First, it’s important to understand the big difference there is between to losing weight and losing fat. Ideally, all the weight you lose while dieting should be fat, but many diets tend to restrict calories, specially cutting carbs in an excessive way. And although these diets end up generating fast results, these are actually coming mainly from water and muscle loss, instead of fat. Losing fat can take up to double the time that it takes for water or muscle, and your body shape will start changing dramatically when you lose fat, as fat takes more than double the space of muscle.
There are also other reasons that increasingly mitigate your progress and might be setting a limit in your fitness journey. This is why reviewing your plan and assessing your eating habits and exercise routine every 4 to 6 weeks is key to ensure you see progress and get the results you want. Here are some recommendations on where to focus when reviewing your habits. Here I leave you with some facts that worked for me during my weight loss.
Watch your calories
It’s common knowledge that to lose fat you have to burn more calories than you consume, it takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of body weight. And what to do when you’re debating between a low GI diet and a low calorie diet? It’s a combination of both, as Meri Reffetto says on her book Glycemic Index diet for dummies. If you take lower glycemic index food, but maintain the caloric intake the same or higher, you will hardly be able to lose those extra pounds.
On a study published by the British Medical Journal, Harvard’s Jason Block found that two thirds of all participants eating at 10 burger, chicken, sandwich and doughnut chains underestimated the calorie content of their meals, with about a quarter underestimating it by at least 500 calories1. Nowadays there are apps that allow you to track your caloric intake on every meal. Keeping it under control is key to improve and find the flaws that are making your plan slow down your results.
It’s not only about quantity, it’s about quality
Even if Newton’s first law or thermodynamics is correct, it’s not 100% true when it comes to nutrition. When you drink one can of soda, you might be having a 140-calorie intake, but it’s hardly the equivalent of 140 calories coming from broccoli. Even if both are carbohydrates, their different compositions have completely different effects when consuming them.
Your body will instantly absorb the glucose and fructose when you drink the soda, generating a spike in the blood sugar levels, translating into higher insulin. These effects have a direct influence in storing belly fat, increasing inflammation, higher blood pressure, among others2. Not only that, it has almost no nutritional value for you as the whole carb intake form a soda comes from processed sugars giving also no additional vitamins to your body. On the other hand, with the 140 calories of broccoli (which is around 500 gram of broccoli), your body has 1.5 grams of fat, just around 30 grams of carbs and 9 grams of protein. Broccoli also contains so much fiber that almost no calories are absorbed and there’s a high content of detoxifying properties. Additionally, you wouldn’t be able to eat them in just one meal - it’s a lot of broccoli.
Think about what you’re eating and how you eat it. Not all calories are equal and the way your body will metabolize them will have a great effect on the results you’re getting from your diet plan.
Size and weight… control your food portions
When having a meal, try always to keep portions adjusted to your needs. Food chains and restaurants often use visual effects for advertisements, making food look bigger and in sizes that are actually over the nutritional value you should have in one meal. It’s important to keep an eye on the size and content of your meals, especially keeping a healthy carb, protein and fat ratio.
Remember to set up your food portions according to your goals. If your goal is to lose fat, you might want to try to keep portions smaller and have a higher intake of protein. If your goal is to gain muscle, your carbs intake has to grow as well in every meal, giving your muscles the nutrients they need to recover.
If I exercise I get to eat what I want… they said
This is a common myth, and it’s partially true - depending on your goals. When your goal is to reduce fat and burn fat to tone, you might want to keep the eating habits very much under control and keep the carb intake lower. If your goal is to maintain and you’re not gaining weight, then keep it up and enjoy your freedom!
There’s always sacrifices to be made if you want improvement. Try quitting one bad habit at a time and it will be a lot easier for you to keep them away. Remember eating is 75% and exercise represents just 25% of your progress3. Exercise will help you burn more calories during and after workout, it will boost your metabolism and grow muscle mass, but if you don’t take care of other habits like sleeping and eating, you might see your progress slowing down.
‘Routine’ is such a tricky word… change it!
When we start doing exercise we tend to call our workout a “routine”, and even if it becomes a sequence, you have to remember to change it. Every 5 to 6 weeks your body will already be getting used to the set of exercises you’re doing, and even if you’re increasing weight, your muscles are not going to react the same way as they did when you started. It’s very important that you include changes to your routine and include new variations that have a high demand of effort to your muscles. This way you will not only be hitting your muscles in a new way (helping your body to have a better shape), but it will also keep the results coming!
Diet 1, diet 2, diet 3…
How many times have you gone stricter with your diet plan? How many times this year have you cut down your calorie count?
Cutting calories is necessary, but going beyond a calorie cut might be self-harming to your program. Remember you have a BMR (basal metabolic rate), which is the amount of calories you burn just at rest and we all have it raging from 1000 to 2000 calories. The more muscle you have, the higher this rate goes, and if you try cutting your diet as low a those levels, your body will enter an “emergency/survival state”, where it will start taking your caloric needs out of your own system.
This is harming you in two ways. First, you won’t be able to grow muscle mass, because you won’t be eating the nutrients your muscles need. Second, your body won’t be burning fat as fast as you could if your nutrition was regularly controlled. This usually brings a rebound effect, making you gain weight and fat easier after you end the extreme diet period. We recommend visiting a physician if you want to know your exact needs and want to engage in a nutrition plan.
What should you be doing?
Balance, balance, balance.
There’s no magic formula when it comes to losing weight and improving week by week. It will always be a matter of consistency and improvement. Try out new things, cut progressively on the areas that are hard for you and keep yourself motivated by tracking your steps during the weight-loss process.
Remember also that we are not all the same! You have to know your body and know your limits, and what is working for you might not work for your friends. Visit a physician and get some advice that helps you to know your body. This will boost your results and ensure progress week after week.