Recently we’ve been discussing metabolism, how the body burns calories and things that put the breaks on our metabolism. In this post I’m going to discuss a situation that is not too uncommon among female fitness enthusiasts and may be leaving them frustrated with their weight loss efforts.
Normally I don’t like to generalize but this is a unique situation and applies to many. And hopefully for those that recognize themselves when reading the sections below they are able to make some changes in their weight loss efforts and realize better results.
The type of person I’m referring to here is one where the following conditions apply:
* they have a weight loss goal
* they prefer cardiovascular exercise as the preferred means of exercise
* they employ a severe caloric restriction in an attempt to lose weight
* they have plateaued in their weight loss efforts
* they are stressed or are becoming so due to the lack of results they are realizing
Does this sound familiar? I think every gym I have every been a member at over my entire life has at least one if not a few female members that fit this profile to a ‘t’.
You know what I mean? They are the members that are at the gym everyday. And not just everyday but first thing in the morning when it opens. And then maybe again after work when for a second workout.
But these workouts aren’t intense lifting sessions. And they aren’t metabolic circuits. Instead these are purely marathon cardio sessions. These individuals have their machines of choice and always perform the same workout, on the same machine, at the same intensity at the same time of day.
Guess what happens as the body gets used to an activity? It gets more efficient. It’s similar to the VW TDI engine that gets better fuel economy over time with servicing and consistent operation. You first buy a TDI and get 900 km for a tank of diesel but a year later it’s not uncommon for this to exceed 1000 or even 1100 km. The machine can do more work with the same amount of energy.
Our bodies react in a similar way only it gets worse. Imagine running 10 km when you are 50 pounds overweight and in terrible physical condition. And you have no idea about proper running technique. And you run the easiest course you can find. A few months later you’ve take a running clinic and improve your running economy. And now that you can run your regular course with no problem so you start to add in some hills and off-road terrain for more of a challenge.
And guess what? You lose some weight. Maybe not the entire extra 50 pounds you were carrying but let’s say 20-30 pounds anyways. So similar to the TDI you are now more efficient at your activity and have better fitness so you burn fewer calories than you did when you started out. But unlike a vehicle which doesn’t lose mass with more driving your body does shed a few pounds. So the same activity over time results in fewer calories burned.
Cue the weight loss plateau…
And this can be stressful for a lot of people.
And guess what happens when we’re stressed? We produce cortisol. And cortisol has a number of effects on the body including:
* suppressed thyroid function = lowered metabolism
* loss of muscle mass which means fewer calories burned
* unbalanced blood sugar which can lead to cravings and binge eating
* accumulation of body fat as cortisol inhibits fat burning
But that’s not all!
What else do you think stimulates cortisol release into the bloodstream? How about dieting and cardio.
And what do you think is the knee-jerk reaction to many people that are fond of long, slow steady-state cardio and hypo-caloric nutritional plans? That’s right they do more cardio and cut their calories even more.
Oh yeah and because they’re stressed about not seeing results they pass on many social functions, never have a piece of cake at staff parties and eliminate any fun from their lives altogether.
Eat more high quality and nutritious calories.
Get enough quality sleep.
Hide the running shoes for a week.
Go to a comedy club. Or watch Dumb & Dumber. Or have a bubble bath. Or do something that you really enjoy and find relaxing.
This will do two things. First, this will stem the flow of cortisol which is hampering weight loss. Secondly, the extra calories will help stimulate the metabolism. After a week or so you can resume training again but this time make sure to add a resistance component and don’t over do it on the cardio.