It's not your imagination.
The female fat loss struggle is REAL.
If you're anything like me, you've had at least one experience of spending an inordinate amount of time recruiting a male accountability partner (“hey let's do this diet together…please…please”) – only to end up frustrated when he finally agrees, and seems to get ALL the results.
Sure you start off strong, and have WAY more willpower, but eventually you hit a plateau and he…doesn't. Of course this is an oversimplification of gender (not all men lose fat super easily), but men definitely have a few advantages over us.
In this episode, we discuss the 5 reasons why fat loss is harder for women:
(alternatively, you can read the two part series on the female fat loss struggle here).
PS. I'd love to chat with you!! Wanna interact with me LIVE next time to ask your questions? Make sure you’re following EM2WL over on Facebook to get notifications the second a new broadcast is scheduled!
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 Over the past number of years it has been confirmed that the BMI chart is 100% outdated and should not be used to measure your health.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 :)
When it comes to fitness gadgets, one of the most popular items is the heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors can be a great way to track calorie burn, and measure recovery levels during overly-stressed periods — but they are not always the best in every workout situation. In fact, when it comes to lifting, Heart Rate Monitors are not accurate for lifting.
Heart Rate Monitors are not accurate for lifting
If you jump on a cardio machine for a half hour workout, you'll notice a spike in calorie burn. If you spend the same amount of time doing a lifting routine, you'll notice you don't burn as many calories as you did in your cardio session. So cardio is the obvious winner, right?
When it comes to lifting weights, the bulk of the calorie burn comes in the EPOC (afterburn). Afterburn, as the name suggests, is the period of time after your workout concludes in which your body's metabolic rate is much higher than normal. So while you may burn fewer calories during the initial lift, you burn more overall in the hours/days following due to boosted metabolism. On the flip side, when it comes to cardio, what you see is what you get. This means is that when your cardio workout ceases, so does your calorie burn.
This can put heart rate monitors at a disadvantage when it comes to lifting, because they can dissuade “burn addicts” from strength training. Being addicted to the burn often causes people to place more focus on cardio than necessary, because they love to see that number spike during workouts. And I get it. We all want more bang for our buck – but when we let an initially low number on our heart rate monitor dissuade us from lifting, we're heading down the wrong road. Because muscle is the key to a healthy metabolism and high quality of life, we can't count on the number of calories burned during the workout to tell us how well we're doing.
The type of workout, doesn't immediately correlate to the burn that your HRM will show. This is true not only of weight lifting, but also with different types of cardio, as with HIIT/interval type workouts. Longer cardio sessions may show a higher burn than short, quick, HIIT style workouts. Circuits may show a higher calorie burn that lift/rest/lift style training. The key is to understand that both weight lifting and interval type workouts (anaerobic) lead to building (and keeping) more muscle than their alternatives. As you continue to build more muscle, your resting metabolic rate continues to increase (think more calories burned simply by sitting on the couch! Yeaaaahhhhh!).
If you're attached to your heart rate monitor, have no fear. The key is to make your heart rate monitor work for you – use it during cardio to gauge effectiveness and adaptability and keep in mind that wearing it during lifting isn't going to give you an accurate result. If you're bent on trying to get a more accurate number, you can look into adding something like a Fitbit to your arsenal, which will do a slightly better job of helping you understand how to properly fuel your body. Just be sure to note that when it's all said and done, even these “more accurate” devices typically underestimate the amount of cals burned. So don't use either as an excuse to undereat. ;)
Keeping the limitations of your HRM in mind will help you to continue including the workouts that are giving you the most return on your investment, while sprinkling in moderate doses of activities that you love. Seek true balance, rather than constantly fighting the uphill battle of too much cardio, and zero weights, to the detriment of your fat loss goals.
Remember: “cardio for fun, weights to transform!”
If you’ve dieted in the past or are currently dieting, you may have experienced (or heard recently about) metabolic issues. Headlines, infomercials, and even your fave fitspo are doling out method after method for how to “fix” the damage done to your metabolism. We hunt for the best foods, drinks, supplements, workouts, and “bulletproof” ways to turn back the hands of time (dang you, aging process!!). Some are in denial, others using it as a crutch – but we can't deny that our metabolisms seem to be doing everything in their power to work against us.
But what if the one aspect that we often glaze over/assume is negotiable when seeking to rebuild our metabolisms, is key to pulling this whole thing off? And where the heck does dieting (and finally losing that weight) come in to play?
When you’re dieting, the amount of calories you burn literally becomes less – anywhere from 300 (average) to 800 calories fewer. This change can happen in as little as a two month time frame because of what dieting does to our metabolism. This adaptation, in addition to the natural aging process of the body that also slows the metabolism, can create the perfect backdrop for what is now trending as “metabolic damage.”
The effects of short bouts of dieting can affect your body for up to a year. Longer/repeated bouts can make this unwanted adaptation last even longer! The approach of eating less and working out more has a failure rate of 95%. For a generation that has more diet plans, health food stores, gyms (and internet access to pics of the fittest people on the planet) than ever before, the obesity epidemic is only rising. And it's not for lack of trying…or at least not in full.
Sedentary lifestyles (thanks again, technology!), of course, contributes heavily to slowed metabolic rates. Hormones also affect metabolism, as do environmental pollutants. Out of all these things, though, your muscles relationship to your metabolism carries the highest weight (literally). Most diets place primary focus (and success rating) on the amount of weight loss. However, twenty to fifty percent of the loss you experience during a typical, low-calorie/high cardio diet is muscle mass. Seventy-five percent of your BMR (basal metabolic rate) — the amount of calories you burn just being alive — is composed of your muscle. Therefore the more muscle you have, the higher your BMR becomes. And vice versa.
This is important to understand in the scheme of weight loss. Striving to lose only weight – while paying little attention to where the weight comes from – is destructive to the maintenance of any perceived success. And if you've ever lost and regained weight before, you know that keeping the weight off is harder than getting it off in the first place. The second you go back to eating “normal,” game over.
So while you may end up weighing less after any given diet, it will be to the detriment of your metabolism. Those who simply lose weight from dieting, require less calories to maintain that weight than someone (of the same weight) who has never dieted. The more times you repeat this process, the lower your calorie requirements are. It's a nasty metabolic game that you don't want to play, and will likely never win.
Kashonna focused on building muscle, and no longer worries about the scale!
Regardless of whether or not you want a muscular look, they key is the look that you want (less fat), without having to reduce calories into oblivion, requires muscle. The point of resistance training is to preserve the muscle mass you have and build more. If your muscle mass is decreasing due to the diet you’re on, then your plan of attack is counterproductive. Set your diet/exercise plan up for success. Dieting with no exercise will result in the highest loss of muscle. If you’re dieting with some cardio, you will lose slightly less muscle. If you’re dieting and doing resistance training, you will lose little to no muscle – this is key!
The bottom line? The best way to fix your metabolism is to build and rebuild muscle mass, not just lose fat (or worse, lose weight). Having more muscle will increase the amount of calories that your body requires, and will aid you in finally losing the fat. If you've already played Metabolic Roulette for longer than you can remember, then the steps to healing your metabolism will eventually become inevitable. Eat and exercise in a way that keeps or adds to the muscle mass you already have and you’ll be heading in the right direction to fix and maintain your metabolism at its highest efficiency.
There are 3 ways to tell if a diet will work for you. During this time of year we are being bombarded with diet ads, and “New Year, New You” promises blare at us from every angle in the grocery checkout line. As you’re scouring the diet book aisle, or looking to hit “purchase” on that new online program, make sure that you are checking to see if the plan suits your lifestyle, priorities, and sustainability needs. Here's three ways to tell, right off the bat, if a diet will work for YOU.
Does it Exclude Foods You Adore?
If it doesn’t allow you to eat foods that you love, why waste your time? How could that possibly be sustainable in the long run?
If you find the “perfect” weight loss plan, and it removes every food that you’ve ever loved, don't expect to be able to keep it up for long. This should be your first red flag that the diet is not going to be sustainable. Any eating plan that helps you to lose weight (preferably from fat), needs to be something that you are going to be able to stick to. So make sure that it allows you to eat foods that you love, in moderation. You may be convinced that such a thing is not possible — and that you must be punished for your sins of weight gain — but this is a MUST. If fave foods aren't included, you will not be able to be consistent. Even if you do lose the weight, the second you begin to eat “normal” again (adding back all the things you cut out during your “diet”), it all piles back on (and then some).
Does it allow you to be flexible?
Let's say it does cut back on certain types foods, and you don't mind. Maybe you do truly want to reduce your intake of it, or start eating less of certain things overall, is there still a flexibility aspect to it? Or are the rules very strict? If you go “off track,” will you ruin your diet and feel hopeless?
It shouldn’t be all or nothing. If the diet doesn’t allow you to eat cake at your sons birthday, have the occasional dessert, drink that glass of wine when you’re out with your husband, how will you feel during those moments? Can you decide to eat something (that maybe you’re not eating all of the time) during a special occasion, without feeling like “ugh!…I blew my diet!”?
If that’s the case, then whatever you’re doing is probably not sustainable. One of my favorite quotes from Leslie Schilling, says that “if what you’re doing requires you to cheat…it is not sustainable or healthy.” If you have to have cheat days (including unplanned binges), where you’re allowing yourself to go off-the-rails, eating any and everything…then maybe you need to be rethinking it. If you don't have flexibility, and permission to eat the foods you love built in to your diet, you’re eventually going off-the-rails anyway. The best example of this is the “I'll start my diet Monday” mentality.
If Monday through Friday your diet is perfection, but Saturday and Sunday you’re binging so much that it completely outweighs what you did the rest of the week — then it was pointless. You’d have been better off having some type of treat everyday, in small amounts, rather than going crazy on the final day. Often we spend so much time during the week avoiding the craving, only to give in at a later time (aka the weekend). The problem is that we could have simply had a small amount and been fulfilled when the craving was small, rather than “needing” to insanely overeat the same food when we eventually run out of willpower.
Sawanda, a long time Crusher showing that weight loss does not equal fat loss
Dieting plays an enormous role in Binge Eating Disorder (BED). We spend so much of our lives dieting, and trying to claim victory over our willpower, that we don’t realize what’s happening. Restriction is the most common precursor to binging. Refusing to acknowledge this, triggers a nasty cycle: you horrible that you binged, but since you've “already ruined it” you keep going, vowing to start your diet Monday (again). Come Monday, you’re super strict (again), yet you can only hold out for so long…then you binge. Rinse. Repeat.
Does it Promise Specific Amounts of Weight Loss?
Weight loss is individual to you. Anything that touts “10 pounds in 10 days” or otherwise promises you're going to lose a certain amount of weight in a specific amount of time is bull…crap. (yep…I went there :P). Those types of claims are not promoting individual results, meaning: it's not realistic.
Your mental energy (and precious muscle mass) will likely be wasted, trying to force something (that may be unnatural!) to happen within a certain amount of time. You may see temporary (mostly water) weight loss on the scale, but you will likely land right back at square one (or worse) when it's all said and done. And for what? A few days of feeling like you've accomplished something because a few magical (and fleeting) numbers flashed on a scale?
No one can guarantee you any amount of weight loss in a certain amount of time. So when you come across a new plan, that appears to be making such promises, read the fine print. You'll typically find that it says “results not typical” or “lose up to X amounts.” Your dieting results must always include your individual spin; in execution AND results. One person may start losing weight right away, (newbie dieters tend to lose all the weight quickly) but another (ie. someone who has dieted over-and-over) may take a much longer time.
The Bottom Line
You have your three red flags (there are more – but let's roll with these top three), so USE them when you feel motivated to take (diet) action. Set aside all impulsive thoughts, or lures of the before/afters, and get real with yourself. If it’s not allowing you to eat the foods that you love, inflexible (you feel like it has to be all-or-nothing), or it’s guaranteeing you a certain amount of weight loss (there’s no individuality variables)…RUN (don't walk) away.
The diet that allows you to be consistent is always the diet that wins, period. The perfect diet that you do in spurts, is never going to outweigh the imperfect diet that you do consistently. So find something that you can do consistently, even if it just means that you’re taking baby steps (start with ONE habit, and run that sucker into the ground until it's second nature).
Temptation is about to hit. Stay strong.
Between your skin and bones, there’s muscle and fat. If you’re over the age of 20 (yes…20!), and have been consistently inactive, your body will naturally gain fat and lose muscle when not on a lifting and/or healthy (higher protein) eating regimen. This happens as a result of being sedentary, and not engaging muscles. Many of us set the same goal year after year to lose weight. But as the years go by, we're noticing that every time weight loss occurs, the end result is a physique that looks different attempt to attempt. You may even think “I'm looking fatter than I did last time I was this weight.” But why?
(Watch the full replay for answers to this and other questions. Broadcast recap below video…)
WEIGHT Loss Doesn't Equal FAT Loss
It's often assumed (*cough* ladies) that there’s no reason to have muscle — if we don’t want to be ripped, or look “manly.” (Really, ladies?…1990 called and wants it theories back). We think that as long as we’re getting smaller, there's no point in lifting (read: gaining or preserving muscle mass). While we may have been able to fool ourselves into believing this at 22, eventually we're faced with reality: muscle equals metabolism. Having less of one, means lowering the other. The more times we diet, the more muscle is lost, and fat is gained. If the weight loss stints are really quick, we've just increased our odds.
The faster weight comes off, the more likely it is that we’re experiencing muscle loss and not just fat loss. The more yo-yoing our body does, the more weight we gain each time. This means we need to lose more weight each time, with more of the loss likely being from muscle mass. We start to notice that we look softer, and all that cardio we used to do, doesn’t “work” anymore.
Time to face the facts: Quick-fix diets will never “work.” The *temporary* WEIGHT LOSS primes you for FAT GAIN
Gaining fat isn’t a difficult job. Our bodies are good at doing so without us even trying. (I doubt I just blew your mind, there, LOL.) To gain muscle, however, we must put forth a conscious effort. While we may tend to think we have too much fat on our frames, the problem instead may be we just don’t have enough muscle. Having too little muscle is like drilling for water in the desert, it's gonna take a heck of a lot more effort – which much less rewarding payoff. Without a sufficient amount of muscle, our “weight loss” goals will never be sustainable for long. This means that many of us ladies have to get over the fear of weightlifting, and thoughts about how gaining muscle will make us look like a bodybuilder (myth).
Do It Right, or Do It Over
When it comes to fat loss, programs and approaches that may have worked for you in the beginning aren’t necessarily going to work for you in the long run. This is why it's so important to remember to start small if you’re just getting into the swing of fat loss, healthy eating and resistance training. There are many levels involved to getting to that peak level. Trying to go straight to the highest level leaves you with little room for plateau adjustments (no trump card to pull!), and typically doesn't provide enough time to develop habits that stick. So take the time to do it right, instead of constantly doing it over. Always have another trick up your sleeve. Pick one thing and nail it before you move onto something else. For example: incorporate more protein (from 90 grams to 120 grams, then 120 grams to 150 grams, etc) in your diet until you master it.
*Side note: Metabolism resets are key if you’re a yo-yo dieter or have been on a low-calorie diet for an extended period of time. It’s easy to get caught up in the scale weight, but the key is to think about the long term. Too much cardio and too little food will absolutely lead to muscle loss. Real progress takes time and requires a realistic perspective. If you/your clients want to get results, they’ve got to start weight lifting. Being skinny doesn’t equal results. Being strong and healthy does.
Cross section of thigh muscle, notice what happens to muscle/fat ratio over the years? Plan of attack must change with age. Preserving/building muscle is essential.
Arm Yourself for Sustainable Success
Ask somebody what their ideal end goal physique is and you’ll often hear “I just want to be skinny and not look like a bodybuilder.” By arming yourself with the proper information and knowledge, you can create a program that combines strength training and a proper diet (i.e. adequate protein intake). Constantly working on those areas (knowledge, lifting, diet) will change your entire perspective on the body transformation process. Gathering information, like taking your own diet history into consideration, can be a very helpful in discovering if you are actually dealing with a muscle deficit. Using this information, you can learn how to train and eat for muscle. Eating around a maintenance level of calories (also known as TDEE) can often prove to be the best approach.
If weight loss were easy, everybody would be running around looking like fitness models. The reality of it is that there’s a science and method behind the madness. In order to create healthy, sustainable weight loss, you’ve got to target the fat mass and preserve/add to the muscle mass.