Four Ways You May be Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Efforts
Perhaps you have committed yourself to an exercise regimen but feel frustrated that your efforts don’t seem to be helping you achieve your fat loss goals. This article identifies 4 possible reasons and offers a few strategies to address each.
1. Not Enough Sleep:
The benefits of sleep are numerous, but let’s focus on the impact that chronic sleep deprivation has on body composition. In particular there are three hormones associated with weight gain that can be disrupted when sleep is scarce: insulin, ghrelin, and cortisol. (Note to reader: Skip to the “bottom line” section if sciencey stuff bores you.)
- Insulin – this hormone is vital to the storage of nutrients, especially dietary carbohydrates (referred to as glucose). Insulin orchestrates the storage of these carbohydrates and other nutrients into the liver and muscle cells to fuel our various activities. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation can make cells resistant to insulin, meaning that those carbohydrates you are eating won’t get deposited in the cells that need them. Worse yet, glucose that is not stored will eventually be converted to fat by the liver. Not ideal if you want to optimize body composition right?
- Ghrelin – this hormone regulates your hunger. When you aren’t sleeping enough, this hormone will be more active, compelling you to eat. When you combine the compulsion to eat with insulin resistance, chances are higher that you will gain weight (and invite other health problems!)
- Cortisol – stress hormone that is elevated in response to sleep deprivation. Stress by itself is not a bad thing, but when chronically elevated, stress hormones will degrade your muscle tissue in an effort to produce more glucose. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense; if you needed to chase a Mastadon for food, having a ready supply of glucose would fuel your efforts. However, adding more glucose to a body that is increasingly becoming insulin resistant will probably not work in our favor. Moreover, consistently high levels of cortisol can aggravate insulin resistance, further adding to the problems discussed above.
Bottom Line: Lack of sleep can compromise your weight loss goals by disrupting many of the hormones associated with nutrient storage, hunger, and stress.
Tip: Try to commit to a bedtime ritual that consists of powering down all electronics well before bedtime; sleep in a cool, pitch black room if possible; and practice deep breathing.
2. “Rewarding” yourself too much:
Findings from three studies published in 2014 suggested that attitudes towards exercise can have important implications on our ability to lose weight. In particular, if you regard exercise as a “necessary evil” that regularly earns you that hot fudge sundae-french fry “reward,” you are probably hurting your weight loss efforts. In contrast, those who view exercise as enjoyable are less likely to seek rewards in the form of high calorie desserts and snacks.
Tip: Consider working with a trainer who understands how to make fitness both a fun and rewarding experience. Think about finding a workout buddy who shares your goals and is willing to exercise with you. A final suggestion is to keep things simple; if you have little familiarity with exercise, begin slowly with regular walks outside, for example.
3. Not enough strength training:
You’ve likely heard that boosting your metabolism is a very effective way to lose weight right? Building muscle happens to be a great way to do this, enabling you to burn more calories even while at rest than compared to a routine based exclusively on cardio machines done at low intensity. Many folks make the assumption that long-term weight loss is best achieved by burning lots of calories during a workout without considering the potential to burn calories after a workout. This line of thinking often leads to hours spent on treadmills, ellipticals, and other cardio machines.
While extended time on a cardio machine can allow a person to burn a considerable number of calories during the session, these activities do little to build muscle. Further, the body recovers relatively quickly from these activities, placing a much lower metabolic demand on the body while at rest than what would be observed with a quality strength program.
Please don’t interpret this as an indictment on cardio machines, I only mean to suggest that you may benefit from adding some strength training to a cardio-dominant routine, especially if you are interested in burning fat and building muscle.
Tip: As discussed earlier, a good trainer will know how to tailor an exercise regimen to your abilities and interests while helping you advance toward your goals. For folks in search of “balanced fitness,” for example, a regimen could include a combination of strength training and cardio machines to develop or maintain an aerobic base of conditioning.
4. Not Eating Enough:
Yup, you read that right. Piggybacking off of the above discussion on ways to increase your metabolism, eating more can actually help you boost your metabolism, especially when you are exercising regularly. This is not a license to load up on donuts and fast-food; what you eat still matters, because eating well will provide your body with the nutrients to build muscle, repair damaged cells, and function optimally.
Some may think that dramatically restricting calories will translate into weight loss. In the short run, this may be true. However, your metabolism will eventually slow down in an effort to prioritize only the most vital functions to keep you alive.
Tip: Make sure you are providing your body with enough calories to fuel your fitness endeavors. Lean protein (like lean beef, turkey, chicken breast, etc.) is a great place to start as it is a building block of muscle tissue and more metabolically demanding to consume, digest, and store than carbohydrates and fats.
About the Author: Mihir Torsekar is a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach, OPEX-certified program design and athlete assessment specialist, and TD Fitness Affiliate Trainer. He specializes in exercise program design, and helps individuals reach their unique potential. Read more from Mihir on this site. Follow TD Fitness on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive posts like these in your inbox.