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Recently a new client told me about a weight loss challenge she had joined. The challenge included weekly weight ins, and results were shared with the others in the challenge. If you lost, you were applauded. If you didn’t lose, or if you gained weight, you had to pay money. I was appalled. Not only does this type of motivation create a disordered relationship with weight and a reliance on a faulty metric to measure success (I went over the limitations of the scale in my last article), but it also evokes shame and undermines success in other areas.
Perhaps the biggest reason I hate this type of heavy reliance on the scale or other body composition metric as a primary measure of success: ultimately we cannot control the number on the scale. We cannot control how quickly our body loses fat. We can measure it, but the only thing we can control are the action steps we take.
I like to think of fat loss, (if you legitimately have fat to lose), as the natural consequence of taking care of your health. It’s not the goal: it’s the side effect. And while you may be doing ‘everything right’, your body still may not be shedding fat. And that does not mean you’re unsuccessful, or that you are not improving your health, or that you won’t eventually lose fat. As frustrating as it can be, know that your body never tries to work against you.
For you, fat loss may be the top priority. But for your body, it’s not. Your body is hardwired to help you survive, and your body’s desire to survive and your mind’s desire to slim down may not always jive. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help.
In this article, I will highlight a few less common factors what impact your body’s ability to lose fat. My goal is to give you a brief overview so that if any of the reasons resonate with you, you can further explore your own health and fitness program and make adjustments if necessary.
Before I start, I’d like to input this small caveat: my point is not to create ‘blame’ for not making progress or for not taking action. You can’t eat poorly, do a few walks a day and blame stress for weight gain. My point is that you may need to look at a few different areas of your health to reach your transformation goals.
1. You’re relying solely on the scale to measure fat loss. The scale is not the best measure of fat loss. I went over this in full detail in my last article. You can check it out here.
2. Your dieting history. Your dieting history will impact your body’s ability to shed fat. Many people will claim how easy it was to lose weight the first time, but each time they go on a new diet, it becomes increasingly more difficult to lose weight. Each time you diet or go on a calorie restrictive diet, your body down regulates so that it uses fewer calories each day. In other words, your metabolic rate slows to compensate. Remember: your body is programmed for survival! It can take time for your metabolism to heal and for your body to be ready to shed fat.
WHAT TO DO: First, practice patience! It can take time to rev up your metabolism. Also, be sure you’re eating enough food (especially fat), even as you try to lose weight.
3. Stress. Many people are under chronic stress: whether it’s from work, worrying, time pressures, lack of self-care, negative self-talk, exercising too much, taking care of others or eating poor quality foods. Stress is an important part of life, and our bodies are meant to deal with stress from time to time: we’re just not built to withstand chronic stress. In the stone age days, stress meant we were being chased by a sabretooth tiger, or perhaps going through a famine. Our body’s main goal is survival: if you’re being chased by a hypothetical tiger every day, your body’s priority is NOT fat loss!
Stress triggers the release of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. Initially the response triggers the release of glucose into the blood stream for accessible energy, Overtime though, cortisol signals the body to replenish your energy stores (eat more) and store energy (fat) so that the body can withstand future stress situations. For our ancestors, who were fighting off wild animals, this adaptation was extremely useful. It’s not so useful however, when the stress is a tight work deadline or getting caught in traffic while trying to get your child to soccer practice. Most of our ‘stress triggers’ do not require extra physical energy.Beyond the biological response to stress, stress can also trigger emotional eating. If you’re a stress-eater, you’re not alone. Willpower is diminished, and you just may ‘not care’ when the stress response is in full force.
WHAT TO DO: Reduce stress. I know, much easier said than done. Some stress reduction techniques include meditation, walking, exercise, talking to someone, practicing self-care, practicing positive self-talk and learning to say no.
4. Insulin Resistance and Blood Sugar Dysregulation. If you are insulin resistant, or type 2 diabetic, your body will have a more difficult time losing fat. Put simply, insulin resistance inhibits your body’s ability to uptake blood glucose (sugar) into the cell for energy. The excess blood glucose has to go somewhere: and that somewhere is into fat cells.
WHAT TO DO: One of the primary goals of our nutrition program at Ascend Fitness is to regulate blood sugar by eating a balance of fat, protein and high fibre carbohydrates. Regular exercise also helps with insulin resistance. Practice patience and focus on the action steps: fat loss results may take a bit more time.
5. Sleep. Not getting enough sleep can impact your waistline. When you’re sleep deprived, your body releases more cortisol, which drives appetite (and most people don’t reach for carrots and salads). Lack of sleep also increases the level of the hormone ghrelin, which signals hunger, and decreases leptin, which signals satiety.
WHAT TO DO: It’s no surprise that I will recommend getting more sleep. Simple in theory, but not always in practice. To improve sleep, avoid caffeine in the afternoon, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, exercise regularly, shut off screens an hour before bed and sleep in the dark
The main take away point of this article is to highlight that there are MANY non-food and exercise factors that impact your body transformation progress. If your goal is to lose body fat, focus on improving all aspects of your health. It’s fine to measure your body composition, simply ‘eating clean’ and moving your body more may not be the answer. Be curious, focus on improving health, and practice patience.
Ready to take the next step to improve your fitness, nutrition and lifestyle habits? Click here to learn more, or to meet with one of our supportive, knowledgable coaches.