Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
Are you stuck in a rut with your fat-loss efforts? Do you watch every calorie going in, track your weight to the ounce and have the self-discipline of a well-oiled machine only to find those tireless efforts executed all in vein?
Maybe you think to yourself you’re just not cut-out to get lean, muscular and dead sexy. Maybe you are where you should be and that’s that.
If you follow a hard-work perspective then you probably have the mindset of more discipline, fewer calories and more sacrifice in order to finally experience results. There has to be something you are not doing enough of, right?
Maybe it’s not the fact that you need more discipline, less food or a complete diet overhaul. Maybe you just need to look at your eating habits from another perspective and truly evaluate your efforts versus your results.
Let’s break down a few things you may need improvements on. You could very well find out that reversing your thinking may produce the results you are looking for.
Reason #1 - You're not eating enough REAL protein
Many nuggets of information out there will tout the importance of getting in enough protein but you already know this. Say it with me, “At least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.” Okay, now that that’s done let’s move on to what you are really after – real food protein.
Supplements are wonderful – they fill in gaps of our diet, are convenient on the go and are fairly fast-acting. But supplements are just that – to supplement your diet not replace it. Ask yourself if you are eating enough real protein food; eggs, meat, chicken, fish, dairy sources such as cheese and yogurt. Give an average day of eating a true review. Are half of your protein requirements met with protein powder? If it is or close to it then you need to start eating some real food to get the fat off.
Why is this important? For starters, eating more real food will positively impact your metabolism by making the body process actual food so that it has to work harder to digest all that good stuff. Secondly, protein powders such as whey are assimilated rather quickly so you will find yourself hungry more often and risk sabotaging your dieting efforts.
Some great fat sources include avocado, whole eggs, natural nut butters, olive oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts and fatty fish.
Reason #2 - You're still on a "NO FAT" kick
If you are still on the low-fat/no fat bandwagon it’s time to exit the doors now. If your head has been in a hole and you haven’t gotten the memo regarding the benefits of healthy fats then take note. Not only are they heart-healthy and serve to improve circulation, cholesterol levels and improve brain function they are also great allies when it comes to satiety. Adding some healthy fats to your diet will help you feel fuller longer and give you a bump in energy levels especially during times of low carbohydrate intake.
Another huge advantage of healthy fat during time of low calories and energy is the fact that they help regulate key hormones that are vital for optimal metabolism, fat-burning and overall mood and performance. Testosterone and growth hormone levels can decrease drastically during dieting phases and healthy fats help keep these levels where they need to be.
Some great sources are avocado, whole eggs, natural nut butters, olive oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts and fatty fish.
Reason #3 - You're eating too much "HEALTHY" processed stuff
There is a jumbo-jillion dollar market for health food in the world including manufacturers that make crazy promises. There products contain new and unheard-of ingredients while the box or bag highlights healthy-sounding words such as whole grain, low-fat and heart-healthy. These can include items like protein bars, energy/fat-burning drinks, special snacks that are packed with fiber, candy disguised as health food and too many others to list here.
The take away is that these companies are bending the truth (some are outright lying) so you will buy from them – period. They do not have your best interest in mind, just your wallet. If they happen to put three grams of protein in a candy bar then you will most likely see “now with protein” on the wrapper. Just because a little low-grade protein, some whole grains or fiber is put into a product does not make it healthy.
So, what to do? What you always have known before we all got caught up in this crazy healthy food thing: Eat real, natural food: Whole proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats - meat, fish, eggs, rice, vegetables, fruits and plenty of plain ole water. Nothing is more effective at burning fat and building muscle than real food.
Reason #4 - You're eating too many cheat meals
Okay, you know by now that during severe dieting phases you should allow yourself a cheat meal or two - you know, to stoke the sluggish metabolism into gear after long bouts of low calories and energy levels. But do you take advantage of this trick a little too much? Do you indulge too often feeling you deserve it or that you just feel outright crappy and need some calories to recharge?
Too many cheat meals can quickly add up to jumping off the dieting bandwagon and into a state of no return. A calorie-restrictive fat-loss diet is just that – calorie restrictive. Yes, it sucks sometimes but that doesn’t mean whenever you feel hungry or low on fuel to cram your pie hole with too many unwanted calories, fat and sugar. Become strategic with your cheat meals, be resilient through tough times and reap the ripped physique rewards. One or two cheat meals per week should be plenty to refuel your depleted glycogen stores and get that furnace burning again. Too many cheat meals will derail your efforts and send you into never-ending failure.
Ask yourself if you are eating enough real protein food; eggs, meat, chicken, fish, dairy sources such as cheese and yogurt.
Reason #5 - You're eating too few calories
This may sound a bit contradictory at first but too few calories may be one of your major roadblocks if your fat-loss dieting efforts have slammed to a halt. What actually happens when your body doesn’t get enough macronutrients may surprise you. Taking in too few calories sends a message to the brain that you are starving (for nourishment). Once the message has been received your body will try to conserve energy – it does this in two main ways. First, it will slow down the metabolic factory. You will start to feel lethargic, tired and sluggish and you may even lose your appetite. Second, since your body shifts into survival mode, you will start to store fat due to the fact that your body will want to conserve its energy for times of stress (fight or flight).
What to do? Eat too much and you won’t lose fat and eat too little and you will stall your fat-burning efforts. Try this: Eat slightly below your maintenance level (200-300 calories) for a few weeks. See how that affects your bodyweight. If you are still in a rut then lower your calories a bit lower and add in a cheat meal once every five to seven days - nothing extreme.
Reason #6 - You're stressing too much over the details
Are you the type to keep track of every micro and macronutrient going in your mouth? Do you keep detailed notes on meal timing, grams of protein, pre and post workout meals and daily changes in bodyweight? Do you avoid any meals that aren’t personally prepared? If any of these describe you, you may need to relax a little, take a step back and reconsider your ways.
At times too much attention to detail can blur your bigger picture perspective. Worry, stress and burnout can easily fester into a stalemate when it comes to the changes you want. Constantly stressing over every little morsel of food will only bring on unwanted anxiety and tension toward your version of perfection. What if all the record keeping doesn’t give you the results you want? What then?
Relax and give yourself a break. Despite all of the cool-sounding fitness memes floating around the human body is not a machine. It doesn’t react succinctly to every command exactly the same way every time. The body ebbs and flows each and every day. Some days you will notice you are shedding fat, building muscle and on top of all your goals. Other days you feel stuck in a rut, tired and wanting to overhaul your whole plan. Take time to stop, reflect on your goals and reconnect with your motivations to stay on track without thinking too much into it.