Monday, June 16, 2008
Not loosing inches? Is the scale stuck? Try this....
25 Ways To Break A Fat Loss Plateau
by Tom Venuto
Here's your personal 25-point checklist of actions you can take and strategies you can use to tighten up your diet, training and or attitude, to accelerate fat loss and break through any progress plateau. Breaking a plateau means working harder and smarter. In many cases, it means checking your compliance to make sure you are still following your original plan consistently. In almost every case, a plateau-breaking strategy is a matter of increasing your caloric deficit and/or making sure you still have a calorie deficit consistently, which you may have had, but lost over a period of dieting and the accompanying weight loss. Take a look at the checklist and see what areas apply most appropriately to your current situation. That's what it means to work smarter -- look for your weakest link and strengthen it.
A word of caution: Never make any drastic changes to your diet or exercise program without checking with your doctor first, especially if you are over 40, if you have been sedentary and or if you have any health problems. Techniques like high intensity interval training, for example, can be very stressful on the cardiovascular system and strict dieting techniques such as those used by competitive bodybuilders are intended only for those in good health with no restrictions or contraindications.
1. Check your calorie deficit and re-calculate your calories The number one reason most people are not losing weight is because they are not in a calorie deficit. Please read that again and let it sink in because it's the simplest and most obvious answer, but the one that most people refuse to accept. A major reason that you hit a plateau or experience slower weight loss over time because your calorie expenditure decreases with weight loss and exposure to a severe or prolonged calorie deficit. Because your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is related to your lean body mass as well as your total body mass, when you lose weight, your maintenance level decreases. In other words, heavier people need more calories than lighter people. In addition, you experience a decrease in your metabolic rate in response to the caloric restriction (metabolic adaptation). Finally, most people underestimate their caloric intake. All these factors combined explain why most people's weight loss hits a plateau over time. Therefore, when you plateau, the very first thing you must do is recalculate your calories to be sure you have a defict at your new level of energy expenditure, and then you must hold yourself accountable for every calorie to make sure you are not underestimating your intake.
2. Use more challenging compound weight training exercises. Generally, we view nutrition and cardio is the stimulus to create your calorie deficit, but don't forget that weight training can burn as many if not more calories than cardio. To maximize calorie expenditure from weights, choose compound weight training exercises such as squat and lunge variations, pressing exercises, full body-involvement exercises and barbell, dumbbell or cable rowing movements to stimulate heart and lung action, burn more calories, release more fat burning hormones and increase post-workout energy expenditure. Use fewer isolation exercises and fewer machines. Get your heart pumping and your lungs working during your weight training workouts. If you're breathing heavy and your heart rate is up, you're burning more calories, releasing fat burning hormones and stimulating your metabolism.
3. Increase workout "density." Many people have heard of intensity, but not many people know about density, which simply means to perform more work in less time. To break a plateau, you can increase the "Density" by decreasing rest intervals between the sets of your strength training exercises. For example, a normal rest interval is one, two or even three minutes between sets. To accelerate fat loss, decrease that to less than 60 seconds, 45 seconds, and ultimately down to 20-30 seconds between sets. Experiment with circuit style weight training where you perform, three, four or even more exercises in a row without resting. Use more supersets such as biceps followed immediately by triceps, quads by hamstrings or chest followed by back. Do abs and calves in between other exercises instead of resting ("staggered supersets"). Get your heart rate and breathing up a little during your strength training...keep moving!
4. Try fasted morning cardio. Do light to moderate intensity cardio early in the morning on an empty stomach (Note: timing is NOT the critical factor, but this may add an extra "edge." because fasted cardio oxidizes more fat during the workout). Fasted cardio is probably most relevant and beneficial when you are already lean and have hit a plateau with the last bits of "stubborn fat." If you're concerned about your lean body mass, then track your body composition and eat a light protein meal (example: egg whites) or small protein shake 20-30 minutes before the session. Note: high intensity cardio training and weight training are better done while fed.
5. Mix up your cardio: Has your workout gotten stale? Has your body simply adapted, like the "borg" on Star Trek? Change the type, the program and or intensity. First, you can change the program: Try short 20-25 minute HIIT sessions alternated with longer moderate intensity sessions (30-45 min). Second, you can change the type of exercise. Recent research suggests that doing a form of cardio you are not accustomed to may help with stubborn fat due to an increased in catecholamines, which signal your body to release stored fat. Change your cardio machine, such as switching from bike to elliptical or from stairmaster to inclined treadmill. Even condier some kickboxing or mountain biking a couple times a week in place of a cardio machine. The possibilities are endless. Don't restrict yourself.
6. Do High Intensity interval training or Sprints. Replace 1 or 2 conventional cardio sessions with HIIT on a cardio machine or wind sprints outside. Run flat out or run intervals (sprints) up hills or stadium steps if you have access to them, in place of some of your regular cardio workouts. (Warning: High intensity cardio can be dangerous, orthopedically and cardiovasculalrly speaking. It is only appropriate if you are already fit and have clearance from your physician, and then, the intensity should be built up gradually. Do not attempt to go from a walking program to sprints. Ie, walk, brisk walk, jog, run, sprint, is a sensible progression.)
7. Eat lightly at night. Push back last meal of the day so you don't eat anything within 2-3 hours of bedtime (if practical). If you eat anything at night, keep it low calorie, light and mostly protein and fibrous carbs, with small amounts of fat (no starchy or calorie dense carbs)
8. Decrease carbs. Pull the carbs down to as low as 25-30% of total calories for 3 days (increase protein, non starchy carbs AND good fats to compensate), and have a high carb, high calorie day on the 4th day. Low carb diets tend to automatically reduce caloric intake and keep hunger at bay more efficiently. Some data suggests that low carbs can help reduce stubborn fat by acting as alpha-2 receptor antagonists. They may also have metabolic health-related benefits in people who have symptoms of metabolic syndrome.
9. Experiment with removing wheat from your diet. Some people have gluten sensitivities that cause bloating or water weight gain which can mask weight loss on the scale. Wheat, grains and starchy carbohydrates are also more calorically dense, so by removing some wheat, you usually are automatically reducing calories. Cutting some starches out of your diet and increasing lean protein and vegetables tends to increase fat loss as well, due to protein having high thermic effect and non starchy veggies having high fiber content.
10. Experiment with removing dairy from your diet. Some people are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies and don't know it. This can cause bloating which masks muscle definition and distends the stomach or causes water weight gain or bloat which masks weight loss on the scale. (Also note: a fitness competition or bodybuilding "contest diet" of the strictest level usually has neither wheat/bread, nor dairy products, although both could be included for people who are tolerant to them, provided a calorie deficit is in place.
11. Consider glycemic index (GI). Glycemic index is not a primary consideration on the Burn The Fat program. Your first criteria for selecting carbs is whether the carb is natural or refined (eat natural carbs and you are usually good to go). However, if you are stuck at a plateau and especially if you know you are carb intolerant, then the glycemic index carries more weight. For plateau breaking, start to "nit pick" by paying attention to the glycemic index of your carbs: For starches use yams, sweet potatoes, long grain brown or basmati rice (NO white rice or instant rice), beans, lentils, black eye peas, or barley.
12.Eat fruit, but choose low calorie varieties and cut out fruit juice. Some people cut fruit out of strict fat loss diets. This may be fine for short periods of time on extremely strict diets, but fruit is really too nutritionally valuable to remove in most cases. Eat fruit, but check the calorie counts of the fruit, and eat low calorie density fruit such as apples, grapefruits and other fruits with fewer calories per serving (some fruits like bananas have about 120 calories, whereas an apple has 80 and an orange averages about 60. Make the calorie substitution and take the calorie savings where you can). Avoid calorie dense fruit like raisins (at least temporarily while you're working on breaking a sticking point). Avoid fruit juice completely because it is calorie dense and it is better to eat the whole fruit and get the fiber.
13. Eat more fibrous carbs and veggies. Eat so many green fibrous vegetables and salads that you start to "grow leaves." The benefits of non-starchy vegetables, salad vegetables and greens is that not only are they loaded with nutritional value, they are also very high in fiber and low in caloric density. As a result, it is almost physically impossible to overeat non-starchy vegetables. If you increase the non starchy vegetables at the expense of more concentrated calorie sources, it tends to automatically make you eat less, while improving the nutrient content in your diet at the same time.
14. Don't drink your calories: Research has shown that liquid calories, especially sweet and non-viscous liquids, do not register in the brain and stomach the way that whole food does. As a result, we tend to consume too many calories when we drink them, without compensating for it by cutting back on other calories elsewhere. To break a plateau, either account for your liquid calories meticulously in addition to the rest of your food, or simply try cutting them out. That means No soda, no juice, no milk, no calorie containing liquids at all. Drink lots and lots and lots of water and or green tea.
15. Do not eat ANY protein bars or nutrition bars. Some "nutrition bars" are made with whole food ingredients, so they are definitely better than others, but all protein or nutrition bars are processed foods that are nutritional compromises. Bars often provide 300-400 very concentrated calories without filling you up the way a 300-400 calorie whole food meal would. As a result, you tend to compensate by eating more (another bar, another snack, or simply more food at the next meal). Let me emphasize again, that fat loss is all about the calorie deficit, so you could "get away with" eating bars if you knew you had a calorie deficit. However, when you are breaking a plateau, it pays to do a little "nutritional triage," budget your calories wisely, and get the most bang for your buck from each calories. So, your best bet is to ditch the bars. (add them back in later as convenience foods when you're back on maintenance, if you like)
16. Take a layoff for a full 7 days . If you have been under a lot of chronic stress and or if you have been dieting and training non stop for more than three or four months without a break, take it easy and rest up for a little while. Yes, you read that right. Stop everything and rest completely. Let your nervous system and endocrine system get a rest and prepare for the next big push. Eat a little less for those 7 days because your calorie expenditure will be lower, otherwise you may gain weight. Then restart, fully rested, with a vengeance!
17. Re write your goals and recommit to them . Be very specific and clear about exactly what you want. No vague generalities like "I want to get leaner." Use a goal card to put your goal in writing and carry it with you. Twice a day, morning and night, review your goals and mentally visualize yourself with your body looking exactly the way you want to look. Feel what it would feel like (emotionally) as if you had already achieved it. Remember, if you have a negative self image, you will always cheat and sabotage yourself. Get the new image of yourself in mind, and hold it there. All achievement starts with goals and changing the self image. Read Pyscho cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz and understand how you may be sabotaging yourself.
18. Drink a gallon of water a day . Be fanatical about your water intake.
19. Increase Your Cardio Frequency. If you're doing less than 6 days per week, 30-45 minutes of cardio, then gradually, and incrementally increase your duration and frequency until you're up to 6 days, 30-45 minutes per session. (e.g., if you start losing fat at 4 days, 30 minutes, then stop there; do as much as it takes, no more, no less.) If you are already doing daily cardio, consider increasing intensity (see #20 below), and look more closely at your diet.
20. Increase Your Cardio Intensity. Remember that you can increase your intensity and burn more calories in the same time simply by doing your cardio harder. Challenge yourself by seeing how many calories you can burn in a cardio session of the same duration. Set some new personal records. Get a training partner and challenge each other. Make your cardio progressive, not just your weight training. Reach new peaks. Remember, your body adapts.
21. Cut out the alcohol. NO! No alcohol at all! None. Zip. Zero. Nada. Nope, not even that one beer or that one so-called "healthy" glass of red wine. If you're stuck at a plateau, you can't afford it. If you made sure you had a calorie deficit, you could "get away with it," but it's a (psychological) principle and discipline thing as much as it is a matter of increasing strictness of your program. Physiologically, everything that we've said about liquid calories applies to alcohol equally if not more so. In addition, alcohol suppresses fat oxidation and can suppress male hormones and disrput sleep cycles.
22. Cut back on cheat meals. If you're getting results weekly, then you go right ahead and have a "reward meal", "cheat meal," "free meal" or whatever you like to call it... once or even twice every week. In fact, many people can follow the 90-10 rule and by following the program 90% of the time, they get excellent results. However, if you are NOT getting results, you have to be stricter than that. Your "cheat day can be a larger amount of healthy food, as this can be good for increasing metabolic rate, but abstain from eating junk if you're having difficulty with fat loss. Let your results dictate how strict you should be on your diet.
23. Do A Lifestyle review. Look at other factors in your lifestyle outside of exercise and basic nutrition. Sleep, stress, recovery, alcohol, smoking, artificial foods and chemicals. Is your cortisol sky high due to stress and poor recovery? If so, take steps to improve your sleep quality and or quantity, take measures to reduce stress, and look closely at whether you are overtraining and as a result, not recovering completely from your workouts. Do you smoke? If so, you may be concerned that you may gain weight when quitting, but ultimately, you must quit. Get your lifestyle in order and do it now. Analyze your diet more closely. How clean is it really? Are you still taking in a lot of chemicals or artificial stuff? Reduce or eliminate foods containing artificial colors, artificial flavors, or preservatives. Cut out alcohol and processed foods of any kind. Look for anything at all that is not natural and remove it. Maybe even consider organic. Get your food intake as "clean" as humanly possible.
24. Medical review : Last but not least, if all else fails, see your doctor for a physical checkup. Get complete blood work done and tests for the functioning of hormones, glands (thyroid) and organs. If there are any problems, follow the advice of your physician. Your doctor may have solutions - both natural or pharmaceutical (preferably the former). If you are not given natural solutions, seek a second opinion elsewhere (natural way is best way, if that is possible). Also, if you are on prescription medications, ask your doctor if they impact body composition (anti-depressants and other prescription drugs are known to make it more difficult to lose body fat). If all is within normal ranges as it is 99.9% of the time, then get back to work -- the only thing stopping you is you! Most people's glands are functioning just fine. The only gland that is usually malfunctioning is your mouth gland -- eating too much junk food and too much food altogether.
25. Adjust your attitude. Hey, did you ever consider that maybe you're not "stuck" at a plateau after all? Maybe you're successfully half way up the mountain, just temporarily "pitching camp," catching your breath and enjoying the view so far, preparing for the final ascent to the summit… before you go on and find your next mountain to climb. Keep in mind that it's more natural to have peaks and plateaus of progress than it is to sprint up in a straight line -- that's just how your body operates and adapts. Post these words of Harold V. Melchert someplace where you can look at them often:
"Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance toward the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vantage point. Climb slowly, steadily, enjoying each passing moment; and the view from the summit will serve as a fitting climax for the journey." (thank you to Bob Proctor for this quote)
In conclusion, you won't need to do everything on this list. Simply run down the list and see which options make sense to you and which ones apply the most to you in your situation. It's good to have this entire list handy, however, because the more weapons you have in your fat-burning, plateau-breaking arsenal, the more options you'll have to turn to if you hit a plateau in progress. If you have only one "back up plan" then you have a problem if that doesn't work. You now have 25 "back up plans!"
Rest assured, you can break any plateau if you are willing to pay the price and do what it takes. If it takes more training, harder training and stricter dieting, are you willing to do it? How bad do you want it? If you want it, you will avoid caving in to the comfort zone, turn up the heat in your desire fire, crank up your motivation meter, and you WILL break through any plateau and enjoy the view from the next level. See you at the top!