Why Can’t I loose Weight is a question that I often get from potential clients. Unfortunately it is not often a simple question to answer. There are a myriad of things that can foul the body’s metabolism. Here we will look into the major ones in the order in which you should address them:
1. Are you exercising enough or doing the proper types of exercise and intensity?
2. Are you following a good diet for overall health, that encourages a lean body?
3. Do you have any hormonal deficiencies or imbalances that could cause weight gain or inhibit weight loss?
4. Do you have any pending health issues that could cause weight gain?
Are you exercising enough or doing the proper types of exercise and intensity?
I have been around the fitness industry for a long time, more than 20 years. I have seen a lot of fads come and go and some come and go 2 or 3 times. However, the things that truly work remain, have remained constantly and yet are the very things that people with weight problems avoid: Good old fashioned cardio and weight training (the kind with a barbell). Sure there are some good things outside of those, but those should be your foundation. Oh, and there are some good things used in moderation that have been renamed with something catchy or more marketable and then marketed straight down your throat as the greatest thing that no one knows about….Right. First things first, anyone worth their salt in the field knows about just about everything out there, especially in this age of information. They may not know it by a certain name, but that’s because marketing often changes names of old things to make them new and gimicky again. Why? Because people like new things, especially people with low discipline, i.e. the target audience. So while Crossfit (or General Preparation) or EPOC training (or oxygen debt, or HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training) are good forms of training for athletes in certain circumstances, if you aren’t an athlete they shouldn’t make up a significant part of your training. They might for a phase, but not as a staple. Why? First and foremost because they have higher injury rates and being injured won’t help you loose weight.
So with that,
start with walking if you have to, work your way up to 250 minutes of cardio per week, divide it up however you want, but get it in. Then gradually increase the speed a little each week. Even a little periodically during each workout. Maybe you run for 2 minutes and walk for 1 minute for 30 minutes, then walk for another 30 minutes (a.k.a. interval training).
add in a general, well balanced lifting routine that addresses all muscle groups on both sides of the body. Start with your basic 3 sets of 10. Work the set total up over time as you get more fit. Focus on correcting muscle imbalances to begin with. Once your corrective phase is over you can increase your set total and decrease rest times to emphasize a fitness response (if you don’t already know to do this and how to do it, hire someone that does i.e. a good personal trainer or strength coach).
I am a big fan of German Volume Training for fitness and weight loss, as well as increasing muscle mass. It sucks, you want to cry (because 10 sets of 10 squats hurts a lot more than just your legs, it crushes you down to your soul before it makes it stronger, and that’s why only the committed do it), but it works.
Oh, and you should never quit doing it. Study after study has shown that 2-3 days of proper weight training and 250 minutes of cardio per week is the formula for weight loss and maintenance, in addition to the fact that it will help prevent most major chronic disease (even if you don’t loose weight because of another problem, like a hormonal imbalance or bad diet).
And yes, there is a lot more to how to do all of this, but that’s why you hire an expert personal trainer or strength coach to fill in the gaps, preferably someone that went to college for it. Good workout progressions with proper periodization (the technical term used to describe the system of progressing through workouts over time toward a given goal) can’t be taught in a blog. Tips can be given, sample workouts given, but that’s about it. But putting it all together over time to achieve goals is more difficult. There are multiple 800+ pages books written just about periodization, not even including all of the basic physiology, anatomy and biomechanics that are foundational to understanding everything necessary to making the body adapt the way you want it to adapt. Then you need a great deal of experience to fully understand it all and be able to apply it properly.
Are you following a good diet for overall health, that encourages a lean body?
A good basic diet should either be a Mediterranean Diet or a Paleo Diet. There are adjustments and tweaks to be made to both, but both are a simple, straight forward low carb/high protein foundational diet.
lots of lean meats, good fats like fish and avocado, and green/colorful veggies. Fruit should be avoided. Grains should be avoided. Nuts are good but watch the volume. Avoid the processed stuff (if you can’t grow it, don’t eat it). Lastly, avoid starchy foods. Loose the alcohol. (…how important is your goal?)
I do add one caveat, while as a general rule of thumb you should avoid starches, so long as you can stay away from all the other carbs listed above, I recommend 1 potato per day (preferably a sweet potato). This is because you do actually need some daily carbs to stay out of ketosis. While some diets recommend ketosis, I do not because it means that your burning protein (muscle) for fuel and limiting your ability to both maintain and build muscle. And while you may not want to look like a body builder, a muscular foundation is a good thing for a myriad of reasons including weight loss and maintaining weight loss.
For those that are doing more than 1 hour of activity per day, Carbs will need to be increased based on minutes of activity.
Cheat days should be scheduled and also individualized based on genetics, body type, weight, activity, lifestyle and medical information from labs and medical background.
For athletes, I recommend a minimum of 6 meals per day (based on level and training or competition season) for performance and recovery reasons, whereas for non athletes 3 is sufficient and I have even seen some value in fasting periods. For example, 1 day per week of lemon water only or, if you can workout at night, eat then do cardio and go to bed. This will create an “artificial” 8-10 hr fast because of the increased metabolic demand followed by no refueling before bed.
There are lots of ways to further individualize this based on genetics, body type, weight, activity, lifestyle and medical reasons like high triglycerides or diabetes. But again, these adjustments are best left to a personal trainer, nutritionist or strength coach. One preferably with a background reading and evaluating blood work.
In part 2 I will cover Hormonal reasons and other medical conditions causing inhibited weight loss.