We often try to simplify fat loss into the basic equation of calories in vs calories out. But in reality, it’s never that easy. If it was, why do we have a weight loss industry that’s worth billions of pounds and growing every year?
Yes, the food you eat will always be the biggest factor when it comes to fat loss. But there comes a point when simply eating less and moving more doesn’t cut it. In fact, continuously restricting your calories may actually be sabotaging your weight loss efforts. But we’ll come on to that later.
Do you feel like no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to make any progress in your fat loss pursuit? Then the chances are, one of these 5 unusual reasons could be to blame. Let's take a look at each of them below:
1. Not enough sleep
Getting more sleep may be the biggest thing you can do for your body composition and overall health. But it’s not sexy and it doesn’t sell diet books so no one talks about it.
Quality sleep is the key to a healthy hormonal platform, which will allow your body to burn fat optimally. Sleep is when we see the biggest spike in the anabolic growth hormone that burns through fat like a hot knife through butter. Lack of sleep stunts growth hormone production, making our body work much harder to oxidise those pesky fat cells.
Lack of sleep also plays havoc with our production of ghrelin, another hormone that influences our appetite and food cravings. Recent studies have shown that just one night of impaired sleep is enough to produce dramatic changes in appetite and eating habits1.
Furthermore, lack of sleep has also been shown to impair carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity2. And, if all that wasn’t enough, it also skyrockets cortisol production, the stress hormone that literally programmes our body to store calories as fat!
If you’re serious about losing weight, get 7 – 8 hours of quality sleep per night. Make sleep a priority and you’ll be amazed at how much easier everything else becomes.
2. Not enough calories
In order to burn fat, we must consume fewer calories than we burn. You cannot cheat the laws of basic physics.
But, paradoxically, going too low on the calories may actually be having an adverse effect on your fat loss goals.
This is because extended periods of excessive caloric restriction wreak havoc with our production of leptin, the hormone that regulates our metabolism. As leptin levels drop, our metabolism slows down, thus slowing the rate in which calories are converted into energy.
That’s right: cutting calories too low will actually end up promoting fat storage. This isn’t a malfunction. It’s your body’s built-in survival mechanism that tells us to save energy at all costs when food is scarce.
And in times of scarcity, your body shuts down all non-essential systems in order to prioritise fat storage to keep you alive. Your metabolism goes into shutdown, your sex hormones are obliterated, your thyroid and adrenal glands tap out, and you store fat faster than ever.
Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?
In order to lose weight safely and sustainably, you need to be in a controlled caloric deficit. This means eating enough to keep your metabolism cranked up, with just enough of a deficit to elicit fat loss.
When eating less stops delivering results, it’s a sure fire sign your leptin levels are starting to drop. So stop starving yourself on damp lettuce leaves every night. Eat sensibly, eat healthily, and eat enough. The results will take care of themselves.
3. Too much cardio
If weight loss is your goal, then spending hours pounding the treadmill is not the answer. In fact, too much cardio could actually be promoting fat storage.
This is because traditional ‘steady state’ cardio significantly increases cortisol production, the body’s stress hormone that signals to the body to store fat. Worse still, cortisol also destroys muscle mass – which isn’t good news for anyone looking to maintain a lean body composition.
Anaerobic exercise, such as HIIT training and weight lifting, is much more efficient for fat burning. Not only does this form of exercise significantly increase your body’s metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn), your metabolic rate stays heightened for up to 48 hours after training. A short weight training or sprint workout just once every three days means that your body burns fat faster, even when you’re at rest, throughout the whole week.
Compare this with traditional cardio, where as soon as you step off the treadmill, your metabolic rate slumps back down. Plus, with anaerobic training, you also won’t get the massive cortisol spike that you do with long cardio sessions.
For easy fat loss, ditch the punishing hour long cardio sessions in favour of a short, sharp, high intensity workout. Hill sprints, rowing sprints, prowler pushing, and full body compound movements such as squats and deadlifts are some of the most efficient exercises to add to your programme.
4. Too much stress
Far too many of us spend our lives in a state of chronic stress. That’s ‘stress’ in every sense of the word, including:
- Work stress
- Relationship stress
- Family stress
- Social stress
- Environmental stress (pollution, poor air quality, lack of sunlight)
- Dietary stress (poor food choices)
- Exercise induced stress (overtraining and chronic cardio)
- Hormonal stress (usually from poor lifestyle choices, lack of sleep etc)
Here’s the thing about stress. Your body doesn’t discriminate. So when you factor in all of these different stressors that so many of us face every day, we’re literally pumping out cortisol from the minute our feet touch the floor in the morning to the moment our head hits the pillow at night.
And this cortisol onslaught is literally programming our body to store fat, most notably in the abdominal region. If your body has a tendency to store belly fat above anywhere else on the body, I’m willing to bet excess cortisol is the primary problem.
What can we do to reduce our stress levels from all angles:
- Building solid relationships is key. Cut ties with the negative people in your life. As hard as it is, they’re only bringing you down. Take time to cultivate relationships with positive, inspiring people that bring out the best version of yourself.
- Get outside as much as possible. Vitamin D is a powerful mood booster that cuts through cortisol production like a knife. Take a supplement in winter, or year round if you work in an office.
- Make at least one person smile every day.
- Work up a sweat. Find a sport or exercise programme you love and flood your body with endorphins.
- Cut out the processed, refined foods from your diet wherever possible. Excess sugars, bleached flours and trans fats are the biggest dietary stressors on the planet.
- Follow some sort of mindfulness practice every day. Whether that’s meditation, walking the dog or just reading; try to be in the present moment as much as possible. Put your phone down and switch off your email notifications. They’ll all still be there when you get back.
- Make a list of the things you do every day. Make a list of the things that make you happy. Compare the two lists. Adjust accordingly.
- And say no more, so you can say ‘hell yes’ when it really matters.
5. Not being patient
Last on my list of unexpected reasons you’re not losing fat is patience. Or, more specifically, a lack of it.
We live in a world where we’re promised results in record time. 21 day bikini detox diets and miracle fat loss pills are everywhere, meaning we’re constantly looking for shortcuts and quick fixes. But these diets and supplements are unsustainable, often unsafe, and almost always unsuccessful.
Be honest with yourself. How many weeks, months, or even years did it take you to put on your excess weight? How many unhealthy meals did you eat, how many trips to the gym did you miss in this time?
The harsh reality is, it’s going to take that long again to get back to a healthy weight. Depending on where you are as you read this article, that could be months, maybe even years from now.
But be patient, be dedicated, and you WILL get there. Healthy, sustainable fat loss is a marathon; not a sprint, but I promise you, that the results are worth every ounce of effort and discipline it takes you to get there.
Catch you soon,