Losing weight in the form of body fat can be one of the most difficult aspects of achieving any desired body image that one might have. Bodybuilders are the athletes who are most concerned with shedding body fat, and are probably some of the most knowledgeable on the most effective training and nutritional methods to achieve this. But ask any bodybuilder and I’d be willing to put (a small amount of) money them agreeing that losing body fat is much harder than building muscle. It doesn’t always happen in a consistent and predictable rate, often slowing down or shooting back up for no apparent reason. It can be extremely frustrating and can cause many people to give up as their progress stagnates or even reverses. There are many reasons that your fat loss could slow down or even stop completely. Here are 5 of the most common reasons your progress could have stopped.
Eating too little
It is common to hear that the key to weight loss is calories in vs. calories out. This means that the calories you are consuming through food should be less than the calories you are expending through exercise and general body functions. This will leave you in a calorie deficit, and causes your body to revert to its stores of fat to obtain the missing energy it needs.
Although true, this it is not quite that simple and cutting calories by too much too quickly and could actually have the opposite effect. This can lead to a reduction in your natural levels of leptin, a hormone that controls weight loss and protects against starvation. Not only do low levels of leptin make it harder to lose fat, it can actually lead to a gain in fat stores. This is a natural defence against starvation that essential turns your body into a huge sponge to ensure no energy from food is wasted. The aim is reduce your calorie intake gradually over time, rather than in sharp drops.
It is important to ensure that when you reduce you calorie intake you do not cut out any of the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) completely. Each is essential and provides important functions in the body. Fats are the most commonly cut from the diet due to their higher calorific content. Fats are extremely important as they provide the basis for the creation of hormones, particularly testosterone, the most important hormone involved in fat loss and building muscle. As a result, your body will hold onto its fat stores for hormone production due to the lack of fats in your diet. Eating healthy sources of fats such as oily fish, avocados and coconut oil can greatly boost your fat loss potential.
Protein also plays an important role in fat loss. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle, and muscle requires larger amounts of energy to sustain it. This means that more muscle equals greater fat loss. If your protein consumption is too low on a calorie restricted diet, your body will break down muscle tissue to provide the important amino acids for cell function. This will lead to a loss of muscle mass and have a huge negative impact on your ability to lose fat.
Carbohydrates are also frequently reduced to levels that are far too low. Although it is important to work in calorie deficit to spur your body use fat stores, cutting out carbs completely is a sure fire route to failure. Carbs are your body’s number 1 source of energy, and inadequate levels of carbs will leave a lack of energy meaning that your ability to exercise is reduced, leaving you feeling tired and lethargic. This will also quickly reduce your natural levels of leptin, acting as a two pronged assault to stop your fat loss in its tracks.
High stress levels
High stress levels lead to an increase in production of the hormone cortisol, quite rightly known as the ‘killer of gains’. Elevated levels of cortisol inhibit the production of testosterone and human growth hormone, and therefore the growth and maintenance of muscle mass. Not only does cortisol limit the fat burning effect of increased muscle mass, it actually promotes the storage of fat, particularly around the waist area. Taking time to relax and reducing levels of stress in your personal and professional life is important if you want to maximise your fat loss.
Not exercising enough/effectively
In order to stimulate your body into using fat stores as energy, the amount of calories you are expending needs to be greater than the amount of calories you are consuming. It is unlikely that relying solely on a low calorie diet is going to be sufficient to stimulate fat loss. Exercising at least 3-4 times a week is essential if you are truly serious about achieving the body shape you desire. Not only that, but the exercise needs to be effective. Walking on the treadmill at a low pace is unlikely to be a stimulus strong enough to cause your body to turn to its stores of fat. Using high intensity interval training (HIIT) or full body weight training programs have been shown to be shown to be the most effective forms of energy for burning fat. These programs need to also be progressive, as your body will quickly adapt if you keep the same program for too long, making it more efficient and therefore reducing calorie expenditure. If you feel that you are no longer tired from your exercise regime, then it is time to step up a gear.
No longer in a large enough deficit
It is very common in weight loss programs to at some point hit a plateau where your weight loss slows or ceases altogether. Often this can be down to the fact that you are no longer in a big enough calorie deficit, particularly if you have already lost a fair amount of weight already. This is because as your weight decreases and your levels of body fat are lower, the amount of calories you need for maintenance is actually lower than it was when you started. Eventually this will erase the difference between calories out vs. calories in, stopping your body’s need for accessing fat stores. Lowering your calorie intake once you plateau like this will help to ensure your fat loss remains on track. You should be aiming for between 15-25% deficit, but obviously this depends on your individual genetics and body type.
Not accurately planning or recording intake
One of the biggest reasons for not losing weight is inaccurately (or not at all) recording and planning your food intake. If you do not record your daily food intake you cannot be sure that you are working with a calorie deficit. It is very easy to underestimate (or overestimate from personal experience) the quantities or portions of food you are consuming. Some foods are far more calorie dense than others, peanut butter for example, for having a much smaller volume. This makes it very easy to guess your calorie intake wrong, and makes it essential to accurately weigh and record your food intake. It also means that you are more likely to eat purely to satiate your hunger, but unfortunately restricting calories is basically a mild form of starvation. Without putting your body into this state you will not burn fat, as it eliminates all the need for your body to make use its stores of fat.
BSc Sports Biomedicine and Nutrition