Updated: Jan 31
Most people who try to lose fat on some sort of calorie controlled diet will find that they hit the inevitable fat loss plateau. I hear the same story again and again from prospective clients. That no matter how much they restrict calories, how much cardio they perform, they simply cannot budge the scales. In a lot of cases people wrongly conclude that there must be something wrong with them, such as an under-active thyroid. This may be the case, but I will say that in the majority of cases it is simply because they are making the classic mistakes. When rectified, clients are surprised that finally the fat shifts as if by magic.
So let us go through the main classic errors people make. Once you rectify this, the fat will shift predictably and any plateaus will be dealt with quickly and easily.
1. You Do Not Track Calories Accurately
There is a reason I put this on top of the list. It is the main culprit when people try to lose fat. I have met so many people, even huge bodybuilders who claim that whatever they do they cannot lose the belly fat. When I hear this I know right off the bat, that they are simple not in a caloric deficit. Either they are not accurately tracking calories or they or they are tracking but not accurately. When I explain to them what they are doing wrong, the fat finally comes off.
The reason for this is that certain scientific principles are at play here and if they are violated, the results are sure and predictable. In this case they are not in a deficit of calories, so no matter what they do in the gym or however healthy the diet, no fat will be lost.
There are a lot of diet guru's out there who suggest that calories do not matter and that as long as you adhere to the specific foods that they recommend, you will lose fat. This is particularly common in the Keto diet world. They are some very prominent guru's who assure people that as long as you cut out carbs or lower them to a particular level you can eat as much protein and fat as you desire, and you will lose fat.
I myself remember that this claim was made by Dr Atkins in his bestselling book. Of course for anyone who tried this, they will disappointed to find that it does not work. Yes you will lose some fat when you restrict any macro-nutrient, but the main reason is that this happens is that cutting out carbs will lead you to eat less calories overall. If you still ate at maintenance levels fat loss will come to a halt. This is because a calorie is simply a calorie. If the calories you are expending on a daily basis are not less than what you are expending, you will not lose any fat.
So in order to rectify this you need to do two things: Accurately track calories and accurately work out you daily maintenance levels.
2. You Avoid Proper Weight Training
This is top of the list because it is fundamentally important and mostly overlooked. The truth is that if you decide to go on a diet and successfully are able to stay on a caloric deficit for a number of weeks or months you will lose weight. But what kind of weight are you losing? Without correct weight training you will be losing mostly muscle tissue and this is the biggest mistake you can make.
Some people do not care, as long as they are getting slimmer and the weight on the scale is shifting. This is a huge mistake and I will explain why. Firstly, even if your weight is going down but you are losing water weight and muscle, you will not look much different and the stubborn fat on the navel, lower back and legs will not shift. Secondly if you are losing muscle, you are lowering the metabolism which means you will not be able to eat very much at all. You may even find that due to a slow metabolism, if you eat hardly anything, the body still holds on to the fat.
Weight training changes all of this and you will avoid this pitfall.
So the main reason to perform weight training on a diet is to preserve muscle tissue, and if you do this right you will lost pure fat and finally shift it on the stubborn areas. The reason for this is that the body doesn't really care if you lose fat or muscle. But when you regularly perform weight training, the body realizes that it needs to keep the muscle to use again to respond to the weight training.
Now I mentioned at the beginning that you need to do a correct type of weight training if you want to lose fat effectively. The reason for this is that a badly designed program will not really preserve muscle tissue. What I am describing here is your typically poorly designed routines consisting of some ab crunches, some light sets on a couple of machines of your choice. This is usually the abductor machine, to spot reduce the thighs, or excessive ab work to burn fat on the midsection. The intensity will also be so low that the the body fails to even adapt.
Unfortunately this just does not preserve or build muscle. It just doesn't work. So what kind of weight training works to preserve muscle mass? Compound exercises. You need to focus on the key exercises such as squats, bench press, deadlifts, rows, presses etc. These exercises are the best by far for building and preserving muscle. Then you need the correct frequency, volume and intensity. You need to work hard! Why would the body even adapt otherwise.
3. You Do Not Eat Enough Protein
If you avoid eating enough protein you are going to stall with your fat loss. There are numerous reasons for this which we will go through.
First and foremost, protein is superior to any other macro-nutrient when it comes to satiety. In other words it leaves you feeling fuller for longer compared to carbohydrates and fats. So think about that for a second; if you are on a diet what is fundamentally important? Adherence. If you can't stick to it you are going to fail. What is the main culprit that leads people to give up? It is feeling hungry and miserable. If you feel hungry on a diet you are going to fail, it is just a matter of time. Your willpower will wane, it is just human nature.
High protein solves this issue and makes dieting a breeze because when you eat high protein you feel satisfied with your meals and if you combine this with the right amount of carbs and fats you can also get to satisfy your taste buds too. This can be done with the right macro ratio.
The second reason to eat high protein during a diet is that is has a muscle sparing quality. This goes back to the last subject. When you are on a diet alone you lose mainly muscle. Add a good weight training program, you will stop that happening. But without high protein you will not feed the lean tissue after your workouts. So keeping protein high ensures that muscle tissue is retained, therefore you will keep your muscles and may even grow some.
Lastly there is the thermal effect of protein. It is a massive twenty five percent. This is very significant. What this means is that for every gram of protein you consume, twenty five percent of the calories in that protein will be burned simply by your body assimilating it. This is a fact and I urge you to research it for yourself.
This is one of the greatest diet hacks of all time, but it is hardly understood by anyone. So if you really understand this, you can reduce calories in your diet by making the switch of less carbs and fats and more protein. This alone will reduce calories significantly without the need to eat less, or even do any more exercise.
4. You Do Too Much High Intensity Cardio
This one is quite controversial, but I am going to explain why high intensity cardio; especially too much of it will have a negative effect on fat loss.
Now the point here is excessive high intensity cardio. Although HIT cardio is fantastic for burning fat and also increasing your cardiovascular fitness, doing too much can have a negative impact during a diet. So why do I say this? Firstly when you are on a diet, although a sensible diet where you are getting all the nutrition your body feels, there is some stress to the body over extended periods of time.
So in reality you are putting the body under some mild stress when you don't give it the calories it needs. For this reason you have to be careful not to stress the body to much with too much exercise. Of course you need to exercise, but when you do too much you start to affect the bodies hormonal balance. This can come from too much weight training and also too much high intensity cardio. Do too much high intensity cardio and you will feel run down, low and miserable. This is a no no in terms of general adherence.
There is also a second important point here. After performing high intensity cardio, you feel very hungry and particularly crave carbohydrates. If you have enough will power you can check these cravings, but you wont be able to do it for long. So the result is that you will stimulate your appetite and find sticking to your daily caloric deficit very hard to do.
So what is the solution? Steady rate cardio. Steady rate cardio such as walking and bike riding can burn a lot of calories. If you simply perform thirty to sixty minutes daily that adds up to a large amount for the week. After light walking, you will not feel stressed or hungry so you will not over eat or affect the body's hormones so this works very well for fat loss.
Of course this is not enough to really work the cardiovascular system, but we have to be selective on a diet and understand that we have very specific goals. We are focusing of fat loss here specifically.
5. You Eat Too Little Carbohydrates
Ketogenic diets such as the Atkins diet come in and out of popularity. Presently they are back in fashion.
Low carbohydrate diets are not a new thing, they have been around for hundreds of years. They were very popular with old school bodybuilders to get them in contest shape. If you watch the out takes of Pumping Iron you can see that the Mr Universe and Olympia contestants would go to the restaurant and order the classic low carb, high protein meal steak and eggs. I personally became aware of it twenty years ago with Dr Atkins with his book. I have tried them all as have many others. We have all concluded that they are not the best way to go about fat loss at all and there are much better alternatives.
The truth is these diets work to a degree, but not for the reason you think. The truth is also that in the long run low carb diets are not very healthy or effective. Of course it depends on how low you go with carbohydrate restriction. Some of the milder forms of Keto diets can be fine, but when you go below 50 grams per day you will run into problems.
Firstly when you restrict carbs too much you will lose strength during work outs and then begin to lose muscle tissue. If you read my previous points you will see that this is a big mistake when it comes to fat loss.
The second point is that when you lower carbs to this level you lower testosterone levels and will feel very deprived. You will crave carbohydrates after working out. Altogether you will feel miserable so when it comes to long term adherence you will fail. Some people I have met develop what I call a kind of phobia of carbs. Just like fats phobes during the low fat diet fad during the 1990's.
The truth is that we need fats and carbohydrates, so restricting any one of them severely is unhealthy. So what is the solution? The solution is to lower carbs just enough so that the body starts to dip into its fat reserves, but keep them high enough to fuel workouts and keep you feeling satiated and happy during your diet.
This works out to be around 100 grams to 200 grams per day depending on exercise levels. This is where carb cycling comes in which I will go into in detail in another article. Another fantastic strategy is to cut out starchy carbs such as pasta, white rice and eat primarily brown rice, oats, fruits and vegetables.
Trust me when you check these classic mistakes you will find that you will breeze through your fat loss plateau!
I hope you have found this article helpful and I wish you all the best achieving your fat loss goals.