It’s no secret that at a certain point, trying to lose body fat gets hard. You coast in for the first few weeks and even months, but then things start to slow down, you get hungrier and training and staying active seem to just get more difficult.
This is completely normal and there’s some changes going on in your body behind all of this. The good news comes in two parts. First, that once you understand you can prepare for it. Second that preparing for it comes in a few simple forms.
What is actually happening?
When you lose body mass there are changes on both sides of the energy in/energy out equation. In short: the signals for the mechanisms that make us want to take in more energy get more intense and the signals that make us want to keep moving around and active are dimmed.
To give some context through research, it has been stipulated that signals for energy intake in could increase up to 100 calories per 1kg lost (Polidori, 2016) and energy expenditure could decrease by 20-30 calories at a similar rate (Hall, 2017). These are only two papers, but with strong correlations, so they can shed SOME light on what could be happening.
Basically, through research and practice, we know it’s likely you’ll want to eat more and move less, which is pretty much the opposite direction to where you’ll need to be going to lose body fat. Your body likes to maintain homeostasis- staying stable at where it is used to. So, if we want to change that it can take some smart planning to bypass these things happening.
What can we do about all of this?
Well, it just takes a little thought and preparation. We need to go at this from two angles, one in making sure hunger signals are recognised for what they are (hunger through lack of food or hunger because there is a craving for something) as a natural part of losing body fat and addressed accordingly. Secondly, in having something in place to keep you accountable to staying active.
The following things can all be of use to help deal with this from both sides of the equation:
1. Keep a log of your training and keep a step count/log of activity in minutes/steps per day/week.
2. Being accountable to an activity goal helps to deal with potential drops in how much energy you expend. It can also help with things like boredom eating by keeping you busy!
3. Track your calories or keep a food journal of some sort. Yeah, I know, broken record! It’s a worthwhile practice though, and puts you in the driving seat with knowing how much is going in so you can make any adjustments if necessary.
4. Include lots of high volume, low calorie foods like lean protein sources, vegetables, legumes, fruits (especially things like watermelon!), low-fat yogurt, just to name a few. Some hunger is inevitable at a point, but these things can help to keep your volume of food high and offset some of that.
5. Plan in periods of maintenance. This could be just a few days or up to a week depending on how long you plan to be in a deficit for. This works in giving you a break mentally with a few more calories to play with and also allows you to practice some of the habits you will need when you reach your goal to maintain it.
6. Have a plan for cravings you know you experience. When, Where, Who with, Why. Knowing this will help to: plan an alternative that will help you with your goals OR remove yourself from that situation in the short term.
Although it can get more difficult, with an understanding of what happens and why, you can take the reins and manage what could be going on the further in you get. Quite often the reason an effort to lose body fat fails is because of two things: a lack of understanding of what is going on (and why), and a lack of preparation. Instead of fighting against those things, it’s worth taking some time to plan ahead and think about what sort of things you might need to get ready for.
Think about: times of hunger (stock up on low calorie, high volume foods that are high in weight and low in calories), times when you are busy (quick access foods like microwave rice and veg packs, tinned fish or frozen protein sources, tins of beans, lentils and other legumes), when you will be taking a break from decreasing your calories (planned breaks from calorie deficit, these aren’t an excuse to go on a week long blow out- they are a planned period of slightly higher calories) and asking someone for help in advance if you think you will need it (be that for practical help or just accountability)