“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.
In part 1 and part 2 of this post, I addressed the exercise and nutrition parts of what I believe is causing Sarah’s fat loss plateau. Today I am going to discuss the lifestyle components that may help Sarah bust through her fat loss plateau. Of course, Sarah didn’t provide me with a ton of information about her lifestyle, so these recommendations will be based on the issues that need to be addressed with the majority of my clients who are experiencing fat loss plateaus. Enjoy!
Sleep is an absolutely crucial part of the fat loss equation (and something that I admittedly struggle with a lot). My buddy Robb Wolf has said (paraphrased), “When it comes to maximum fat loss, adequate sleep can be even more important than exercise.” WOW! More important than exercise?!
Could that be right? Absolutely! After just a few nights of minimal sleep, your insulin sensitivity is decreased significantly, your cortisol levels will be negatively affected, not to mention you won’t have any energy, you’ll feel like crap, and it will be harder to stick to your nutrition plan! Here are some tips for adequate sleep:
1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Getting into a routine will help you fall asleep more quickly, stay asleep more easily, and you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed.
2. Try to fall asleep before midnight. I have nothing to back this up (although I am sure there is information out there to do so). But I’ve heard it my whole life, and I know that I always feel a huge difference when I go to bed before midnight, even if the amount of sleep is the same. So there’s my awesome anecdotal evidence. Boom. You might as well try it and see how you feel. You’ve got nothing to lose (except maybe more fat!).
3. Shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. I know, I know…who can honestly get 9 hours? Seems like a pipe dream, right? That’s why it’s a GOAL. Shoot for it. And the amount of sleep that each of us needs differs greatly. Some people feel great on 7, while the rest of us need a solid 9 to feel resfreshed.
4. Sleep in a completely pitch black room with NO light (I mean NONE). This will greatly improve the quality of your sleep and you will feel more rested even if you can’t get *more* sleep.
I have learned the most about the importance of recovery from my friend, mentor, and business partner Jim Laird. He preaches recovery to me and to all of our clients all the time because he realizes what an impact it has on their training, and their overall health.
Remember, you don’t get stronger when you’re training, you get stronger when you RECOVER from your training. Therefore, if you don’t recover, you don’t repair your body, you can’t train as hard the next time you train. Or if you do continue to train hard without recovering fully, your body will break down at some point. This could happen in the form of an injury, illness, or even an autoimmune disease. Here are some of my favorite recovery modalities (we already discussed sleep!):
1. Nutrition: if you don’t have the raw materials that your body needs to function optimally and repair itself, then your body won’t repair itself. Its that simple. Eat enough high-quality, nutrient-dense foods like: grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, vegetables, and fats, and add in some well-timed carbs like sweet potatoes and fruit for optimal recovery. Learn more about how carbs fit into your diet for optimal fat loss here.
2. Soft tissue mobilization: this can be done on yourself using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, stick, or theracane. Or you could see a professional for treatment (massage, ART, etc.). But either way, soft tissue mobilization is one of the best (and most enjoyable, in my opinion) ways to speed up recovery.
3. Epsom salt bath: epsom salt baths not only feel incredible, but they can help relieve muscle soreness and speed up repair. Epsom salt baths are also a great way to increase your magnesium levels. Many of us are deficient in magnesium and it’s not absorbed easily through the digestive tract, so absorbing it through your skin via an epsom salt bath is perfect.
Learn about more recovery modalities here.
This, believe it or not, is the GRANDADDY of them all. As we all (should) realize by now, the body is a system. I like to think of it like an assembly line, and I picture the hilarious I Love Lucy episode where when one part of the assembly line is disrupted, the whole thing turns into a big disaster.
Luckily, with the human body, things don’t typically go awry that quickly, but you get the idea. If you’re like most Americans, and you don’t prioritize stress management, your body could be primarily in a state of “fight or flight” (i.e. sympathetic nervous system) all the time. You see, your body doesn’t differentiate between different types of stress, so the reactions to different stressors are similar. For example, when you’re late for a meeting and stuck in traffic, fighting with your spouse, or bouncing a check, your body reacts similarly to when you’re being held at gun point, or being chased by a predator. Essentially, your body thinks you’re running from a lion trying not to get eaten ALL. DAY. LONG.
No wonder we are all exhausted.
Another important point to consider, is that we are the only animals who can create our own stress. We sit around all day worrying and stressing, often about things over which we have no control. We allow ourselves to be overworked and underpaid, we say “yes” too often when we don’t want to, and we spread ourselves wayyyy too thin (yes, ladies… I am talking to YOU). Check out this book for more information.
This is actually inspiring a whole other blog post as I type this, so I won’t flesh it out too much here or the post would take five hours to read, but here are the main points:
1. Learn to chill! Whenever you feel yourself getting worked up about anything, especially if you cannot control it, stop and take 10 deep breaths. When you are done you will be more relaxed and focused, and hopefully have more perspective on the situation.
2. Meditate! Whether it’s prayer, deep breathing, or just laying down and listening to your favorite relaxing music, take 5 minutes a day, once or twice a day to clear your mind and relax. It will be one of the most difficult, but important things you learn to do for yourself.
3. Remove unnecessary stressors from your life! Do you HATE chairing that one committee at your children’s school and dread every meeting? Then step the heck down! Let someone else do it who gets enjoyment from it.
Do you have one friend who always calls and just unloads all of their negativity on you and leaves you feeling icky? Have a talk with them about their behavior and let them know that you care for them and want the friendship to fill you both up, not suck you dry. Who knows? You may be just the boost they need to make a change!
Commit to taking care of yourself, so that you can fulfill your responsibilities more fully and with more passion. You might do less overall, but you’ll do it well!
4. Be filled with gratitude! The other day I worked from 9 am until 11 pm, I was incredibly cranky because our internet was slow at the gym, I was starving because I hadn’t eaten much that day, I felt work piling upon more work, and I felt like everyone wanted something from me. I was about to lose it. I packed up my stuff, got in my car and headed home. On the way home, I started thinking about why I was so upset and I realized:
A) I worked all day because our gym is SLAMMED with new clients, effectively tripling my workload.
B) I was cranky about my internet being slow AT MY OWN DREAM GYM THAT I CO-OWN. Boo freaking hoo.
C) I was hungry at the moment, but my metabolism is healthy enough that I can go hours at a time without eating and not suffer adverse blood sugar reactions, plus I could have stopped at one one of the wonderful grocery stores within a 2 mile radius and gotten any type of food I desired with the money that was in my pocket. Pretty damn blessed when you think about others who do not have food so readily available, or who have to worry about how they will pay for their next meal.
D) Everyone wanted something from me because people LIKE MY WORK and want to work with me. They feel like I can help them and change their lives for the better. Man that’s humbling. I’m actually in tears as I write that statement. I love my job.
It was that simple. Thinking those thoughts was all it took to turn a stressful situation into an amazing situation. I instantly started chuckling at myself, and just started feeling grateful for my life. It really *IS* all about perspective isn’t it?
To read more about gratitude, check out this post.
OK, OK, OK… like I said, I could talk about this stuff all day. And I think I will. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming blog post about stress management and health.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series about busting through your fat loss plateau. And a HUGE thanks to Sarah for putting herself out there and submitting a very common question. If you enjoyed it, please share it with others so we can help as many people as possible. And be sure to check out part 1 and part 2 in case you missed them!