“Molly, I am so frustrated. I have lost a ton of weight over the last 14 months (80 lbs.) but now my body seems totally stuck. I still have some weight that I want to lose, and I am still working really hard and eating clean, but the scale is just NOT budging. Should I just drop more calories? Try to work out more? I am in the gym 6 days a week right now. 4 day body part split (legs, arms/abs, chest/shoulders, back), (3) 60 minute spin classes, (2) 90 minute kickboxing classes, and I usually do cardio on my own if I am not spinning or kickboxing. Thanks in advance for your time.” – Sarah G.
No, no, no. Thank YOU Sarah for writing in. This is a super, super common issue that I deal with constantly with my nutrition clients. They have lost a ton of weight (hopefully fat, but it’s hard to know if they haven’t been using an accurate body composition measurement method), and once they stall, they keep dropping calories and adding more training (usually cardio) trying to keep the scale moving.
(SIDE NOTE: PLEASE do not stress so much about the scale. Yes, it can be part of the equation in measuring progress, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. Click here to read more about how the scale should be used, if at all.)
First and foremost, congratulations on losing so much weight. That’s a huge accomplishment. Secondly, girl… let me help you!! Like I mentioned, your story is so similar to so many others that I get all the time. I swear, with 90% of my female nutrition clients, the first thing I do is raise their calories (not arbitrarily, of course, but they are never eating enough!).
For some reason, it’s been beaten into our heads that we need to be eating 1,200 calories a day to lose body fat and that is simply NOT TRUE! Especially if you train hard in the gym (which you clearly do!) you need to be eating to fuel your performance, and eating so that you can be healthy enough to lose body fat.
In Part 1 of this two-part article, I am advising you to scale back your training, specifically the cardio and the classes. If you’re like most women who have lost a ton of weight, you have become “addicted” to the super hard cardio sessions, and you are scared to death that stopping those will halt your fat loss. I understand. I have held many-a-client’s hands through this process.
Take a deep breath.
And step away from the spin bike.
Your body has likely become so efficient at the exercise you’re doing, that you’re burning fewer and fewer calories with each session. Remember, ‘efficient’ is not a good thing in this scenario. A Prius is fuel-efficient, which means it doesn’t burn much fuel, right? See where I am going with this?
So not only have you become super-efficient at the exercise you’re doing, but your body is probably just plain exhausted. As my good friend and business partner Jim Laird says, “Excess body fat is not a sign of over-eating or under-exercise, it’s a sign of an unhealthy body.” I have a feeling that many people disagree with this statement, but we have helped countless people lose tons of body fat, get stronger, and feel better by scaling back their exercise significantly, and increasing their calories significantly.
In terms of your training, you should stop thinking about “burning calories” and start realizing that the purposes of your training sessions are to:
- Get stronger
- Gain muscle
- Optimize your hormone levels
- Increase bone density
If you focus on those during your training sessions, and start getting optimal rest and recovery, the nutrition will take care of the excess body fat.
I know it will be difficult, as the exercise is addictive, and honestly, you’re probably so exhausted by all of this exercise that the only time you feel good is during or right after your training sessions. That’s not good. In fact, that’s a surefire sign that you are “cooked,” and in desperate need of more recovery.
Start by slowly scaling back over the next several weeks. Spend the time that you would normally spend in the gym, actually recovering from the gym. Because remember, you don’t get stronger while you’re training, you get stronger while you’re recovering.
I would try and use this template to start scaling back your workouts (FYI, these are cumulative changes, so as you make one change, keep that change and add the other changes to it):
Week 1: cut out the cardio “on your own” this week.
Week 2: substitute (1) 30 minute very light, leisurely walk for each of the following: 1 spin class, and 1 kickboxing class.
Week 3: drop 1 more spin class and don’t substitute in anything else.
Week 4: drop 1 of your lifting days, and switch to 3 full-body workouts a week focusing on large, compound exercises (squats, deadlifts, rows, chin-ups, push-ups, heavy carries, etc.).
OK, at this point, you are lifting 3 days a week doing a full-body training program, walking 2 times a week for 30 minutes for leisure, and doing 1 kickboxing class, and 1 spinning class. Ideally I would drop all of the spinning and kickboxing classes period, let your body recover for a while, and then (down the road) add in some shorter, more intense interval training like prowler pushes, sled drags, medicine ball slams, kettlebell swings, etc.
But I am a realist.
If you can commit to dropping the spinning and kickboxing I would recommend it. If you can’t commit to that for now, just give yourself a little bit of time. I think that once you start to realize that you can get better results in less time with more effective training and eating, and you can actually have a LIFE outside the gym, you will come around. And in the future if you want to spin or kickbox occasionally because you enjoy it, that’s OK.
Just realize that spinning and kickboxing yourself into oblivion is not ideal for long-term body fat loss or health. Have some people gotten results with it? Sure. But they are the minority. Most often the people you see doing cardio classes year in and year out look the same every year (sometimes worse).
I hope this is helpful, and stay tuned for Part 2, where I cover what you should be doing with your nutrition!
P.S. This blog post above is EXACTLY the kind of thing I will be discussing IN DETAIL at the Train Like A Girl Seminar we are having at our gym in May. I am discussing common/mistakes and pitfalls women make with their nutrition and training when trying to lose body fat. Check out more details of the seminar HERE. (Hint: it’s going to be amazing and there is an early-bird sale going on now!)