It’s that dreaded day of the week when getting out of bed seems more painful than usual (no, it’s not Monday morning). You strip down to your birthday suit, take a deep breath, and creep each individual toe onto the platform until your entire bodyweight presses firmly down on the scale. Your weekly weight check should be a time for jubilation. After all, you eek up those cardio hours every week and knock off a few hundred calories from your diet on most days—except the weekends, of course. But the scale numbers don’t budge, and you sit in angst this afternoon because they actually went up instead of down.
While it’s important to note that when it comes to fat loss nothing takes the place of a well-followed nutritional plan and hard work in the gym, there are those times when exercise and diet don’t seem to be quite enough. If you ever hit this plateau, it’s time to look at a few common factors that can bring your fat loss efforts to a screeching halt.
YOU’RE NOT GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP
Whether it’s due to long work days, worries that keep you up all hours of the night, or from the inability to shut down the computer, you probably aren’t getting enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep to function optimally. I’ve seen figures that say the average person gets somewhere around 5-7 hours a night. If you fall into this category, then there is a really good chance that you are trying to operate on less sleep than your body needs, which can be detrimental when it comes to fat loss.
Sleep provides the body an opportunity to repair itself and recover from any damage done during exercise, a stressful workday, or any of the other factors in life that tend to wear you down. It also provides the body with rest, which is critical for peak physical performance. Have you ever gone to the gym after a short night’s rest? If so, chances are your performance was not all that great and you left feeling like you didn’t get all you could have out of your session.
On the other hand, when you’re well rested, you can lift more weight for more reps and run faster than when you’re exhausted. The bottom line is that when you perform better, you burn more calories.
To top it all off, poor sleep habits have been linked to obesity, diabetes and hypertension. (Knutson, 2012).
Not drinking enough water can have a dramatic effect on the body and how well it functions. When I look at the benefits of staying well hydrated as well as the negative effects of dehydration, I see three ways it can slow down your fat loss efforts.
First, some common symptoms of dehydration are poor concentration, muscle weakness, headache, dizziness, and tiredness. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, let alone more than one, you’re going to be much less likely to get in the gym to train. Even if you do train your efforts will be minimized, again resulting in a less than stellar calorie and fat burning training session.
Second, the body’s signal for thirst can often be mistaken for hunger. Imagine your body is craving water and what you’re thinking is, “I’m hungry!” Instead of giving the body what it needs, some zero calorie hydration, you wind up giving it more calories than it needs simply because you misunderstood your body’s signals. You‘re thinking you must need some more food, due to the “hunger” you’re feeling, but in actuality, you’re taking steps backwards with your fat loss efforts.
Third, even slight dehydration has been shown to drop the body’s metabolism. This simply that means that your body will burn fewer calories the more dehydrated you become. A slower metabolism is not something you want when trying to shed unwanted pounds.
YOU’RE TOO STRESSED
We tend to lead stressful lives. Whether it’s a job with a demanding and under-appreciative boss, trying to make ends meet financially or simply juggling getting kids to soccer, practice, piano lessons and making dinner; stress tends to be a common theme in people’s lives.
Much like dehydration, being stressed can cause muscle aches and fatigue, and also increase the chances of getting sick for longer periods of time. Again, none of these are conducive to crushing it in the gym.
Beyond not feeling well, chronic stress has some significant hormonal impacts within the body that impede fat loss.
Stress causes a “fight or flight” response within the body which releases the hormone cortisol. Cortisol sets a chain of events in to action that raises the body’s blood sugar creating quickly accessible energy. This is a good thing when you need to flight or flee.
The problem is that when you are continually stressed, your cortisol levels stay elevated which keeps your blood sugar elevated as well. Over time this causes fat storage as well as insulin resistance. If your body does not respond well to insulin, you will have a much harder time getting rid of and keeping off unwanted body fat (Mercurio, 2012).
OK, NOW WHAT?
Now that you understand how lack of sleep, dehydration, and stress can negatively impact your fat loss efforts, what do you do about it?
Management of these will be totally different depending on your individual situation, needs and lifestyle habits. However, here are some simple tips for each:
For better sleep:
-Have a bedtime and a wake time. Stick to a sleep schedule.
-Turn off electronics an hour before your bedtime.
-Reduce any light in your bedroom. Make it as dark as possible.
-Have a bedtime routine.
To stay hydrated:
-Simply drink more water.
-Carry a water bottle with you at all times and constantly sip from it.
-Shoot for a minimum of 90 ounces a day.
To de-stress your life:
-Schedule your day. Knowing what you’re doing and when alleviates the feeling of a chaotic day.
-Minimize interactions with negative people.
-Create a budget. Stick to it.
It’s worth repeating that getting more sleep, drinking more water, and reducing your stress levels can’t take the place of proper nutrition and a well designed training program. However, if those are in place and your fat loss efforts have still reached a plateau, taking an honest look at these three areas and taking the appropriate steps to make the necessary changes could be just what you need to release the fat loss breaks and move into a leaner, healthier you.
Knutson KL. Does inadequate sleep play a role in vulnerability to obesity? 2012, Jan 24. Am J Hum Biol. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22219. [Epub ahead of print]
Mercurio V, Carlomagno G, Fazio V, Fazio S. Insulin resistance: Is it time for primary intervention? 2012, Jan 26. World J Cardiol. 4(1):1-7.