So you think you’re doing everything right. You’re at the gym, you’re eating ‘clean’. Maybe you even saw some progress, only hit a wall and be stuck. Maybe you even started putting it back on. Here are some very basic (and easy to fix) reasons that you may be stuck in your fat-loss goals. As always, I never encourage fat loss as a primary goal if done at the expense of your overall well-being and health. Crash Diets are not what I’m about. When you’re body is in balance, and getting properly nourished from real food, weight management becomes a naturally occurring side effect. These are not theoretical. These are all things I’ve experienced first hand in my own tinkering (lucky me). I know how impactful each of these things can be, I’ve seen it in my own life and the lives of those I work with. I wouldn’t waste my time typing this, or your time reading it, otherwise.

1. You’re still eating gluten-filled and refined foods every few days or once a week.

Didn’t you learn anything from my inflammation test? Come on guys, I put myself through hell for you! Just kidding, you know I love you. The truth of the matter is, that if you’re having gluten foods and refined sugar/processed foods on the weekend, you’re probably sitting on some chronic inflammation. I think it’s funny when people tell me they’re ‘mostly gluten free’, except on the weekends, or except for beers, or except for their daily cookie. That’s like saying you’re ‘sort of’ pregnant’. You either are or you’re not. I’m not saying I expect everyone to be free of these foods forever. Maybe gluten free isn’t even necessary for you (although I have yet to find someone who didn’t feel better after removing it, but I digress). If you’re not intolerant, have Celiac’s disease or have an actual allergy to gluten, you probably will have gluten at some point again in your life and it won’t kill you. It may not even bother you. However, if you’re trying to get lean, you’ve got to reduce inflammation as much as possible for the time being and that means cutting these foods that damage your gut, cause cravings, bloat, inflammation and spike your blood sugar. This means nix the gluten. Remove it all for three weeks and see how you fare.

2. You haven’t cut out alcohol.

I don’t care what the skinny model for your low-cal-rita says. If you want to lose body fat you MUST at some point, for some period of time, cut out alcohol. All alcohol. This is non-negotiable. Low carb, low sugar, paleo, not paleo, whatever. Booze has got to go. It’s just how it is. Sorry. Alcohol impairs your bodies ability to metabolize stored fat because of it’s high level of toxicity and the immense burden it puts on your liver. You stunt your livers ability to metabolize stored fat for up to 72 hours when you drink (until the booze is out of your system). It’s empty sugar with zero nutrition. It makes you feel like shit the next day. It makes you make poor food choices, and crap out on your workout the next day. Stop being a baby, just cut it out for 21 days and see. It’s not going to ruin your life or make you a social pariah. If this is all you do, you will probably (quickly) see that last excess fat fall away. If I could get all of my clients to do one thing – this would be it. Does red wine contain antioxidants? Sure. So do grapes. So do vegetables. Nice try, Ace. If I could get everyone who asks me how to lose body fat to just cut booze for 21 days, my job would be 100x easier. It’s the simplest step that yields the biggest return, yet it’s the one no one wants to do.

3. You’re dehydrated.
Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one. I can’t tell you how often people want to break down their food, their macros, their protein powders. Find little tricks and cheats. Biohack. Do all this weird shit and then I ask “how much water do you drink?”, only to receive  BLANK stare in return. You MUST BE DRINKING WATER! Extra weight is most often a symptom of something else being out of balance, and water is critical for allowing things to work the way they should. It moistens the air you breath, in transport nutrients, it supports your immune system, it keeps your GI tract moving properly, it flushes out toxins, it keeps cells communicating with each other, and here’s a biggie for weight control: the boys can often mistake hunger for thirst. Before you start doing anything crazy to shed the ‘last five pounds’ start with drinking mineral-rich water. 1/2 of your body weight in oz is a good goal…but don’t jump right to it and don’t chug it all at once. Drink (sip) to thirst throughout the day.

4. You’re not sleeping.
People love to have reasons they can’t get enough sleep. Kids, jobs, life, whatever. Why are you trying to excuse away sleep? Sleep is awesome! Ya know what sleep also is? CRITICAL. Our overall lack of sleep is being associated with things from the obesity rates, infertility (sperm count in men specifically), social disorders, the rise in psychological disorders and chronic disease… How could this be? Well, we all decided that we’ll sleep when we’re dead because literally everything else is more important.  Forget the fact that sleep is where we repair not only physically, but psychologically. That will power you need tomorrow to make good decisions about your food choices? You need that. Those muscles you’re building that will help increase your metabolic rate? Yup. Sleep. Sleep is also where detoxification happens. In the course of your nights sleep, your liver is kicking into gear and detoxifying all the nasty stuff that got into your body that day. It’s breaking down and getting rid of excess hormones. It’s getting you back into balance. Sleep is crucial for overall health, but plays a major role in your ability to stay lean and lose fat. You must be in balance to burn fat efficiently. You must sleep to be in balance. You must PRIORITIZE 7-8 hours per night. Yes, that’s hard with kids and a job. Hard does not mean impossible. Do your best, but make it a top priority.

5. You’re not eating enough.
This is easily one of the most common issues I have with my clients. ESPECIALLY my ladies. It’s not all your fault, either. We’ve been told over and over and over that we should be afraid of calories and everything we eat is going to make us fat. That if we’re not hungry, we’re not doing it right. Do you really think your body is calculating your calories in and calories out? Oh, she ate 3500 calories…time to add a pound of fat! NO! Our body work in nutrients, vitamins and minerals, not calorie counting. The truth of the matter is, that in order for your body to be able to let go of and metabolize that stored fat, it needs to feel fed. It needs to not feel starved. Why? Well, when it’s starved, it holds on to anything it can to make sure it’s going to have some fuel to survive the famine you’re putting it through. This is particularly true for those of us who exercise regularly. Under fed and over trained is a recipe for stalled fat loss. Make your goal three real meals a day, with carbs fat and protein. Try to avoid bird pecking every hour. Pay attention and eat until you’re satiated. No longer hungry for the next bite (not stuffed to the brim!). Want proof? I lost 10 lbs of FAT in 30 days eating almost 2000 calories a day. Seriously. And I didn’t count a single god damn one. Do calories matter? Yes. To a degree. You can’t eat entire cows and four pound of sweet potatoes and expect to get lean. Where they come from, and their quality, however, matters much much more.

6. You’re not eating enough carbs.
Since I don’t have the patience to rattle off why you may need to be eating more carbs, especially if your a woman, and even more so if you’re an active one, I’m just going to direct you here and here. The bottom line is, low carb can be a great tool. It can work wonders for health and for fat loss. The problem is when we go too low, for too long, we can really fuck shit up. If you have been low carb for a long time, and are either not seeing results or are starting to feel like crap and maybe even rapidly GAIN, the answer may not be to low carb harder. The answer may be to eat a bowl of rice. I suggest reading my previous posts on the subject.

7. You’re not lifting weights
We all know that muscle weighs more than fat, but did you know that muscle also burns more energy than fat? 5.9 calories per day vs 2 calories per day, per pound, respectively. We focus a lot on WEIGHT loss, when we should be focusing on FAT loss. Building muscle is a critical aspect of manipulating your body composition and getting rid of that flat tire around your waist. Not only does lean muscle mass burn more calories when you’re not even working out, but it provides more storage space for glycogen (our stored glucose/energy). The more storage space there is, the less there is leftover to be stored as body fat. Lifting weights also helps to flush out excess estrogen, which is a major factor in many women who have difficulty losing fat, especially around the hips and thighs. Add weight training (HEAVY weights, not 5 pounders for 700 reps) a few times a week and watch your bod change.

8. Your hormones are out of whack.
Hormones play a major role in the body’s ability to burn stored fat: Leptin, Insulin, Cortisol, and Estrogen to name a few. When it comes to hormones, it’s not about ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s about balance. Take cortisol. It’s a hot word right now. Cortisol is a stress-response hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands. It signals the body to get ready to jump into action. It triggers the release of stored glycogen. It even triggers the use of stored body fat for energy. It raises the heart rate. It acts as an anti-oxidant. That all sounds great, right? The issue arises when Cortisol is elevated constantly for extended periods of time, or elevated at the wrong time (as in, at night, when it should be low so you can get yo ass to sleep), it starts to trigger the body to hang on to stored fat because hey, we’re in a crisis over here! A common sign of chronically elevated cortisol is belly fat. A common problem area. This isn’t a matter of 1000 crunches or running 72 miles, or even dieting your way to a six pack. This, now, is about lifestyle. You’ve got to manage your stress. You’ve got to take rest days. You’ve got to sleep. These things all need to happen in order to get cortisol back in balance. Leptin and Insulin are also major players when it comes to, not only appetite and satiety, but the ability access stored fat for energy. Leptin (a hormone actually secreted by fat cells) plays a major role in telling the brain ‘hey, put the fork down…you’re full’, but it has also been shown to effect the ability to adapt to fasting periods. Insulin is the storage hormone. It is produced by the pancreas and signals the removal of glucose from the blood stream into the muscles to be stored as glycogen, and furthermore the storage of any excess as adipose tissue (body fat). These two hormones (leptin and insulin) are critical to control when it comes to weight management. Insulin can be controlled by following a low-glycemic / low-star approach to keep blood sugar levels in check. When it come stop leptin, we want to avoid ‘leptin resistance’ and keep that ‘you’re full’ signal going when it’s supposed to. We can do this by avoiding long period of fasting, keeping fructose intake to a minimum (fructose can directly block leptin receptors), and keeping food intake to an appropriate level (not too much, not too little. Read more here at the PaleoMom.com.

9. You’re too worried about losing 5 lbs

I know i sound like a broken record, but the more you stress, the harder it’s going to be to get lean. Your body doesn’t know you’re stressed about the scale. It just knows you’re stressed. Stress does not lead to fat loss. It leads to adrenal wipe out and chubby bellies. When you’re so focused on losing fat or hitting a weight goal, it makes that goal harder. It also makes you more likely to give up. To feel like you’re not getting there, get frustrated, say ‘fuck it’, and wake up two days later face down in a bowl of cookie dough. Try focusing on an aspect of your health that will help get your to your goal. Are you trying to lose stubborn belly fat (commonly due to chronically elevated cortisol)? Focus on stress reduction and sleep. Have some hormone issues? Liver and detoxification support like healthy fats, sulfur veggies, and increased fiber. I find when I focus on the root health concern and stop concentrating on my end AESTHETIC goal, I reach that goal much more quickly (and easily). Pressures off, stress is down, body is happy.

10. You don’t have 5 lbs to lose.

This is one of the more popular road blocks that I’m not going to help you with. Your body ay be happy and healthy where it’s at. I recently sat with someone to discuss nutritional coaching. When I asked them their goals, weight loss was #1. Above all things. They had tried numerous diets, and were intrigued by Paleo because of its weight-loss potential. They wanted to lose 10 lbs. The thing is, this person didn’t really have 10 lbs to lose. While I could help them build muscle, get healthy, and likely get a little bit leaner, there weren’t 10 lbs of fat to safely drop in a healthy manner. This is where my help stops. My job is to get people healthy, not to help anyone Diet down to an unsafe place. Sadly, we see images of extremely lean, thin people every day, and we are conditioned to believe that not only is it a good idea, but a near requirement to look that way, too.  There comes a point where we need to try to realize that our bodies are doing their best. Sometimes we get stuck in the circle of never being enough. We lose 10 lbs, think we look great for a day, then suddenly decide we need to lose more. We are never satisfied. There comes a point where enough is enough. Where now the work you need to do is not on your body, but on your mind. To learn to accept and love your body for what it can do. If we can’t find that place, we’ll never stop trying to change it.

Resources and further reading:

Chris Kresser, Are You an Under-Eater?
The Paleo Mom, The Link Between Sleep and Your Weight
Bodybuilding.com, How Alcohol Hinders Fat Loss
Robb Wolf, No Alcohol 30 Day Challenge
Poliquin Institute, Ten Reasons Everybody Should Strength Train
Robb Wolf, Females, Carbohydrates, and Hormones