Are You Slowing Down Your Weight-Loss?
We’ve all done it: After a week of meticulous dieting, you hop on the scale, excited to see your progress. And then horror hits: Somehow, you’ve gained weight. At this moment, it can be tempting to eat your feelings and decide that where you are is just your body’s ‘happy place’. But have faith: You can shed those pounds—so long as you’re smart about it. Losing weight is hard, no matter how much willpower you have. Some of it’s evolutionary—we’re wired to crave donuts—and some of it’s because, despite what we’ve been told forever, losing weight isn’t nearly as simple as “calories in versus calories out.” If you’ve been working hard without seeing results, it might be time to look at your overall lifestyle, says Nadia Sullivan, a lifelong athlete and cycling coach with FasCat Coaching. You may be making some other sneaky weight-loss mistake that’s goading your love handles into holding on for dear life.
Not Eating Enough
If you cut your calories below your body’s resting metabolic rate, “the body gets very unhappy,” says Morgan Johnson, a cycling and triathlon coach with PlayTri. If you’re not eating enough calories to function properly, your body will attempt to conserve what resources it is getting, and your metabolism slows. “This is something I especially see with women,” adds Sullivan. Ideally, a dieter should know their resting metabolic rate, or RMR. You can use free online calculators to get a very basic estimation, or you can have a test done to determine your exact rate. Johnson says most gyms can do this testing for you. Even if you don’t know your RMR, the signs you’re not getting enough high-quality calories are obvious. “When people complain that they are tired all the time, or they get sick a lot, those are both indicators that they may not be taking in enough calories,” says Sullivan.
Eating the Wrong Kind of Calories
Creating a calorie deficit alone won’t help if you’re on an all-chip diet. For years, dietitians preached that a calorie was a calorie was a calorie. But it turns out that may not be totally accurate. A 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who ate a lot of starchy or sugary foods—like soda and potatoes—gained more weight over time than those who didn’t, even when controlling for total daily calorie intake. “Five hundred calories of cake are not processed the same way as five hundred calories of healthy food,” says Johnson. “Starches and sugar are converted to fat quickly—especially if you’re not exercising much. You need to make sure the vast majority of your calories are coming from lean protein, fresh veggies, and good fats,” says Johnson.
Riding the Same Workout Every Day
Sure, any exercise is better than no exercise. However, over time, your body adapts to whatever workout you’ve been doing. As you become more efficient, you burn fewer calories. So, the 30km ride that helped you lose your first 5kg probably won’t help you lose your last five. “If you’re riding at the same effort level all the time, your body isn’t having to adapt,” says Sullivan. She recommends athletes add in at least one day of speed work a week. These intervals will challenge you to work harder—thus burning more calories. There’s a growing body of evidence that high-intensity interval training can burn calories long after the workout is over, too. This is thanks to something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. When you push your body to its absolute limits, you continue to use more oxygen—and thus burn more calories—for hours after you’ve stopped sweating. A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that young women who did high-intensity interval training lost more fat mass than those who burned a similar number of calories during steady-state exercise.
Using Rides As an Excuse to Eat
Many people overestimate how many calories they burn in a given exercise session. But burning less isn’t necessarily what gets you in trouble—it’s using those incorrect numbers as an excuse to eat more. “You quickly make up for the calories burned while also choosing foods that are more likely to lead to weight gain,” warns Marie Spano, RD, who works extensively with athletes. If you use a hard ride to justify eating a few extra slices of pizza, you may end up actually taking in more calories than if you’d just taken the night off from riding and had a salad for dinner. Of course, exercise has tons of benefits beyond weight loss. So you should definitely go out and do that ride. But don’t think you can eat whatever you want afterwards.
Ignoring Your Overall Health
Eating well and working out are huge elements of wellness. But other things (like proper hydration and quality sleep) matter, too, if not just as much. “Dehydration can slow fat metabolism,” says Johnson, adding that she recommends women drink at least 100 ounces of water and men drink 130 ounces daily, with more as needed to make up for sweaty workouts. Plus, water makes you feel full, which is especially helpful when you’re cutting back in the kitchen. A 2015 study published in the journal Obesity found that drinking 500ml of water half an hour before eating for 12 weeks helped obese adults cut back on overall calorie consumption and lose 1.2kg more than other study subjects who used visualisation—imagining already being full before eating—as a weight-loss aid. Sleeping may seem like the antithesis to weight loss—after all, you’re just lying there—but it’s vital. A 2008 meta-analysis of studies showed a clear correlation between less sleep and an increased risk of obesity, while a 2013 study in the journal Nature Communications found the brain actually reacted differently to sweet and salty snacks in a sleep-deprived state—possibly making us crave them more when we’re tired.
You’re Trying Way Too Hard
“The biggest mistake I see people making is dieting during the day. They restrict calories as much as possible early on and then get so hungry, they overeat later in the day,” warns Spano. Try and eat well all day long—making sure you’re getting lean protein, good fats and fiber to keep yourself full. One thing Johnson sees a lot of is people going from “zero to hero” and burning themselves out on a new diet in just a day or two. Instead, Johnson advocates for an 85/15 approach: “You eat well 85 percent of the time and allow yourself to eat not-so-well 15 percent of the time,” she explains. “Some people eat one bad thing and feel like they’ve completely fallen off the wagon and they just give up.” But if you plan for a few indulgences, you can just count your indiscretion as part of your 15 percent and move on.
Not Being Realistic About Your Body
Some people can get leaner than others; it’s just the reality of life. Your body type (an ectomorph versus a mesomorph or endomorph) will determine how fast and how much weight you can (and should) lose. If, for example, you’re a mesomorph, you’re likely always going to be heavier than an ectomorph—but that’s because you’re naturally more muscular, and muscle is heavy. Coming to grips with what your biology gave you is crucial to finding satisfaction in your results. “Also, remember that losing weight doesn’t always equal better health. Sure, if you’re obese, you will find significant benefits in shedding weight. But there’s a point of diminishing returns—especially for cyclists who need power to push those pedals. Finding a weight where you perform well is much more important than stressing over a number on a scale,” says Johnson.
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