Why is it So Hard To Lose The Last 15 Pounds?

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question-icon-newI have been trying to lose 15 pounds for the last YEAR! I was initially working out at the gym for two 45 minute sessions daily (one in the morning and one in the evening) to lose the extra weight in the beginning. I achieved my goal of 105 pounds. I am 5’2″ and have a small frame, so this weight was ideal for me. Despite sticking to this program (2 workouts a day) and even changing it around to 1 workout including interval training, weights, alternate muscle group days, etc (I tried the LOT), I gained 10 pounds and can’t get rid of them to get back to my competition weight. It is mostly fat gain, not lean muscle as I look terrible. I’ve even resorted to 14 days of restricting my calorie intake to less than 700 calories a day and burning 500 calories a day through cardio and aerobics at the gym.

My current diet is:

  • Breakfast: oats and fat-free soy milk with a decaf coffee and soy milk.
  • Snack: 5 almonds and a piece of fresh fruit (usually green apple) or fresh vegetables (carrot, celery sticks).
  • Lunch: soy smoothie with fat free soy milk, piece of fresh veggie or fruit. A piece of tofu on a whole-wheat cracker.
  • Snack: whole wheat cracker with 2 teaspoons of tahini.
  • Dinner: bowl of steamed veggies (broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, snow peas, zucchini, Brussels sprouts and baby squash – NEVER any potatoes). Sometimes I add in cubes of tofu or a couple of tablespoons of beans.

weight-training-lose-poundsSometimes I have a snack around 8pm of warm fat-free soy milk with 3-4 almonds or a tsp of tahini on a rice cracker. I rarely drink alcohol and I don’t eat refined carbohydrates, wheat or gluten-based products or anything with artificial sweeteners. I’m currently on a dairy-free diet as well because I wasn’t seeing results when I was eating lean dairy.

I was advised to take L-glutamine as a supplement to ensure I was getting enough essential amino acids. During a consultation at a local health facility, I was advised to decrease my exercising since this will help reduce stress on my body and therefore reduce cortisol levels and then lose weight.

The only thing my workouts are doing is making me tired and sometimes I can’t even get through my workout at all and I need to stop for a rest in between intervals. Can you please tell me why I can’t lose weight? I’m desperate!

answer-icon-newIt sounds like your body is simply overtrained from all of those super high intense and long gut busting workouts. Working out twice a day at a very high intensity over a long period of time is the perfect recipe for setting yourself up for overtraining. After a while, your body just shuts down and starts to severely plateau because it needs to fully rest and recover from stress. Working out equals stress so you need to make sure you allow enough recovery time between workouts to maximize your body’s recuperation needs.

There are a few things that can happen hormonally when your body gets into a state of severe overtraining. Your cortisol levels will become elevated and your adrenal glands will be so overtaxed they will begin to shut down. Add in some coffee (caffeine) or other stimulants to this mix and you are setting yourself up for a host of negative reactions which include everything from losing strength and muscle tissue to actually getting the flu since your immune system is so impacted.

Here are a few things I recommend:

  • Never restrict your calories too low. Your body will react by holding onto body fat since it will try to preserve every last bit of energy. You should never go under 1,500 calories per day. Ideally, eat at least 2,000 calories of nutrient dense foods when you are doing intense workouts (cardio and weights). If you restrict your calories too low and burn a bunch of calories with cardio workouts, your body will go into starvation mode and hoard your fat tissue because it thinks it’s starving and wants to stay alive. It might sound strange, but you need to increase your calories to lose fat. Keep your engine (body) running optimally throughout the day. The best way to do this is by eating enough quality whole foods and making sure your body has enough fuel to provide you with energy for your workouts.
  • Limit your cardio to a maximum of 60 minutes per day. Anything more than this and you’re overtraining. If you’re doing HIIT cardio (high intensity interval training), you should focus on limiting your cardio workouts to 20-30 minutes maximum.
  • Your weight workouts should be a maximum of 45-60 minutes to maximize your hormone production. Once you continue training past an hour, your hormone levels start to decline and you are basically just wasting time. So, try to hit the gym and train hard for a short amount of time and then get out of there to rest and recover.
  • Add protein to each meal and snack during the day. It’s very important that you keep your protein intake high enough to maintain and build lean muscle tissue. You should try to include a lean source of protein at each meal (even snacks) and if you are in a rush, purchase a quality protein supplement (protein powders and bars workout great) in order to make sure you have easy access to quality nutrients throughout the day.
  • Limit your starchy carbs and grains later in the day (after 6pm). This includes all breads, pastas, rice and potatoes. Stick with lean protein (egg whites, chicken breast, turkey, fish, lean meat) and fibrous carbs (veggies).
  • Mix up your cardio exercises. Instead of running every day for your cardio, try to cross train and mix in several different types of cardio exercise to shock your body into burning more fat and calories (elliptical, bike, jumping rope, sprints, running stairs). Try jumping rope for a week and see how you do. Then, try sprinting exercises for the next week. Mix it up and see what your body responds to.

The bottom line is that you really need to listen to your body since it will tell you when its tired and needs rest. If you try to train past the pain, you will eventually burn out and tax your body to the point of overtraining which might force you to take off several weeks to several months to fully recover and get back into the gym. So, take the time to allow enough rest so you can avoid serious overtrainnig issues down the road.

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