7 Reasons You May Not Be Burning (Enough) Fat

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By Amanda Mittleman MS

A close friend of mine, who’s over the age of 40, and who has been exercising regularly and eating clean (at least) 80% of the time, called me in tears recently because her doctor told her she needed to lose about 10 pounds. The doctor told her that if she simply ate less and exercised more, she would lose weight. 

If you can relate to my friend, you’re not alone. This story is by no means a complaint against doctors.  Rather, it’s a perfect example of a knee-jerk solution that doesn’t reflect the unique needs and conditions of an individual. 

Exercising more and eating less for a long period of time, with a lack of results is one of the biggest reasons most people quit exercising and eating clean.  

I don’t blame anyone for quitting the tactics that aren’t working.  And to be clear, “dieting,” or feeling deprived will never bring you long term fat loss success.  

Exercise WILL absolutely make your life better on every level.  It will help you look better, feel better and perform better in every aspect of your life.  That said, exercise alone is not a great weight loss strategy.  Done right however, exercise IS an excellent strategy for fat loss, maintenance, and increased vitality. 

Have you heard this? “Abs are made in the kitchen.”  You’ve probably also read or heard, “Nutrition is king.”  Both are true statements, but they are both incomplete statements.  Nothing in life happens by itself and only influences itself.  It’s easier to eat healthy when we are moving regularly.  We feel better, think better, sleep better and gain more momentum (love this word) to live vibrantly when we move with intention every day.  

COVID is hanging around but most of us are more than ready to get on with our lives again.  And unfortunately, the average weight gain in 2020 and into 2021 has been 29 pounds.1  That’s only the average!  We spend more on the ward on fat than the war on terror $44.7 billion was budgeted for U.S. Homeland Security in 2014 but about $60 billion was spent on fighting fat.2

One of the strongest predictors of premature death and risk factor for most chronic diseases today is obesity.  Obesity and inflammation go hand in hand.  In fact, the two feed into each other.  Obesity is undoubtedly scientifically confirmed as one of the main comorbidities linked with COVID-19 for ALL ages of people as well.3 The good news is that although obesity may run in your family, your genetics only have 15% influence over your life outcomes.4  Your daily actions tell your body which genes to turn “ON” and “OFF,” meaning your choices can change your outcomes.  

A large landmark study comparing the prevalence of Type II diabetes, prediabetes and obesity in Pima Indians living in the US, in a more “affluent” environment with Pima Indians living in Mexico living the traditional lifestyle.  Researchers in this study found that despite the very similar genetic predisposition to type II diabetes and other chronic disease conditions, the traditional lifestyle characterized by a diet including more complex carbohydrates, and greater energy expenditure in physical labor seemed to protect against obesity, type II diabetes and other chronic lifestyle related diseases.5

Here’s the thing, many of you are making (what we’ve been told are) the right choices, but you may not be seeing and feeling results.  If you’re struggling with losing fat, the worst thing you can do to yourself is allow shame to keep you paralyzed from acting and falling into a downward spiral. There are several valid reasons why you may be struggling to lose fat that are not because you are not working hard enough.  

Here are 7 overlooked factors that contribute to fat loss resistance, and solutions that could help you get unstuck.   

1. EXERCISING MORE AND EATING LESS IS AN INEFFECTIVE, LONG-TERM FAT LOSS STRATEGY

Exercise is the engine that drives your health, wellness, and a long vibrant life.

The metabolic effects of exercise are unquestionable.  But the American culture continues to believe if something is good, a LOT of it is better.

Starting an exercise program and then cutting way back on your calories will cause you to lose “weight” quickly but for only a short period of time.  Your metabolism will quickly adjust and stop the weight loss.  AND the weight you lose will NOT be mostly fat.  You will lose a little fat, but you’ll lose more muscle.

Here’s the thing you need to know and accept. EVERY diet you go on will work for the first week or so.  You will lose weight, but you’ll lose water weight first, then some muscle and then some fat.

If you were on a sinking ship, you’d throw the heaviest stuff off the ship first to slow the ship from sinking.  Right?  Your body gets rid of the most expensive material first if it thinks you’re at risk of starving. That expensive material is muscle.

SOLUTION

Many people who want to lose weight come to Mo-Mentum Fitness expecting to start an exercise program and simultaneously be guided to cut back on calories.  But that’s not what we do here.

The part of our brain that’s in charge of our body composition (how much fat, muscle, the thickness of your bones and more) doesn’t speak a human language.

It speaks metabolism and your metabolism speaks caveman/cavewoman. Humans only have one mechanism wired in our metabolism to lose fat, and several mechanisms to gain weight.  This is because for most of our existence on Earth, starvation has been the biggest threat to humans.  This is not true today, but our metabolism was so 200 years ago.

Our metabolism doesn’t understand that we can order fast food from our couch today.  It only understands that exercising more and eating less means there’s a threat that we are moving towards starvation. Your metabolism responds to this input by conserving energy (storing fat), releasing hormonal signals that make you feel hungry, and burning muscle.

To successfully lose fat and keep it off without living a miserable existence, we must start communicating with our metabolism like a cavewoman/man.  This means we need to exercise at varying intensities every day.  The good news is that you can start with simply walking, personal training, yoga, and Pilates classes.  It’s best to exercise at varying intensities and to move more throughout your day. We can do this by walking more, taking the stairs, carrying your groceries to your car and fidgeting.  My favorite!  No more punishing anyone for not sitting still!

Next is to eat enough healthy, nutrient dense food to fuel our bodies.

Our metabolism is more like a thermostat than a calculator.  It doesn’t work linearly. Meaning, if I eat less and exercise more that should equal weight loss.  But your metabolism has a “set weight.”  It doesn’t want to lose a lot of fat, but it’s always okay gaining a bit more.  Our metabolism thinks about fat like we think about money.  More is better.  We’ve got to gradually reset your thermostat each month to a lower setting. This way you lose fat and keep it off for the long term.

Eating high quality, nutrient dense foods and eliminating processed foods so that you are eating clean at least 80% of the time and no-so-clean 20% of the time, is a good place to start.  Dieting doesn’t work unless you are creating a diet you can sustain.  Finding the right diet for your body, lifestyle and goals requires professional guidance, patience, and time.

2. YOUR “INPUT” IS SIGNALLING YOUR BRAIN TO SEND FAT STORING HORMONES, NOT FAT LOSS HORMONES

Hormones impact all of your physiology. When you eat, your release hormones and those hormones determine which fuel you burn (fat, or sugar).  These same hormones also determine where fat is stored.

READ THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE AGAIN PLEASE.

What you eat determines which hormones are released in your body, which fuel you burn, and when you are hungry again.

What you eat matters. A calorie is NOT just a calorie. How many calories does sleep have? How many calories does stress have?

The hormones you release directly impact:

  • How hungry you feel from hour to hour and day to day.
  • How satisfied you feel after a meal.
  • Your cravings
  • Where you store fat
  • How much fat your burn
  • What fuel you burn (fat, sugar, ketones)
  • Your mood
  • Your focus
  • Your sleep
  • Your motivation
  • Your overall energy
  • Your overall health

SOLUTION

Eat whole, natural foods that are filled with nutrients 80% or more of the time.  Whole foods send messages to your body that it can understand.  Highly processed foods like McDonald’s and Twinkies, send messages that tell our bodies we are starving.  Those foods deliver no nutrients, and they make us hungrier. Humans were designed to eat whole, real food.

3. YOU ARE CHRONICALLY STRESSED

Increased stress levels also lead to accumulation of belly fat.  Chronic stressors like frustration at work, too much sitting, too much time spent with negative people, lack of self-care, and no outlets for personal expression, build up and over time take a toll on your body, mind and spirit.  It’s important to understand that you can gain fat by eating your way there AND by stressing your way there, or a combination of both.

SOLUTION

In addition to your fitness program, make time for hobbies, walks on the beach, and for friends and family who fill your soul.  You must make mindfulness as important as your fitness and nutrition.

We have good stress and bad stress in our lives, and we need both to thrive.  However, too much stress is too much stress.  This means after a hard day at work, you may need to take it easier in your workout.  And that’s okay because moving your body is most important.

Walking slowly, and especially out in nature, is one of the best ways to regulate cortisol levels.  I’m not talking about walking in place of your exercise routine.  I mean walking slowly and enjoying your walk-in addition to your exercise program.

Becoming more mindful of your own stress levels and giving yourself grace is much more than taking time to take a bath or get your toes done.  Mindfulness is essential for your longevity.  It’s putting taking care of yourself first so you can be better for the people you love most in your life.  Mindfulness is taking a day off to rest and recover after a long project or during a long-term stressful situation.  Mindfulness is going to bed early so your body can recover from the daily stresses of life.  It is taking the time to seek therapy to help you navigate through difficult life circumstances.

Mindfulness is choosing what BIG ROCKS you want to focus on in your life and having the courage to let the other rocks go for a while.

Mindfulness is the solution for handling stress in our lives better and for helping our bodies let go of fat.  If we allow stress to run our lives, we will not lose weight.  Stress is inevitable and most of our stress today is produced more from our perception of that stress more than the stressor itself.  I’m talking to myself here too!

Make mindfulness an essential part of your fat loss and vibrant life journey!

4. YOU MAY BE OVER EXERCISING

We’ve covered this a bit already. But just to make it clear.  Generally, overexerting involves exercising at high intensities more than 75-90 minutes for 5 or more days a week.

Exercise is a short-lived stressor and a powerful means of adaptation.  People who exercise more, tend to be more stress resistant.  However, people who over-exercise can over-secrete cortisol and other stress hormones.

Cortisol in the brain creates changes in brain chemistry that can cause you to crave certain foods.  Many people who over-train tend to have an insatiable hunger.

If you over-exercise, especially long duration cardiovascular exercise, your weight loss efforts can backfire.  Over-exercising has the exact same hormonal effects as sleep deprivation.  Both will make you leptin resistant and raise ghrelin (a hunger hormone) increasing your cravings for “comfort-type foods,” and making you insatiably hungry.

Over-exercising can also, eventually create insulin resistance. This can cause you to lose muscle mass.  If you think you may be over-exercising, one way to tell is that you will hold more water in your face and body. You’ll appear “puffy.”  Your moods will be unstable, and you’ll be easily irritated.  Over-exercising also disrupts your sleep and ability to focus.

SOLUTION

Short-intense bouts of exercise less than 60-minutes (not exact number), seems to not to be so detrimental as far as cortisol and compensatory overeating are concerned.  Leisurely walking, lighter yoga, and Tai Chi are helpful for managing cortisol levels.

I’m not saying that long duration cardio is bad, just limit it to one or 2 times per week if it’s something you love to do.  If you’re training for an event, make sure to give yourself more recovery time and activities.

For individuals who are overtrained, your metabolism isn’t responding in a healthy manner.  To change this, move to a little more traditional resistance training for a period of time to ease up the stress on the metabolism.  By traditional resistance training I mean that you lift heavier weights with long rest periods between bouts.  It’s always better to get help from a world class professional to help you with your form and figuring out what’s too heavy and not heavy enough to produce the best transformation for your body.

Remember ALL the best athletes in the world have coaches.  Even if you’re level of fitness is advanced, it’s wise to get a coach to ensure you’re training in ways that make you stronger for life and not breaking yourself down.

 

 

 

 

 

5. YOU ARE SLEEP DEPRIVED

People who sleep less than seven hours a night regularly have higher levels of stress hormones, which will raise your desire to eat comfort foods and more food in general.

Although we’ve gotten a bit better, our culture today still rewards and idolizes people who burn the candle at both ends.  Research data continues to build a mountain of data showing the unquestionable detrimental effects sleep deprivation has on fat loss and on our overall health in every way.

SOLUTION

Make sleeping between 7.5 and 9 hours every night a priority in your life.  If you’ve been chronically sleep deprived, you’ll need to ease into sleeping more.

Create a bedtime routine.

Several years ago, I made sleep a priority.  It took me about a year of gradually changing each month to consistently get 7.5-9 hours of sleep a night.  I started by setting an alarm on my phone to go off every night at 8pm, this triggered me to stop working and to start my bedtime routine.  I generally give myself about an hour and half to get my food and my clothes ready for the next day, take a warm bath, journal, and read a book before falling to sleep.  I keep the lights down low, and I stay away from social media, news, and television during my bedtime routine. This consistent routine sends the message to my body that I’m going to bed.  I generally don’t eat for at least 2 to 3 hours before bed either, so my body is ready to release lots of growth hormone and repair itself for the next day. 6 

6. YOU ARE SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME WITH THE WRONG PEOPLE

Jim Rohn said it well, “You Are the Average of The Five People You Spend the Most Time With.

There may be people in your life who will be uncomfortable with your progress because it makes them more aware of their own lack of evolution. When you start to lose weight, your friends and family members who used to overindulge with you may feel the loss of their indulging accomplice.  We call this Crabs in a bucket mentality.7

They may unconsciously attempt to delay your progress with comments like, “just one time won’t hurt you,” or “you’re no fun to hang out with anymore.”

SOLUTION

Surround yourself with a supportive group of people who are also working on transforming their lives through exercise, eating clean, and mindfulness.  This may not necessarily be some of your family and friends, and that’s okay. This is one of the most important reasons Mo-Mentum Fitness is here.  We are a tribe of people on a path to getting 1% better every day!

7. YOUR FITNESS AND DIET PROGRAM ARE LACKING GUIDANCE

Regular exercise and eating clean are conscious lifestyle choices, requiring consistency and discipline.  The wrong kind of exercise and diet for your body won’t release hormones that tell your body to burn fat efficiently. This may even release hormones that tell your body you are in distress and to store fat, as well as decrease energy and motivation.

To lose weight and keep it off, you must change your lifestyle permanently. Weight loss doesn’t have to feel miserable.  You are not bad because you gained some fat, you are simply human.  Trying to force yourself into a routine that works well for your friend who lost 30 pounds doesn’t mean it will work for you.

Starting a vegan diet may work for you, or it might make you want to stick your head in an oven.  Please don’t do that.

Going keto may work or may not.   You won’t know until you try it out.

However, first create a home base eating plan that fits into your life, and helps you lose fat and keep it off. You want something that makes you feel more energetic and alive! This is absolutely possible. The best way to create a lifestyle transformation that works for you is to work with a professional.  It will save you time, frustration, and keep you accountable.

This is no small feat, and there is no quick-fix approach. Reading a handful of books and articles is not enough.

SOLUTION

We have WORLD-CLASS, INCREDIBLE coaches and trainers here at Mo-Mentum Fitness to help you navigate through the real-life obstacles that pop up while you’re changing your lifestyle.  Your trainer will guide you toward better nutritional and dietary choices, while also tailoring a fitness program that combines the best of both cardiovascular, and strength training to achieve your weight loss goals, as well as your personality and your body’s needs.

You may feel stuck right now, but don’t give up on yourself. At Mo-Mentum Fitness, we will help you.  You’re not supposed to figure out how to exercise enough, or correctly without injuring yourself.  You’re not supposed to figure out how to eat to lose fat and keep your muscle, as well as transform your lifestyle all on your own. This is a setup for bumps in the road to your success. You need world-class, passionate coaches, and a tribe of like-minded people behind you. We’ve got all of that here at Mo-Mentum Fitness. You’re not alone! We will help you succeed on your fitness journey no matter your starting point.

 

References

  1. Bethune, Sophie. “One Year on: Unhealthy Weight Gains, Increased Drinking Reported by Americans Coping with Pandemic Stress.” American Psychology Association, 11 Mar. 2021, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2021/03/one-year-pandemic-stress
  2. Marketdata Enterprises Inc. “The U.S. Weight Loss Market: 2014 Status Report & Forecast.” Market Data Enterprises, 4 Feb. 2014, www.marketdataenterprises.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Diet-Market-2014-Status-Report.pdf. 
  3. CDC. “Certain Medical Conditions and Risk for Severe Covid-19 Illness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 May 2021, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html.
  4. Bray G. A. Risks of obesity. Primary care, 30(2), 281–vi. 30 June 2003, https://doi.org/10.1016/s0095-4543(03)00008-3
  5. Ravussin, Eric, et al. “Effects of a Traditional Lifestyle on Obesity in Pima Indians.” Diabetes Care, American Diabetes Association, 1 Sept. 1994, care.diabetesjournals.org/content/17/9/1067.
  6. Harvard Medical School. “How Sleep Loss Threatens Your Health.”Harvard Health, 9 Mar. 2010, health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/how-sleep-loss-threatens-your-health.
  7. McCloud, Melody T. “Crabs in a Barrel Syndrome: Will It Ever End?” Psychology Today, 21 Mar. 2011, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/black-womens-health-and-happiness/201103/crabs-in-barrel-syndrome-will-it-ever-end.
Amanda Mittleman

Amanda Mittleman

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