do if you’re a cardio-junkie that can’t lose weight. Slowly begin to taper your cardio sessions and add more weight training into your routine. If you’re currently hitting the treadmill 6 days per week and weight training once, drop your cardio to 5 days and increase your weight training to 2 days. Continue to do this until you have an even amount of weight training to cardio and evaluate how you feel. It might be wise to also vary your type of cardiovascular work between low intensity steady state cardio (think walking at a nice brisk pace) and high intensity interval cardio (think wind sprints or bicycle sprints). A study found that 4-6 bouts of 30-second sprints are more effective at burning body fat and improving body composition than 30-60 minutes of steady state endurance training. That’s a lot of time back in your personal life!
5) You binge as a reward:
Ah, yes, the “but I deserve it” mentality. You’ve worked hard to restrict yourself all week long and killed yourself in the gym, so you deserve a few bottles of wine and a nice meal… and dessert… and late night Taco Bell.
I’m all for an “off diet day” or “re-feed day” but again these need to be strategically placed and planned in a diet. They can do wonders psychologically for some people and have been shown to keep fat loss humming along. But to be quite honest, if you’ve taken the time to understand and appreciate a flexible approach to your nutrition, the need and the desire to have a “cheat day” really won’t exist anymore. You’ll be fueling your body with foods you enjoy and getting the desired results. No need for endless breadsticks at dinner, unless you’re fully aware of the aftermath and you’re mentally okay with it.
If you’re a weekend warrior binger then I believe there is a lot of mileage in establishing a healthier relationship with food by not looking at certain foods as “bad” or “good” or “clean” or “dirty”. Food is a means of energy. You can undo a week of strict dieting by letting loose on the weekend – in some cases, you can eat yourself right out of a deficit and into a nice surplus; a surefire way to keep your spinning your wheels.
So there you have it, my big bad list of ways you might be sabotaging your fat loss efforts.
Here’s to positive change.
Best of luck!