Let me start by saying, I know this is a slightly sensitive topic. Nowadays it seems like you can't talk about weight loss without receiving backlash about the topic. By sharing my personal story, I am in no way saying that everyone needs to focus on fat loss. Nutrition and exercise are far more than means to losing body weight. However, for some, this is a valid goal for a myriad of reasons. Health, feeling held back, body confidence, not being able to do activities you enjoy, etc. Desiring to lose some weight is not an inherently bad goal. It's just extremely important to do so from a mentally healthy place, assuming this is also a physically healthy goal for you. For me, I never saw true, lasting change UNTIL I was mentally healthy and stopped obsessively striving towards fat loss. Ironic, isn't it? So my major disclaimer before I go on is that I strongly encourage you to checkin with yourself: is this weight loss goal stemming from a healthy place both physically and mentally? If so, read on.
There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration for successful fat loss. So we are going to start there. And please keep in mind that everyone is different in where they are starting in terms of their metabolic health, hormonal health, body composition, body type, mental/emotional associations to exercise, dieting history, limitations, and the list goes on. This is simply what I know what be influential for fat loss from not only my own personal experience, but also after working with hundreds of clients, and a lot of continuing education in the fitness/nutrition world.
Prioritize Metabolic Health FIRST
For me, was imperative to start with slowing down, cutting back on intense exercise and gaining some weight in order to be in a metabolically healthy spot to achieve fat loss eventually. I had done a number on my metabolism through years of HIIT workouts (5x a week), chronic cardio, dieting, restrict-binge cycles, and a stressful personal life. This showed up in hormonal struggles (never getting my cycle as a 23-26 year old), constant inflammation/bloating, and an inability to lose weight despite restricting calories and working out all. the. time. Talk about frustrating! I would lose a few pounds tracking calories or on a restrictive diet, just to gain them back and then some when I couldn't maintain the strict regimen anymore. So I eventually hit a breaking point and slowed down. I couldn't maintain what I was doing, and I was going insane. While at first I gained more weight, it was a necessary step because of the position I'd gotten myself into. I needed to increase my maintenance calories and heal my relationship with exercise/nutrition.
It's important to note that some people really do have disregulated metabolisms, while others may just not be consistently doing the things necessary for fat loss. I'm not saying this to be rude, it's just true! If you're not sure where you fall, write me a note and we can set up a call. It's really important to start from a place of metabolic health, otherwise you can dig yourself into a deeper hole and spin your wheels for YEARS. Trust me - invest in a solid foundation and you won't regret it.
2. Cut Back on Intensity
This may seem backwards, but I was overexercising with high intensity/cardio workouts. This left me constantly inflamed, worsened my metabolic health, and ultimately did not work for me. If you are a high stress person naturally, doing ALL the HIIT and cardio will eventually get you into trouble. While it feels stress-relieving in the moment, it's also extremely stress-inducing because it raises cortisol so much. If you then go from a high stress workout to a high stress job and then home to a high stress situation, you are living in a fight-or-flight state 24/7. This causes so many gut, hormonal and metabolic imbalances and majorly hinders body composition health. The best way to know how much is too much is to work with a trainer in a personalized way. Following a standard program when you have underlying metabolic issues happening will get you nowhere fast. I offer 1-on-1 services for this reason so that everything can be customized to YOU, your unique needs, goals and body.
3. Focus on Lifting + Movement
Since I knew I needed to shift away from the high intensity, cardio-dominant side of exercise, I began to focus more on slow lifting workouts and walks/hikes. To be honest, this was mentally hard because this type of exercise didn't leave me drenched in sweat or feeling like I worked out really hard in the way I had previously experienced. But as I stuck with it and continued progressing in my weights, the results in my body were shocking. It was just what I needed. I no longer worried about calories burned or how fast I could move through a workout to sweat more. The focus shifted to strength and what my body could do for hiking. This not only benefited my relationship with exercise, but my metabolism as well. The more muscle you have on your frame, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be. If you're someone who has always used exercise to burn calories, this mental shift is crucial. Exercise for strength, shaping your body, and being capable in the activities you love.
Now this isn't to say cardio is terrible for everyone or never has value. I'm simply saying that because I had misused cardio for years, we needed to take a break. This is why exercise programs are not one-size-fits-all, and it is better to invest in someone tailored to YOU if you're not seeing progress or have a complex history with exercise/nutrition. If you are looking for a lifting-style program but don't know where to start, I recommend my Mountain Strong Program. There is hardly any high intensity work, and you will learn how to use gym equipment/lift with good form (for ridiculously cheap I might add)! An even cheaper but equally great option is my monthly Gym Group Membership which includes 15 new monthly recipes in addition to new monthly workouts that are very strength focused.
4. Portion Sizes - No Foods Off Limits
It's true: ultimately to lose body fat you need to be in an energy deficit. It doesn't matter if you eat low carb, low fat, keto, vegan, whole 30, or whatever, it ultimately comes to down calories. Whether you achieve this by tracking calories or just eyeballing portions, I found that no longer having "off limits" foods was so important for me. This really eliminated my tendency to binge on the weekends or at night like I had in the past. I knew if I wanted ice cream, chocolate, wine, chips, or really anything, I could have some in moderation. This mental shift took away my desire to eat mass quantities of said foods because I knew they'd be available any time I wanted some. I will say that my history of tracking calories gave me a solid understanding of how much I was typically eating, but I was able to lose 25 lbs without tracking during that specific time of weight loss. I personally needed to find what intuitive eating looked like for me and listen to hunger cues after years of doing the opposite.
5. Play the Long Game
In an instant-gratification world, the word patience is less than appealing. Which is why get-thin-quick marketing tactics work like a charm (without delivering lasting results). But if you see the studies that have been done, most people who lose weight quickly, gain it back and more. Because the methods are not sustainable, and metabolic damage is typically done along the way. Ultimately, no real, healthy habits are formed. It's taken me 2.5 years to lose 25 pounds. YEARS. Not weeks, or even months. But I've kept it off, have never felt restricted, and finally have a thriving metabolism. I don't "diet" do hours of cardio each week, or feel like anything I'm doing is too strict to continue with. That is the freedom I had wanted for YEARS. But it took a lot of patience, consistency, and staying disciplined to showing up for my workouts and eating healthy at least 80% of the time. There's no flashy, or exciting answer here. Just sustained discipline over years to form habits that support the healthy life I want to live!
If any of my personal story resonates with you, and you're looking to finally make lasting changes with a coach who really does understand, join my Mountain Metabolic Coaching waitlist here. Let's chat about whether or not my program is right for you!