Breaking your fat loss plateau
How to overcome your fat loss halt to continue losing fat and working towards your goal.
By Amelia Ricci
Do you find yourself eating clean and training hard, but you still want a tighter body? You already know the basics of fat loss (see p60 if you don’t), but even though you’ve shifted some fat, it’s come to a bit of a halt. You know that tweaking your training and nutrition is where the magic happens and is key to enjoying your fitness program. However perhaps before you looked at fat loss as a diet rather than a lifestyle, and this may have been why it came to a halt.
You may not realise it but to achieve more fat loss, you don’t have to train more; what you may need to do instead is increase the intensity. Likewise with your nutrition, establish a routine of meals and snacks that gives your body nutrients at regular intervals to get lean and maintain your results. If you are no longer getting results, it’s time to switch it up again. Research clearly shows there is not just one thing that leads to fat loss, and there is no single role that is most important, rather it is a combination of factors repeated consistently. This article will examine these factors one by one to help you break through your fat loss plateau and reach your body composition goals sooner.
TRAINING FOR FAT LOSS
Let’s firstly look at training strategies you can use to target fat loss. Research in the Strength and Conditioning Journal has shown that fat loss takes time, and a combination of training methods (both weights and cardio) work together to achieve best results.1
Play your cardio right
Incorporating HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is a great strategy because it keeps your resting metabolic rate elevated for up to 24 hours post workout.2
Here’s a fat loss targeted HITT program you can do anywhere: repeat circuit one for three rounds, rest for 60 seconds, then repeat circuit two for three rounds. Remember to cool down and stretch post-workout.
40 mountain climbers
20 jumping jacks
20 walking lunges
10 push ups
10 lunge jumps (switch lunge)
Skipping rope 1 minute
Shape your body with weight training
Research shows that weight training will not only give amazing shape and tone to your body, but it also elevates metabolic rate long after you complete the training.
A good example of the ability that weight training has to elevate BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) was recently documented. The study compared 30 minutes of leg training (combination of squats, leg press, and reverse lunges, for 3 sets of 10 repetitions to failure) versus 30 minutes of cardiovascular training. The results indicated that resistance training of leg muscles elevated BMR for 48 hours, versus 4 hours for cardiovascular training.3
You may want to improve particular areas of your body. For example, many women want to reduce the fat stored on their thighs; however it is important to train all muscles as this will result in a better balanced muscle structure.
Most importantly, ensure you are using good form when performing the exercises. Making progress with strength and size means increasing your weights, but it is important but be very mindful of your technique and never sacrifice technique for weight.
An example of a weight training program to increase all over muscle tone and growth is below:
Monday: Legs (quads, hamstrings, calves)
Friday: Legs (glute focus)
For each training day above, I recommend 4-5 exercises using 4 sets (one warm up and three working sets). I also suggest incorporating one rest day during the week to allow proper recovery. It can be useful to train lower body twice a week and separate out muscle groups for optimal development. If you’ve been doing the same program for a while and not seeing results, switch it up! There’s always plenty of ideas throughout this magazine for you to incorporate into your routine.
Another fat loss tip is to walk and move more during your day. For example, you might walk or ride to and from work, or walk to the local shops instead of driving. It is the little things that add up, for example, parking further away from the shops and taking the stairs. You will find that small changes in your daily movement patterns can really add up for your overall energy burn. If you’re at that fat loss plateau, try adding in more incidental exercise!
NUTRITION FOR FAT LOSS
If your fat loss progress has come to a standstill, there’s a number of nutritional reasons this may be; for example, you may have been following an unsustainable diet, not giving your body enough nutrients it needs or your body may have just adjusted and you need to change things up. The new guidelines provided by Nutrition Australia provide good recommendations that encourage Australians to drink more water and consume mostly fresh produce. This resource can be seen at www.nutritionaustralia.org. Some ideas to get back on the fat loss journey are listed below:
Eat small meals regularly
By spreading your nutrition into smaller evenly-spaced meals, you may feel greater energy and stamina for your training sessions because digestion is easier when you consume smaller portions. Especially if you can try to eat every 2-3 hours, you will never be too full when training, and never too hungry that you overeat.
Eating regularly during the day is an important part of fat loss and, for many people, it is one of the missing links. They wind up starving at dinner time (only having eaten a small breakfast or lunch) and wonder why they snack late at night or eat their largest meal at dinner.
Break the fat loss plateau: Eat smaller meals every 2-3 hours
Add protein for satiety
According to research, the major benefit of protein on a fat loss diet seems to be the fullness you get after eating it. This curbing of hunger will result in a reduction of energy consumption during the day as you feel more satisfied when you eat protein with every meal.4
Break the fat loss plateau: Make it a priority to eat enough protein and track your intake if need be.
Carbs are not the enemy
Low-carbohydrate diets often won’t supply enough energy for an active lifestyle and therefore it is important to get rid of the fitness myth that ‘carbs make you fat’. Choose carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables as your main energy source. When choosing breads and cereals, use the most unprocessed forms, eat according to your energy needs and time intake around your training.5
If you are restricting carbohydrates, it makes sticking to a diet very difficult and when you end the diet, you feel like a failure because you cannot continue it as a lifestyle and often put weight back on. In order to keep balance and make healthy eating a lifestyle rather than a diet, it is most effective to make unprocessed foods your dietary stapes but not rule out any food groups because if they are eaten in moderation they can be incorporated for long term health.6
Break the fat loss plateau: Stop cutting or severely restricting carbs, incorporate them around your training and daily needs.
Green veggies are free foods
If you are constantly physically hungry, make sure at least three meals in your day include 2-3 metric cups of fresh vegetables and mainly greens such as kale, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, broccoli, snow peas, zucchini, just to name a few.
Want to kill the hunger monster? One tip is to prepare your vegetables in advance as this is a great time saver. So instead of rushing around at night when you are most tired, you can simply grab handfuls of my veggies and throw them into a recipe.
Break the fat loss plateau: Eat more greens and prep them in advance.
Take the time to prepare your meals and snacks. Of course we are all busy and running from one thing to the next, so keep healthy portion-measured snacks and stash a few in the fridge at work, or a cooler bag when on the run to keep you going. Skipping snacks won’t help with fat loss; neither will snacking on unhealthy on-the-go items like muffins or chocolate.
Break the fat loss plateau: Prep healthy snacks to stick to your timed meals and healthy-conscious decision.
Drink more water
Whenever you want to eat surplus calories (i.e. through boredom and not actual hunger), ask yourself how you are going with your daily water quota? Drinking water or caffeine-free herbal tea may assist to regulate appetite as you feel more satisfied when you are hydrated.
We often talk about drinking water during exercise but it is also important to drink enough to hydrate prior to exercise so you do not commence your training session dehydrated.
Break the fat loss plateau: Track your water intake and ensure you meet your daily quota, every single day.
You can be training 5-6 days a week and eating exactly as your plan specifies but if you can’t get into a focused and stress-free headspace, the fat may not shift at all. Perhaps this is why you’ve reached a plateau; something in your life has happened and it’s left you stressed out and as result, your body won’t shift anymore fat. Or perhaps it’s one of the below head space-related reasons.
Identify your barriers to change
Changing your headspace when it comes to fat loss on can be difficult and it may be helpful to have a good coach to help you on this journey. In particular when working towards a fitness competition or a body-transformation goal. A coach will consult with you to understand your own behavioural and psychological barriers to change and work through these whilst working to a realistic timeline.
If you have failed at dieting in the past and feel restricted then perhaps a flexible approach to nutrition will work best, alternatively if you like structure, then perhaps a meal plan with options will help you achieve your goal. The main thing is to figure out what works best for you and then do that.
You can have the best nutrition program but if you cannot follow it then it is pointless. You need to get to know yourself and your unique needs. An experienced and qualified coach will get to know your needs by asking lots of questions for example: which diets have you done before? What issues do you know you have with your diet? What changes in body-fat level would you like to make? Having a coach that will tailor their coaching to your needs will result in the best possible results.7
Dealing with cravings
My advice is that the longer you stick with clean eating, the less you crave foods high in salt, sugar or saturated fat. Adjusting your head space is the key, and the longer you view food as something to be feared or something that has control over you, the worse cravings appear to be.
Healthy eating and socialising
Let’s be honest we have all been there, after a few drinks, health and fitness becomes the last thing on your mind! If you are on a fat loss and muscle toning program, you don’t want throw away all your hard work during the week with just one social event, so how can you stay on track?
It is possible to socialise and still lose weight. It really is all about moderation and planning ahead, so you have some healthy options to choose from and set yourself up for success.
And, if you are enjoying your free meal when eating out, have your favourite food and enjoy it! By mentally and physically enjoying food and not feeling guilty, you will learn that everything in life is about balance and clean eating is no different. Moderation and portion sizes are the secret to long-term fat loss.
Fat loss is not just one magic thing; rather it is the combination of several aspects including nutrition, training and mindset. You are bound to reach plateaus, but take this as an opportunity to learn more about your body and try out new workouts, new meals and new approaches. Each person is different because of their training history, experiences with diets, food preferences and intolerances, and therefore a fat loss program should ideally be tailored to you and your individual needs, especially when significant fat loss is required or preparing for a competition.
Our emotions and mindset towards fat loss is the biggest key as our mind drives our behaviour and attitudes to any health and fitness journey. Identify your key strengths and weaknesses when it comes to committing to training and nutrition plans and perhaps work with a coach. A coach can help to work through any long-term barriers you have or new short-term barriers that have brought you to your plateau. You will then be able to overcome challenges together so the experience is more enjoyable for you.
Overall, caloric expenditure is the way to create the muscle tone required for a fitness goal and therefore there is no single method to accomplish this as you may need a few seasons of trial and error to bring your perfect package to the stage. And if you are working towards a fitness-model body, but not yet ready to compete, be kind to yourself on your journey, it will take time and patience to change your habits and just like Rome was not built it a day your body won’t be either.
Finally, remember that making your training more intense and your diet sustainable equates to living lean forever, not just for a competition or a shoot.
- Sword, David O. PT, DPT, CSCS. Strength & Conditioning Journal (2012) - Volume 34 - Issue 5 - p 47–55 Exercise as a Management Strategy for the Overweight and Obese: Where Does Resistance Exercise Fit in?
- King Jeffrey W (2001) Comparison of the Effects of Interval Training vs. Continuous Training on Weight Loss and Body Composition in Obese Pre-Menopausal Women. East Tennessee State University.
- Occhipinti, M (PhD) (2012) Fat Burning Secrets, Network for Fitness Professionals.
- O’Neill M, MSc, BSpSc (2005) Protein, is it the key for Fat Loss? Network for Fitness Professionals.
- Freedman, M. (2001) Popular Diets: a scientific review, Obesity Research.
- O’Neill, M, MSc, BSpSc (2003) Low-Carbohydrate Diets, how do they work? Network for Fitness Professionals.
- Burrell, S, B Nutr & Diet (Hons) Bsc (psych) (Hons) (2007) Coaching Clients to Nutrition Success. Network for Fitness Professionals.
Amelia is a personal trainer, Pilates instructor and yoga teacher with 20 years’ experience. Certified with Fitness Australia, her mission is to educate and inspire women to achieve their best body ever, with a simple approach: no fads, no gimmicks. Amelia’s qualifications include personal training and group fitness accreditation and Master of Business and Bachelor of Business degrees. Amelia believes perfection is boring and the way to feel great is to eat fresh, clean foods, train hard, love yourself and never stop learning. As a two-time Fitness Model Champion and mentor to Australia’s successful fitness and bikini models, Amelia enjoys working in her business, Living Beauty Fitness. Amelia has launched a new e-book, which contains all of her health and fitness principles in one handy guide, at www.4weekbikinibody.com
For delicious recipes, follow Amelia’s blog on her Facebook page, AmeliaRicciSportsModelFitnessTrainer, or Instagram @livingbeautyamelia