So, your goal is fat loss but no matter how hard you try you just can’t seem to get any leaner. Why not, you wonder? You’re ‘dieting’ and training harder, so what’s going on?
Fat loss – not to be mistaken with weight loss – is a common goal but it’s way harder to achieve than it sounds. That is, unless you really know what you’re doing. Take a look at these eight reasons for why you might not be hitting your targets and what you can do to change this … you may be surprised.
1. You’re just not moving enough
The reason we recommend our members track their steps as well as their workouts is because to burn more calories people generally need to move more. Many people’s lifestyles are very sedentary these days – for most this means sitting at a desk all day – and this affects our energy requirements.
Many people claim to have slow metabolisms but in the majority of cases this simply isn’t true. The problem is more often than not a lack of movement throughout the day. Regardless of how many times a week you go to the gym a general lack of movement will result in lower energy (calorie) expenditure.
To explain the science behind this, your energy requirements are made up of your basal metabolic rate (BMR), plus the thermic effect of food (TEF) that you eat, your exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT) and your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
Your BMR is the total number of calories that your body needs to perform basic, life-sustaining functions, including circulation, breathing, cell production, nutrient processing, protein synthesis, and ion transport. It makes up the chunk of your metabolism and accounts for around 60-70 per cent in most people.
The TEF is the amount of energy required to digest and process the food you eat. Research shows that it accounts for approximately 10 percent of total daily energy expenditure.
Your EAT is basically intentional exercise. The number of calories you burn depends on the type of exercises you perform, for example strength training burns fewer calories than running for the same amount of time. For most people their EAT accounts for around 10-15 percent of their calorie expenditure – which is why it’s nearly impossible to out-train your diet!
Your NEAT is the part that can easily throw you off course. It makes up between 15-50 per cent of your total energy expenditure, depending on how active you are. This can make a big difference to how many calories you burn and therefore how many you need to take on board. If your NEAT is low it makes achieving a calorie deficit very difficult, therefore making fat loss almost impossible.
But not completely impossible. Where there’s a will, there’s a way … or more to the point, where there’s an understanding of what you need to do to change this, there’s a way.
Your NEAT is essentially prescribed by all the non-intentional exercise, or movement, you do during the day. And one of the easiest ways to increase this movement is to track your steps and set yourself a daily target. A good starting point is to aim for 10,000 steps a day.
“I’m busy, so how can I fit this in?” you might ask. Well, the answer is, park the car a little further from work each day, take the stairs instead of the lift, get up from your desk and move around every 30 minutes, talk a walk at lunchtime, take the dog for a longer walk when you get home, get out and run around with the kids, and so on. The possibilities are endless, you just need to think it through and get creative. The key is simply to build more movement into your day, every day.
2. You’ve been led to believe that ‘healthy’ foods are low in calories
It’s easy to get sucked in by the marketing hype used by ‘healthy’ food companies. You would not be alone in thinking that a salad contains no calories or a cereal bar contains no sugar … but you would probably be wrong.
It’s always worth checking the packaging of anything you eat so that you’re not being ‘tricked’ into consuming extra calories. That pre-packaged salad from Waitrose may well contain a whole load more calories than you think and those cereal bars are possibly loaded with sugar, depending on what brand you choose.
Something else to watch out for on the calorie front is the number of calories in ‘healthy’ foods such as nut butters, dried fruit and nuts. Whilst these can be deemed as healthy options, they’re often super high in calories due to the heavy fat and sugar content.
If you are going to eat nut butters as a snack – they are great with fruit – make sure you use portion control by weighing out your portion. Weighing your portions is necessary anyway if you are keeping track of your calorie intake.
If you are eating nuts it is always said that a handful is fine but some people’s handful is way larger than others! Just be aware of these kinds of pitfalls and exercise caution when eating ‘healthy’ snacks and foods.
3. You’re simply consuming too many calories
This sounds too good to be true, right? But ineffective fat loss can come down to something as simple as eating too much.
Don’t get sucked into the belief that by cutting out certain food groups, such as carbs, you can eat as much fat and protein as you like and still lose body fat because this is false. All food groups contain calories and they all count, whatever their source.
Many people think they are eating less calories than they actually are, so getting results might be as simple as finding out how many calories you really eat and then reducing this number. You could do this by reducing portion sizes, changing the kinds of foods that you are eating, and/or snacking less.
To control your calorie intake you firstly need to know how many you are consuming – read the labels, weigh food portions – and then start tracking them. Write down the number of calories in each meal in a diary or use an app that will track them for you.
Another pitfall to watch out for is being good all week and then undoing the good work at the weekends. It can be something as simple as ‘treating’ yourself at the weekend that destroys your weekly calorie deficit, which is what you are aiming for. Another reason to track your calories and keep on top of what you are eating.
4. You’re concentrating on the number on the scales too much
Weight fluctuations on the scales can be misleading and disheartening at times but the good news is that the number you see isn’t necessarily the best metric to measure your fat loss progress by.
Instead of focusing on the number on the scales, concentrate on body measurements, progress photos and performance in the gym, for example strength gains. These are all far more reliable metrics to track changes in your body composition.
When you are trying to get lean you need to lose body fat rather than weight, and your actual weight – the number you see on the scales – is made up of fat, muscle, bone, organs, water, and so on. Therefore, your weight can be affected by a number of factors, such as menstruation, time of day, hormones, water retention, etcetera.
Some people get too caught up in weighing themselves and this actually causes a detrimental effect as stress increases the production of cortisol in the body, which increases water retention, which in turn increases weight. And so, a dangerous cycle begins.
If you decide you want to use the scales to track your fat loss there are certain factors that are important to remember. Firstly, there are differences between men and women and the way in which they should read the numbers.
For women, the menstrual cycle can cause weight fluctuations from day to day. This can be frustrating, not only because it makes it harder to see whether you’re making progress but also because it can take its toll mentally. Often it can result in women making changes to their diet to try and counteract the fluctuations, for example by cutting calories further, or by switching diet plans – which we do not recommend (we discuss consistency a bit later on).
So, to combat this frustration and mis-interpretation of numbers, we recommend tracking your weight every week but comparing the results once a month – at the same time every month. Pick an ‘anchor week’ – for women this should be the week your menstrual cycle starts. Compare your weight from the anchor weeks to see whether you have made progress.
To get your weekly weight we recommend taking a weekly average. Your weight will fluctuate daily for a number of reasons – water retention, how stressed you feel, what time you ate your last meal, how much sleep you got the night before, and so on.
To get a weekly average weight yourself at the same time of day 3-5 times a week and then work out the average weight by adding up the total weight and dividing that number by the number of times you weighed yourself, for example:
Day 1 – 141lbs
Day 2 – 140.3lbs
Day 3 – 141.2lbs
Day 4 – 139lbs
Total – 561.5lbs divided by 4 = 140.4lbs
Weekly average – 140.4lbs
But make sure you don’t get hooked up on the numbers alone – use the monthly weight comparison alongside your progress photos and body measurements to get a complete picture.
5. You haven’t set the right goals
Goal-setting is an important part of any fat loss mission. Without goals you have nothing to aim for and it’s easy to veer off-course.
But how do you set your goal? It needs to be specific. Just saying you want to drop some fat or get lean is too vague and therefore you have no actual targets to hit. A better goal would be to state how much body fat you want to lose in a specific amount of time, for example “I want to lose 16lbs of body fat in 12 weeks, so I look good on holiday!”.
You have set a target weight, an achievable time scale and a reason. You can break down your overall goal into smaller target chunks. Aim to hit smaller goals every week, and even break them down further into daily goals, such as hitting your target number of steps that we discussed earlier.
Hitting daily or weekly targets will make you feel good and boost your confidence and belief that you can achieve your ultimate goal.
6. You’re not consistent enough
Consistency is key. There is no quick fix and if you expect this you will end up feeling disappointed. Getting lean takes time … and commitment.
Being consistent means not only sticking to your exercise programme but also sticking to your diet plan. Skipping from one ‘diet’ to another because you are not seeing results will not help. We are here to help you with your diet and nutrition but ultimately it is up to you to create your own plan that you will stick to.
It’s so easy in today’s digital world to go online, read about a new amazing diet craze and decide to give it a go. All too often we hear from clients who have tried every fad diet they can find but never stuck to one thing for more than a couple of weeks.
We do not advocate fad ‘diets’ and we definitely do not suggest switching tactics just because you don’t see immediate results. It is important to work out the right plan for you and your body as everyone’s body reacts differently to different foods and different plans.
As part of the process of being consistent you will get to know your body and what it reacts well to. Once you have a meal plan in place it’s also important to be consistent in your exercise. You know those weekly goals you set? Well, now you need to hit them and keep going until you reach your ultimate target.
With consistency will come habit. The people who get in shape and stay in shape are those who make manageable changes to their lifestyle and stick to them.
7. You’re not patient enough
Patience goes hand in hand with consistency. If you’re not patient it’s unlikely that you’ll be consistent either. Getting lean or working on a body transformation is not a quick or easy task. Both require time, determination, hard work and patience by the bucket-load.
That’s not to say you won’t see any results within the first few weeks, because you will if you stick to your plan and stay consistent but you won’t hit your ultimate goal overnight.
The patience pitfall that often stops people in their tracks is actually seeing a big initial result but then feeling like progress has slowed or even stopped. When you first start a diet and training plan you’re probably going to feel super-motivated and experience considerable fat loss but this may give you a false sense of how things will progress over the next few weeks or months.
When progress slows down – which inevitably it will – you might feel disheartened and inclined to give up. Don’t! Just be patient and keep going. Remember you’re not on some crazy fad diet that will make you lean in days, this is a journey and patience will help you make changes that are sustainable in the long-run.
Most of us are used to immediate gratification these days, what with one-click purchases and next day delivery, but when it comes to getting lean a little delayed gratification is a necessary evil that must be learned.
Eating that tasty pizza might feel good when you get in from work and you’re tired and don’t want to cook but it won’t bring you any closer to achieving your goals and in the long run you won’t feel good at all. On the other hand, eating the healthy low calorie meal that you prepared before work will help you on your fat loss journey and when you see the results in a few weeks time it will feel way better than all the pizzas in the pizza shop.
The other key to being patient is actually working out how fast you should expect to ‘get lean’ or lose fat (back to goal specifics again). The answer depends on how much fat you have to lose. The higher your body fat levels when you start, the faster you can expect to lose it. The leaner you are when you start your journey the slower the rate of loss will be in order to maintain strength and minimise muscle loss.
For these reasons we use percentages to work out what your rate of loss should be. Generally speaking, we set fat loss targets of between 0.5 – 1 per cent of your total bodyweight per week. This rate of loss will ensure that you get enough calories and therefore energy to function during the day and in the gym.
The benefit of using percentages is that it scales with your bodyweight and as you start to get leaner the amount of fat you need to lose will automatically adjust. So, patience is required as you progress as your rate of loss may look less and progress seem slower.
8. You don’t have any accountability or the right support
One of the best ways to reach your goals is to be held accountable to them. While setting a goal and trying to achieve it solo is commendable it’s not all that sensible as you are far less likely to reach it.
Let’s face it, it’s human nature to want to be part of a group and if we surround ourselves with like-minded, supportive people we are much more likely to achieve anything we set our minds to.
We have already talked about how to set your goal – be specific – so once that’s done who are you going to tell about it? Tell your friends, tell your family, and tell us.
At Performance Project we are here to support you with whatever goal you choose to set. And it’s not just our trainers who are supportive but our whole community of members. Physically surround yourself with supportive people by working out with them in the gym and also find your tribe online.
We have a members’ page on Facebook where you will see plenty of support and encouragement going on but there are also lots of online fitness communities on Facebook and Instagram offering support.
Our clients regularly achieve their goals because they are held accountable by us and offered the right kind of help, continuous support and encouragement.