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.)

 

The scale is a frustrating, dirty, little liar.

 

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.

 

Stop. 

 

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?

 

Step away from the bike. You can do it!

 

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:

 

  1. Get stronger
  2. Gain muscle
  3. Optimize your hormone levels
  4. 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!)

 

 

17 Responses to Weekly Reader Question # 8: Bust Through Your Fat Loss Plateau (Part 1)

  1. The purposes of your training sessions are to: Get stronger; Gain muscle; Optimize your hormone levels; Increase bone density

    Yes! So important for women to shift their thinking away from using their workouts to get skinny and toward using their workouts to get healthy.

  2. abby says:

    This is such an informative post! I have lots of friends who get frustrated because they don’t see weight dropping after they’ve been working out for awhile. I never knew what to tell them, as I have always been a runner and never really had to struggle with weight. My eyes opened this past fall when my husband got me to the gym and had me lifting heavy weights combined with cutting (most, but not all!) carbs from my diet. I am seeing dramatic changes! Many women are scared of weight rooms at the gym…we need to squash that thought!

    • molly says:

      I totally agree Abby! Thanks for posting and congrats on your newfound love of lifting! It’s life changing, huh? =)

  3. Meg says:

    Absolutely amazing post, Molly! I fear under eating! I am still trying to figure out how much I need in a day as I am trying hard to gain. I don’t do any cardio and lift 4 x per week. Have you written a post about figuring out how many cals you need? Or do you have any advice to give me? Thank you!

    • molly says:

      Meg, the nutrition part of this post *should* be up Thursday if I can manage. I have a crazy, week, but it should be up! Keep your eyes peeled!

  4. Holly says:

    I second Meg’s question. I’ve been eating paleo/primal for almost a year now with cheats on the weekends but sticking at about 1200-1300 calories per day. Absolutely no weight loss. Not one pound. I do karate 3 days a week and just started incorporating 3 weight training days. I’m 32 and 190lbs at 5’7.

    • molly says:

      Holly, keep your eyes peeled for the nutrition post that I mentioned to Meg above. Spoiler alert: you need WAY more calories my friend! Like I said, stay tuned! It will be up soon!

  5. Great post as always Molly! I have an acquaintance who I have watched torture herself at the gym for a couple of years now… She spends 2 hours on the elliptical every day and will do “arms” days every once in a while. I don’t know her well (she’s a friend of a friend) so I don’t feel comfortable jumping in and offering her advice without her asking for it, but I have tried to insinuate many times how amazing she would feel if she traded in that elliptical time for some weight room time!

  6. Pingback: Weekly Reader Question # 8: Bust Through Your Fat Loss Plateau (Part 2) | Molly Galbraith

  7. Pingback: Weekly Reader Question # 8: Bust Through Your Fat Loss Plateau (Part 3) | Molly Galbraith

  8. Jenn says:

    I found your blog through the forum for New Rules of Weight Lifting for Women. I really enjoy the program but I’m frustrated by tracking my diet and exercise in apps that tell me to slash my calories and run my ass off. I know that’s not the right way to lose fat, but I’m having a hard time finding the right balance of calories. I wonder if you can suggest an app that would give nutritional advice from your point of view?

  9. Hi! A friend referred me to your site when I mentioned that I’m interested in trying to break my addiction with cardio and do more weight lifting. I incorporate weights and strength training already, and am liking the initial results, but I’m wondering if all the cardio is prohibiting me from getting stronger and also, that I seem to struggle with small injuries all. the. time. Anyways, so far I’m loving your site, and am going to pop around to different blog posts to start learning. Thank you!! :)

  10. Pingback: Strength Monday 03/04/13 (w/ Bonus Badassery) | theclothesmakethegirl

  11. amie says:

    Can anyone help? I eat around 1780 calories a day! I train 6 days a week doing those insanity workouts, cardio/abs/plyometrics. They last around 1 hour each. im just finishing my 6th week now and started at 132 pounds and i am now 128 pounds. Before starting the workout and nutrition plan, i ate really unhealthy and did no exercise! Its actually a suprise i didnt weigh more than 132 pound! I am female i should say and i am 22 and 5foot 6inches. I know the scale is not everything, and im not finished the required 60 days yet, but i really thought with such a drastic change in my eating and wokring out that i would lose a lot more weight? Here is my days diet:

    8am: oats with skimmed milk and a scoop of protein;
    11am: 1 serving(125grams) of natural fat free yoghurt and an orange;
    1.30: skimmed milk and scoop of protein and a tablespoon of peanut butter;
    2:30: i do my workout and after it have 200mls of chocolate milk and 1/2 a banana
    4.30: Salad (lettuce,cucumber,tomatos,sweetcorn, 2 boiled eggs and turkey);
    6.30: an orange
    7.30: Dinner(brocolli,cabbage,green beans,mangetout,chicken breast, corn and carrots and brown rice or pasta)
    9.30: An apple.

    throughout the morning i eat hazelnuts too, around 16 altogether.

    so total calories: 1780 total fat:43.88g
    totoal carbs: 194.44g total protein: 131g

    Also throughout the day i drink 4 litres of water one of which i put a lemon into.

    Am i eating too much or too frequently? Is there too much fats in my diet? Please help, i really want to lose weight (fat) and tone up!

  12. Philippa Fleming says:

    This is so true. I did the whole ‘cardio thing’ for a year or so – intensely training 6 days per week. Now I lift and interval train 5 times per week and I cannot stress ENOUGH how much better I look, how much better I feel, and how much more fun it is anyway!!! You have constant goals with lifting which is awesome and it can totally transform your body composition!

  13. Betty says:

    thanks for this post Molly! I know I need to let go of the two cardio classes I am still holding onto, but truth be told…I am emotionally connected to the people in class. I just can’t imagine not seeing them each week…they (& the instructor) have been with me on my 3 year journey of health…losing 75 pounds. My story is so similar. I still have about 20 more lbs to lose, my body is angry with me after cardio, etc. I have added 1 full-body workout, so this is good info for me to start to transition. Thanks again…I appreciate all you do!

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