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Common Fat Loss Pitfalls

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EAT BETTER NOT LESS
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Ah, the start of the New Year: you've had late nights, pressure to be on show in front of relatives coupled with eating a la Henry VIII, enough booze to frighten Oliver Reed and little exercise. Combine with stygian skies and an austere month financially - you have every reason to be making resolutions.

The excesses of the festive period mean you may have become overly acidic (meat, cheese, booze, coffee, stress) reducing your ability to burn fat, you may feel despondent (your body's been the victim of a festive mugging so serotonin is down and cravings are up, your liver is close to filing for divorce and you are carrying a little more ballast than usual, leading to you feeling demoralised) plus your hormones are totally out of kilter. Excess oestrogen, cortisol, and insulin leave you feeling puffy, tired/wired and squidgy respectively.

Which nutrition plan to choose? Paleo, Dukan, GI, Atkins, Zone, Ketogenic? Dropping carbs entirely from your diet will lead to a drop in weight. Mainly water. If you go too low too fast or for too long, you will affect your concentration, energy and slow your metabolism down. Your fat cells release a hormone called leptin. If your food intake drops drastically, so do your leptin levels. Low leptin will initiate a hunger response and make you want to eat. A lot. Prolonged dieting or 'yo yo' eating will lead to more problems. Your body is getting the impression that food is scarce. Metabolism drops and calories are stored as fat. The polar opposite of the plan.

For starters, take out simple sugars and gluten, add more servings of vegetables e.g. kale, broccoli, herbs and peppers. They are cheap, packed with vitamins and minerals and will aid satiety, bowel movements (which can be an issue if you up protein) and are full of fibre (which people rarely get enough of). They will also help you excrete oestrogen more easily. Eat little and often and include protein with each meal (meat, eggs, fish or quinoa). It is essential for growth, repair and will aid detoxification (the liver needs amino acids). Don't worry about how many grams, just put some in for starters before being preoccupied with specifics.

You are also more likely to succeed if you borrow an idea from the bodybuilding community. Have planned cheat meals (if deserved) every five-seven days and you are far likelier to succeed in the long term. Hormones like ghrelin and melatonin also play their roles (but that is a blog all of its own). Basically, more sleep (ideally pre-midnight) is a key way to have the mechanisms that control hunger (and lead to improved body composition) working in your favour and will aid recovery (think of charging a phone). Useful if you are training more frequently.

Physical and mental fatigue can lead to stress. Putting unrealistic expectations on yourself often results in a period of angelic abstinence followed by a blowout leading to stopping altogether. People who worry more and are typically controlled with diet are proven to be hyperphagic (eat more) when stressed. Too much training and worrying coupled with insufficient rest and excessively reduced calories (such as no carbs without guidance) all result in your stress hormones (primarily cortisol) increasing.

Cortisol (adrenal hormone) is up too because you are physically stressed, using stimulants (if coffee makes you feel like doing cartwheels followed by crash - stick to herbal tea) and possibly running to lose weight. Dehydration alone will cause problems. Cortisol also makes you want starch, sugar and fat. A sensible nutrition approach will avoid these pitfalls but the approach for each individual varies. Cortisol also leads to fat deposition around the middle (apple shape) and this is the worst place to store fat in health terms. It will also make you feel knackered and interfere with sleep.

The other problem is training. Many opt for the 'road to nowhere' running plan (I am hitting my head with the keyboard now) or do daily bikram yoga sessions from a standing start (before I get slated for picking yoga, bikram and other styles are excellent disciplines, my point is excessive frequency, and work very well when paired with resistance training).

A properly planned training phase should last for a specific time (a mesocycle of typically three-six weeks). You present an appropriate stimulus to the body, which goes through an 'alarm' phase, an 'adaptation' phase and it will then plateau or may go backwards. You should then change the stimulus.

In English? If you change your programme too often you are not getting the benefit of the stimulus/overload and are confusing your body. If you have been doing the same programme for months or, worse, years and nothing is changing - Einstein said it best "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

I have seen how demoralised people get when they 'diet' and train too aggressively only to lose muscle and water, with a tiny bit of fat, despite the scales dropping significantly. I have even seen the nightmare scenario - gaining fat and losing weight (included me in my Lloyd's of London days!) I'll go into more detail about training next time.

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