Very often weight loss is described as the simple task of being in a caloric deficit over an extended period of time. Sounds simple right? For the most part, it is that simple. However our bodies are very smart. Much smarter than us although we don’t like to admit it! The body may not want to walk around with thirty extra pounds of fat on it, but it doesn’t want to be sub 10% body fat either! All it wants to do is survive.
Often times you will find that on your journey to a leaner you, speed bumps can pop up along the way. This especially happens as we get closer and closer to our “ideal” look. Why is that? Why does weight loss seem so simple in the beginning but become so hard towards the end? How can we “trick” our body into keeping the progress going?
Initial Weight Loss
Right out of the gate many people will notice that the pounds are literally flying off the scale! This can be very exciting and motivating, especially to someone starting a new diet and exercise plan for the very first time. However, the truth of the matter is that the majority of this initial weight loss is simply a drop in water.
Yes, some fat pounds will be shed, however most of those who are beginning a fat loss diet will go from eating very poor diets high in calories, processed foods, and sodium, which leads to excessive water retention and bloating. Suddenly they introduce their new fat loss diet, probably consisting of whole grains, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. These are not only healthy choices for our bodily functions and hormone production, but also often equate to much lower sodium levels as well as a reduction in inflammation within the body.
Therefore, the first few weeks of essentially “shocking” the body with this new diet will often result in a very rapid drop in the number on the scale. This is a good thing! It is most certainly progress that you can be proud of. It is crucial to also realize that not all of the weight is fat and this progress will not continue at the same pace. But do not be discouraged! I like to refer to this phase as the “adjustment period”. Simply put, your body is adjusting to the new diet and reaching a new “set point”, a.k.a. a weight that it would like to survive at given the nutrients you are providing. Although it will become harder from here, it isn’t too hard to keep this progress going.
The Fat Loss Begins To Slow
Fast forward a few weeks, maybe a month, and you are still on your diet plan. Awesome work! If you can stick to any routine for 30 days then you are well on your way to a healthier you! By now you may have noticed that the weight loss has begun to slow down. This is because your body has become accustomed to the food you have been eating, more specifically the amount of calories you take in as well as the amount of energy you expend via daily activity and exercise.
Although the weight loss may not have completely halted, it may seem to be at a snails pace compared to the beginning phase of your weight loss plan. Not to worry! It is very easy to get that scale moving again in the right direction. At this point in your diet you are hopefully aware to some degree of certainty how many calories you are consuming on a daily basis. If not, I would recommend that you begin calculating this number for a week or so and develop an idea. Once you have this average daily caloric intake, simply subtract 300-500 calories from it! Bingo!
Now that set point that your body had become used to is altered and it must re-adjust. It will no longer be able to sustain the level of body fat that you currently maintain and the numbers on the scale will continue to drop! At this point, you have entered a phase of “true dieting” where your body has reached a set point and you are forcing it to drop body weight by slowly decreasing the amount of food you are providing it and/or increasing your amount of daily energy expenditure. Although shedding the pounds in the phase can be a little difficult, it more than likely is not too hard assuming that you did not start your diet on very low daily calories and very high daily exercise. This element of fat loss is why I believe it is key to start slow and steady so that small adjustments can be made over time to keep the fat loss going at a steady pace!
The Last Few Pounds
Now the true test comes. After several months of dieting, you have reached a point where you are happy with your results, but there’s still that “stubborn” fat area that just won’t go away. Your calories are low, your cardiovascular training is high, and you are at a dead halt in weight loss. At this point, there are several things to consider and several options available as a result.
Stay where you are..?
First of all, are you satisfied with where you sit? Often times this is the point where you could probably maintain your level of leanness without too much stress on your mental and physical health. Hopefully over the course of your diet you have picked up a few more healthy eating habits as well as a training routine that you enjoy and can stick with.
If this is the case, you may opt to slowly bump up your calories just a little and simply enjoy your new found physique! This can often be the “healthiest” decision, especially if you have been dieting for an extended period of time. It is good to give the body a break and let it become accustomed to this new-found set point.
On the other hand, you’ve already come this far and you may not be willing to accept defeat from those last few pounds. This is fine, but realize that that warrior mentality is what it will require to win the battle! “Stubborn” pounds are termed so because they are just that: stubborn. Your body doesn’t want to drop them, it wants to survive. The easiest way to do that is to hang on to some fat cells! If you are going to fight your body, it is going to be difficult. This is where many people fail. However if you have the willpower to visualize your goal and not take “no” for an answer, you can push through!
Take a diet break
One way to shed the last few pounds is to simply take a small diet break. Give yourself a day or two, possibly even a week, and ease off the gas pedal slightly. Have a few decent meals and allow your body and mind to relax a little bit. However, do not go overboard! Remember why you started and where you want to end up. One can very easily undo months of progress in just one week. Stick to your healthy food choices, but also have some “dirty” treats in moderation. Then get back to your program! Often times this small “diet break” can be just the motivation you need to hit your diet and workout routine in full stride and even harder than you were initially! This will usually lead to more energy expended in the gym as well as require more adjustment on your body’s part; just what’s needed to break a weight loss plateau.
Fine-tune your diet
Once you have reached those last 3 to 5 pounds of desired weight loss, every pound becomes more and more crucial for the body to hang on to. In relation to that, every little change becomes more effective. Up into this point, maybe your food choices have not been very specific. As long as you’ve hit your calorie goal, you don’t mind having some cookies here and there or possibly something that doesn’t agree with your digestive system such as particular vegetables, fat sources, processed foods, or dairy. This is where I believe every little bit counts.
Although general weight loss can be achieved in a fairly relaxed but controlled calorie deficit, fine tuning the end result may require a higher degree of specificity depending on your body type. Begin to really pay attention to specific food choices. Which types of carbohydrates seem to digest the best? What foods leave you feeling bloated and gassy? Are you consuming a fair amount of artificial sweeteners and preservatives that could be causing inflammation within your body? Paying attention to these small details may seem unnecessary and “extreme” in the beginning, however it is these details that can make the small percentage of difference in the end. Be as “in-tune” with your body’s needs when it comes to your diet and watch as that stubborn fat becomes non-existent!
One last option, and most certainly the toughest of all, is to simply keep grinding! Stubborn fat is stubborn for a reason, and there’s a reason why most people cannot lose it; they simply do not have the willpower. If you are dedicated to your goal, then you do not need easy, you just need possible. Be honest with yourself. Can you drop calories further? Can you increase your cardiovascular training? Although it may not be easy, often times it can be done if you are willing to. And it may only be necessary for a short amount of time.
Push through the mental struggles of dieting. Although your body is telling you to stop, you must reply with a resounding “NO!” Do what it takes to reach your goal and look forward to basking in your glory! If this is the route you end up taking, it is crucial that you have a plan set for afterwards. After a phase of pushing very hard, it can become very easy to binge. Realize that although you love where you sit body fat wise, it may not be a level that is sustainable.
However, having reached this point, you are in a great place to slowly increase your calories and adapt a healthier lifestyle than the one you started with. If you can manage to do this in a controlled fashion, you will be set up for a much easier dieting phase the next time you choose to get chizzeled for the summer!