Sprained ankles. Broken bones. Gym Hottie rejection. Stolen spots. The occupied state of the “lucky” treadmill. Pistol whipped by a resistance band. A personal trainer with cold calipers and cold fingers. All the TVs locked onto The Hallmark Channel during a Nicholas Sparks cry-a-thon. Discovering the protein powder mixed in your water bottle is actually infant formula. There are many reasons for tears in the gym and I’ve seen my fair share of them. (Okay, that last one was me. (Fine, all of them were me. Shut up.)) But the number one reason I’ve seen people of both genders collapse in hysterics can be summed up by one word:
Enter from stage left (gym studio left?) my gorgeous, leggy, thin, blond friend. While she recently had a great deal of success losing some poundage, she was not quite yet to her goal and yet her weight loss had stagnated. This, in spite of continuing with her healthy eating and exercise habits. Nothing, my friends, sucks worse than doing “everything right” and have it not work anymore. I wrote a detailed – and rather witty, if I do say so myself – post on plateaus and how to deal with them back in January. (Really go read that one first.) That one deals with all touchy-feely weepy aspects of the Dieter’s Nightmare. (And you thought it was those awful Weight Watcher “cakes” that appear twice their real size on the outside of the box and taste just like the inside of the box. If the box was spread with chocolate-colored grout.) The basic gist is that we’ve all been there. Some of us are still there. It royally stinks.
But my friend wanted more detail about point #4, “Change it up.” (Well, actually she just wanted to borrow my Jillian Michaels book Master Your Metabolism but I can’t find it – I loaned that sucker to somebody, if you know who you are can I please have it back? K thx! – so I offered her my advice as a sorry second.) There are a ton of variables to try changing to see if you can kickstart your metabolism back into high octane burn. Here are a few suggestions to try and a few not to try:
1. Interval training. The science really supports this one. Intervals done right are very painful (you’re training at 90% or more of your maximum ability) but they are short. As with most exercise, more is not better (hgh, human growth hormone, works while you rest, remember?) but do try working in a couple of interval workouts a week. 20 minutes max is all you need. And don’t tack them on to another workout. Seriously. Because then you won’t be able to give those intervals your all. Bored of treadmill sprints (or they give you shin splints)? Try bike sprints. Or rowing sprints. Or, heaven help you because you will barf, swimming sprints.
2. Mess around with your macronutrient ratios. Recent research has shown that eating fat and protein for breakfast can give you a metabolic boost that will help you burn fat throughout the day and help you stay full longer. I’m not saying cut out healthy carbs all together, just don’t fear the fat! And don’t mess around with that Smart Balance stuff – go for the full fat butter, coconut oil, olive oil, heavy cream and whole eggs. For instance, my go-to breakfast these days are my (by way of Deb, Allie, Heather and half the fit-o-sphere) protein pancakes topped with a tablespoon of coconut oil or two tablespoons of heavy cream.
3. Try a new type of exercise. Always do step class? Try martial arts. Die-hard runner? Try boot camp. There are more ways to exercise than even I can blog about (not that I’m not trying, mind you) and change is good. It shocks your body and will make you sore in places you didn’t know you could be sore!
4. Cut back on your cardio. For many of us, the instinct to just do more – more classes, more miles, more laps – is strong. If some is good, more is better right? Not so with exercise. And you know that I speak from experience here. Too much cardio actually teaches your body to store fat, can increase your hunger or just convince you that since you ran 10 miles you can eat whatever you want, goldanggit. Many of the leanest people I know (holla, MizFit!) do minimal cardio and focus mainly on the weights. I’m not telling you not to do cardio – you can have my endorphin rush when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers, er, neurons – just to resist the impulse to do more of it. If you want to run a marathon to prove to yourself you can do it or because you love to run or because racing gives you a thrill or even just because you think the finisher’s tee is adorable then you should totally do it! But if you are running a marathon because you think it will make you lose 10 pounds, rethink that.
5. Lift heavy stuff. If you haven’t started lifting weights, do it. Not just because adding muscle will increase your resting metabolism (not by a ton, but every little bit helps) or because muscle takes up less space than fat but because it is good for you in so many ways. Increased bone mass. Stronger heart. Fewer varicose veins (unless you squat too heavy and then you can get hemorrhoids but that’s another post). Increased confidence. And if you already lift weights, change it up: try lifting heavy with few reps, or light with many reps. Try doing supersets. Lots and lots of different programs out there.
6. Eat more calories. This may sound counterintuitive but I think by now we’ve all heard about how our metabolisms will head off into the Siberia of starvation mode if it thinks it’s not being sufficiently fed. Cutting back on your calories only helps you lose weight to a point. You may actually need to eat a bit more. How to tell? Do you feel tired, lethargic and/or more cold than usual? Have you lost your sex drive? Losing your hair? Brittle or strangely ridged nails?
7. Get your metabolism tested. If you have health insurance and this isn’t too costly, this can be a good thing to do if nothing else is working. Get your thyroid tested (especially if you are pregnant, recently were pregnant, are lactating or are female and over 50). Get your vitamin and hormone levels checked. It can’t hurt and who knows – it might turn up a health issue you need to know about!
1. Calorie counting. For me this one is a loaded weapon but the truth is that it takes you an hour to burn 500 calories but it only takes you five minutes to eat a Cinnabon. It’s much easier to watch what you eat than to change your exercise. If you are trying to break through a plateau it can be useful to track your calories for a while to help you be honest with yourself about what and how much you are really eating. It can also help you see patterns (like, say, if you hit a plateau at a certain time of the month every month.). But if you decide to do this one, do it with care and kindness. Too many of us have sacrificed our well being and mental health on the (un)holy altar of FitDay.
2. Cleanses. I’ve never done one of these. While I do fast for 24 hours once a month for religious reasons (I’m a Mormon), I’ve never tried a fasting or juice or any other “cleanse.” I have friends that swear by them. I remain dubious. If you do one, drop me a line (or write a comment) and tell me about your experience with these!
Don’t Do It
1. Pills. Just remember this: if they actually worked, every one would buy them and we’d all be thin. They don’t work and they prey on your hope and your pocketbook.
2. Extreme diets. Sure you’ll drop pounds but you’ll drop so much more than that too. This is how eating disorders are born.
3. Over-exercise. Learn from me. Please. If there is any silver lining to having gone to treatment twice for exercise addiction, it is that perhaps I can spare some of you a similar fate.
4. Tapeworms. Um, ew.
I know I didn’t hit everything – what suggestions do you have for busting through a weight loss plateau? What have you tried that has worked? What have you tried that hasn’t?