By the time you are reading this, January will have passed and left a blazing trail of ‘new me’s’ in the gyms, on the roads and in the sport clubs. If you are someone with a New Year’s resolution involving a healthier, fitter life, read on for more tips and tricks to stick to in order to reach your goals. If you’re just here by chance or curiosity, your time will likely be rewarded too.
Let’s take it from the top. You’ve made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and start exercising and live a healthier life. You might even have committed to a ‘dry’ January. If you’ve been consistent with your training, eaten pretty healthily and dropped the alcohol for a month, you are bound to get results. How much and for how long is a different story.
There are three hurdles which can stall weight loss or the feeling of progress.
Quite often the body will react to changes initially, which shows in a noticeable weight drop. If you have started exercising and cutting out unnecessary calories, you are in a caloric deficit, which means you burn more calories than you consume, so you are losing weight.
It’s basic math and, most of the time, this is exactly what happens. However losing weight is not a linear journey for most people. At some point your body gets used to the lower caloric intake and will slow metabolism to preserve the nourishment. While we are very much living in a time and place in the world where starvation is very rare, our bodies are built for a different time and place where running out of food is an option and therefore must be conserved efficiently.
Secondly, if you are suffering from longterm stress, the weight loss could stall due to rising levels of cortisol, which affects metabolism, increases appetite and often sends cravings for fast energy fixes such as sugar, fast food and chocolate.
In this scenario the usual ‘calories in – calories out’ math doesn’t work anymore, unless we’re talking extremes, which should be avoided at all cost, since this can damage your health. In extreme cases this can mean fatigue, menstruation issues for women, hair loss, damage to nail and teeth and loss of muscles.
The third obstacle, which can mess up even the best diet or exercise plan, is lack of sleep. In a lab study for weight loss between people who get 8.5 hours of sleep versus 5.5 hours, the results were remarkable in that while both groups lost the same amount of weight (ca.3kg); the big difference was that people who got 8.5 hours of sleep lost 1.4kg of fat vs 0.6kg of fat for 5.5 hours, of the 3kg dropped for the two weeks the lab study lasted. Considering that one of the kilos lost is most likely water weight, 1.4kg of fat loss is a very good outcome.
Equally important as the quality of the weight loss, the group who lacked sleep had a higher production of the hormone grehlin.
Grehlin is the hormone which signals to the brain that the stomach is empty and it’s time to eat. In other words it controls the feeling of hunger. Lack of sleep makes the production of grehlin higher than normal and makes you feel more hungry, which can lead to eating more.
And as if this wasn’t enough bad news about lack of sleep, your muscles won’t repair or grow as well on a few hours of sleep at night. You can train as much as you want, but without proper sleep, you won’t see the best results.
What can we do to stay on track for weight loss and a better health journey?
If sleep and stress are under control, then it might just be your body stonewalling the weight loss because it got used to your diet and exercise. A way to trick the body is to switch up the form of exercise. Introducing HIIT (High intensity Interval training) is a good way to do this. If your training already incorporates lots of cardio with high heart rate zones, you can add weightlifting to your regime. Muscles burn more calories than fat.
If stress is a big obstacle, the general advice is to take care of your mental wellbeing first. If the standstill adds to your stress, the advice is to cut down on your training sessions and/or intensity and try not to be too hard on yourself regarding diet. This is of course a very difficult situation, as changing training and diet plans can add to a feeling of stress in itself. So try first and foremost to yourself grace in this period. If the situation which causes you stress can be resolved this will be your best solution. If it’s something outside of your control, you can work on accepting this and try to find ways to minimise the stress. Or simply accept that your weight loss will be slow in this period, but keep training for all the other reasons, rather than just to lose weight: Being active, if you run/walk/bike outside – enjoy the closeness to nature – learning new movement patterns, becoming good at your sport, enjoying increased serotonin production (feel good hormone).
For lack of sleep there are many roads to take. If you exercise in the evening, try to find time to do it earlier on. For some people the endorphins/serotonin from exercising can interfere with their sleep. If you’re watching TV or looking at screens get into the habit of shutting them off at least an hour before bedtime. Also you can try to avoid caffeinated drinks from the afternoon on.
Regardless of what obstacle you are facing, don’t give up. Losing weight and implementing healthier lifestyle choices isn’t a linear process from A to B. It can be a very winding road, and sometimes you feel like you’re running around in circles, are stuck in the mud or flying high on a summer breeze. And it’s all part of the journey. So stick with your goal, adjust when you have to, be flexible but consistent and don’t forget to enjoy the journey. You will reach your goal and if you’ve found the road positive and fulfilling, rather than restrictive and tough, you are most likely to succeed in the longterm.
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