When it comes to all of the reasons why your weight rises in any given circumstance, the one reason women overlook the most is Stress. I know we have all muttered it before, “Yeah, I know I'm stressed out, but I'll just keep doing what I am doing” or “I know I'm stressed, but I'm not that stressed”
If you are under Stress, the scale will not co-operate
We have talked before about how the scale is not a good indicator of success in your journey, but when you add stress in the mix, it can be downright cruel. When the body is under stress a number of things begin to happen. First, cortisol levels shoot up. When this shoots up, water retention levels also shoot up, causing the scale to say things we don't want to hear. If your cortisol levels stay high for prolonged periods of time, the gain on the scale becomes a permanent one.
Stress weight is the hardest weight to lose. A cycle takes place when we are under stress and most women don't realize that the very things we are doing to lessen stress, is what is actually causing more stress. We become stressed at home – then we decide to hit the gym and kill it – then we decide to tighten up on our diet, or pick at what needs to change in our diet – then we stop sleeping well – and so on..
Each of these things are a stress to the body. Even though we think of “going to the gym” as a de-stressor, it is still adding stress to your body overall. Stress in women tends to show up in the belly area, thus the “Stress Belly.” So when we see that our belly area is growing, it is a good sign that we need to look at the stressors in our life and find a way to relax and slow down again.
In times where we cannot control personal stresses, like a job, move, or divorce or something, we need to be able to stop other stresses from piling on.
Things to consider to reduce stress
- Eat at TDEE and take a maintenance break
- Reducing your time on the steady state cardio machines
- Staying away from HIIT workouts
- Participate in a pilates or yoga class
- Leisure walks
- Rest week from the weights
Being aware of how stress affects our body and knowing how to deal with it properly will certainly set you up for future success. Sometimes we cannot control stress, but when we can, we need to limit our exposure to it and be prepared to scale back on other things until the stress period has passed.
For so many years we have been told that scale weight means “health” and your measure of success should come from the BMI chart. Over the past number of years it has been confirmed that the BMI chart is 100% outdated and should not be used to measure your health. But for millions of women, the draw of the scale is still very much ingrained in our lives and our self worth depends on that piece of machinery. So if you have chosen not to listen and ditch the scale, then here is a list of all the possible reasons why the scale goes up or down so you can understand what the scale is saying.
POSSIBLE CAUSES OF A JUMPY SCALE:
- Time of day/week/month – Your weight will be lower in the morning than in the evening, higher during certain times of the month, and can be all over the place depending on your stress levels at any given time.
- Type of workout done before weigh-in – Cardio workouts will show a loss because of lost water due to sweating. During a HIIT or weight training workout, the scale may be up because of water retention. Don't let that fool you though, muscle building is what you want to do, so you need to get over the extra scale weight because of the retention that happens!
- Sweating – In general when your body sweats, its losing water which will show a loss on the scale. But it's water you are losing, not fat! This needs to be replenished otherwise the body then retains water and will cause a scale gain.
- Clothes – It's no secret that millions of women chose to weigh in wearing absolutely nothing! Clothing will add up on the scale. Jeans typically weigh about 3 pounds!
- Amount of carbs eaten before – Eating carbs is certainly not a bad thing, but the glycogen retention they cause can show on the scale. If you eat a huge spaghetti dinner the night before, the scale may not show something you like.
- Excess sodium – Too many processed, packaged foods can contain an overabundance of sodium. This causes water retention. In order to release the water, you must drink more water!
- Foods that take a lot of time to digest – Eating that big Thanksgiving meal and then getting on the scale later? Food in your body counts towards your scale weight! Weight is weight, so eating 5lbs of turkey dinner will certainly show a 5lb gain right after consuming.
- Sleeping – The amount of sleep you get will factor into that scale number. When you are asleep, every time you breathe you are losing water. And from the above we know that losing water means losing “weight.” During sleep, you typically lose 1-2% of your body weight just from breathing. Sleeping in? You might see a slightly lower number than usual.
- Stress levels – Stress drives up cortisol, which increases your water weight.
Our weight will constantly fluctuate during the day. Knowing the reasons why the scale goes up can show you why it is not a good measure of success. It's important to understand that unless you ate over SEVEN THOUSAND calories more than your maintenance level, your two pound “gain” is certainly not a real gain :)
Plateau Prevention 101: Workouts
When it comes to hitting plateaus along your journey, it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” Knowing that plateaus will come should prevent you from the all-too-common mistake of trying to change too many things at once.
This is difference between amateurs and pros. Pros know start small, tackling one bite sized chunk after another. This not only helps them have a plan in place before they plateau, but assures that they can actually stick to the plan — progressing for years to come. Amateurs try to move ahead “faster” by biting off more than necessary. This not only gives them nowhere to go when they plateau (because they’re already doing the MAX, when the minimum would have given the same result), but they also burnout very early on in the process, and give up. Over. and. over. Instead of approaching your journey in the all-or-nothing way of the amateur, let’s level up and attack your workouts like a pro this year.
Tips for preventing plateaus:
5 ways to add challenge/variety/levels to your workouts
- Rep ranges – Don’t just stick to one. Try alternating short periods (daily, weekly, monthly) of one rep range before moving to another. Don’t get nostalgic or think that one rep range can do it all. It can’t/shouldn’t. (common rep “ranges” to alternate: 1-8 reps, 9-12 reps, 13+)
- Amount of weight you’re using – Every time you change rep ranges, the amount of weight lifted should change. Higher reps = lighter weight, lower reps, heavier weight. If you’re sticking to one rep range for several weeks, you should be seeing weekly increases. At the very least, your weight by week 4-6 should be heavier than weeks 1-3. If your weights aren’t increasing, time to take a break from that phase.
- Rest periods – Rest periods are not set in stone, they can range from no rest, to 3-5 min of rest depending on the above. If you’re lifting heavier weights for lower reps, you’ll need longer rest periods to keep hitting it hard. If you’re lifting light weights for high reps, less rest is needed.
- Exercise type – Compound vs isolation movements. Each has benefits, so don’t be extreme, or expect any one exercise movement to be a holy grail. But as a general rule of thumb, beginners should stick with more compound movements (1-3 yrs), and advanced lifters (3+ years) can benefit from some isolation work.
- Cardio – be strategic, add it slowly, if at all, based on preference. Your body quickly adapts to traditional forms of cardio, so adding in a ton from the jump makes it have a less of an impact in the long run. Unless you’re an endurance athlete, or just love cardio (and fully understand/accept it’s limits/diminishing returns), you may want to consider cardio as an occasional, “finish line,” or recovery-only basis.
Experienced lifters know the importance of rest between sets, which can be anywhere from 30-90 seconds, depending on how quickly you recover. They also know that rest days from weight lifting — even during the week — are important, and structure their sessions so they can train one body part while the others are getting a rest. But, did you know that it is even more important to take an entire week off from strength training?
Some refer to rest weeks as de-load or recovery weeks. Whatever you prefer to call them, they are necessary. This is an opportunity to give your entire body rest from lifting heavy weights, and even from high intensity cardiovascular workouts that put a strain on the body and the mind.
Rest weeks are unfortunately over looked by many weightlifters — especially newbies — because they think the few days during the week that they rest (if they rest) is enough. They have the “no pain, no gain” mentality. They feel that the more they do, the better and stronger they will get and the quicker they will reach their goal. Actually, failing to take longer breaks will affect your progress in a negative way.
This magic of building muscle does not happen while you are actually lifting the weights. Instead, it happens while you rest. Surprised? Yes, I was too! When you lift weights to build muscle, you are tearing the small muscle fibers. Quick science lesson…After you workout, your body begins to repair damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it pulls the fibers together to form new muscle protein strands, or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle growth. Muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. All of this happens while you are not working out! This machine — called the body — is truly amazing!!
I know a whole week away from the iron may put some into withdrawal! But you can make it an active rest week where you're engaged in your favorite sport or in low intensity cardio like walking, yoga, or your favorite aerobic DVD a couple of days during the week. But, no lifting or HIIT! And, don’t forget to continue to eat balanced meals of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. It’s important to continue to feed those muscles while they are repairing. This simply means DO NOT restrict or lower your calories because you are not working out as much! In fact, it may be a good idea to eat at your TDEE along with making good food choices during this rest period. If you are cutting during your recovery, you may want to decrease your deficit from 10% to 5%. You want to make sure any losses that week are not muscle. Remember, the whole point of recovery week is for your muscles to have a chance to repair. So, don't plan to run a marathon during this time!!
If you've been lifting weights and/or doing high intensity workouts and have not taken a rest week, you are well overdue for a much needed break. It’s a good idea to plan a rest week every 4 to 5 weeks to let that muscle rest, repair, and grow. Then the weeks following your rest, you will feel refreshed, energized and ready to take your performance to the next level.
Photo credit: stockimages, naypong
If you listen to the media, fat loss can sound pretty complicated. High carb, low carb, nutrient timing, intermittent fasting, carb cycling, ketogenic diets, carb backloading, juicing, green smoothies, magical supplements…
It can be challenging to keep a level head and avoid all the latest trends, wondering if a tweak (or two) might be a way to break out of a plateau or to get better results. There are definitely times to include a tweak, but generally speaking, its best that you save these for times that you really need them.
So how do you know if its time to include a tweak?
At EM2WL, we encourage you to take a very no-nonsense, simplified approach to fat loss with minimal rules. Instead of spinning your wheels to figure out which diet is best — take a moment to strip away the “nonsense” from various diet plans that are often just minute variations on the basics. There are a few best practices that we believe to be critical to your success. It's best to make sure that these elements are firmly in place before tweaking anything.
Think about building a successful fat loss program like building a house. When building a house, you wouldn't want to try putting up walls before the basic foundation has been laid. Without a firm foundation to build upon, everything else is pretty useless.
What makes up the foundation of a successful fat loss program? We believe there are four key components that are critical to have well established before incorporating any other “tweaks.” We recommend looking over your current fat loss plan and evaluating whether you have a good handle on the following four elements before making any additional changes. How do you measure up?
1. Sufficient calorie intake
If you've been following EM2WL for some time, you know that we firmly believe that eating enough is a key component of a successful fat loss plan. The standard “eat less, exercise more” model of weight loss can lead to more muscle than fat loss, lowering your metabolic rate over the long term. Without eating enough calories, you run the risk of causing metabolic damage which does more harm than good. If you've been dieting for a very long time and are not seeing the results that you desire, it is very likely that you would benefit from doing a metabolic reset. If you are still struggling to get in an appropriate number of calories daily, it is highly recommended that you become consistent there before incorporating any additional changes. If you're curious about how many calories is considered sufficient, check out our calorie calculator.
Not only do most women typically not take in enough calories, but tend to be lacking in the protein department as well. This macronutrient can be one of your biggest weapons in winning the fat loss game! Generally, we recommend taking in about 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight. A number of studies have shown numerous benefits to high-protein diets. Since protein takes longer for the body to break down and digest, it promotes a feeling of fullness, making it easier for you to stick to your plan. Protein also is essential in sustaining your lean mass, helping you to recover from workouts, and maintaining healthy skin, nails and organs. Protein also has been reported to improve brain function, lower blood pressure and improve sleep quantity.
It can be very challenging to get in all that protein! Give yourself time to get acclimated to a higher protein diet by setting reasonable goals and increasing them weekly. For instance, if your goal is to eat 150 grams of protein, but you're currently averaging around 75 grams daily, you might start by trying to get in just 100 grams daily and increase slowly. Divide your protein among your meals, and it will likely seem a bit more manageable. Focus on making sure to hit your protein target daily, and then allocate the remaining calories to carbohydrates and fats.
Most Americans only average about 15 grams of fiber daily, while most people should be taking in anywhere from 20 to 30 grams of fiber daily. Foods high in fiber are more filling and generally take longer to eat than foods low in fiber. They are a great way to “stretch out” your meals, thereby eating a high volume of food without adding many calories. In addition, including fiber in your diet will slow the digestion of carbohydrates and absorption of sugars, keeping blood sugar stable. High fiber foods also promote digestive health and prevent problems like constipation, hemorrhoids, IBS, and other digestive complaints. High fiber diets also promote heart health by moving fats and bile salts out of the body, lowering cholesterol in the process.
Tip: Yummy snacks like Quest Bars can provide 20g of protein, and 17g of fiber per serving. They can be helpful to reach your goals in a pinch, or if you're newer to tracking these macros, but be sure to try getting as much protein and fiber from whole food sources as possible.
4. Heavy Resistance Training
Heavy resistance training should be a key component of any fitness program whose goal is fat loss. Heavy resistance training has a number of metabolic benefits that will pay off in the fat loss department. Unlike cardio, the metabolic benefits of this type of training last for 24-48 hours after completing your workout as your body must work harder to rebuild its oxygen stores. This effect, commonly referred to as the afterburn effect or EPOC (post-exercise oxygen consumption) has a number of metabolic and athletic benefits that will improve your body composition as well as your gym performance! If you don't know where to start, there are a number of strength training programs to get you started on your journey to a leaner, stronger, healthier you!
If your current fitness program does not currently involve heavy resistance training at least 2-3 times a week, it is highly recommended that you start here before adding in cardio or other forms of exercise to accomplish your goals. You will be amazed at the way your body transforms when you consistently hit the weights!
DISCLAIMER: We know that many of our followers love running and other forms of cardio and we firmly believe that you should regularly engage in a form of exercise that you truly enjoy! However, there may be times to evaluate whether your preferred form of activity supports your goals.
The Take Away Message
If you feel that you have a good handle on these four elements, there is absolutely nothing wrong with making a small change or two to see how your body responds. We emphasize that it is usually best to change one thing at a time and give your body a chance to respond before changing another variable, however. As you make adaptations to your plan, you will want to make sure you are listening to your body! Pay attention to how you look and feel, how you are performing in the gym and your energy level any time you make a change. Often times, just a very small change can lead to some great results, but if you change too many things at once you will never know what that missing part of the puzzle was!
Photo credit: Apolonia, hin255 of www.freedigitalphotos.net
Becca is a busy wife and homeschooling mother to five children ages 5 to 13. About three years ago, she embarked on a journey to health and fitness that resulted in the loss of approximately 100 pounds. Today, she is a competitive powerlifter and strongwoman who loves ice cream and deadlifts. As an ISSA certified personal trainer, she is passionate about helping women to get started on a lifestyle of strength and fitness.