When people slide into my DMs, one of the most common questions I get is, “Jill, how do I get rid of these last 10-15 pounds?”
So, today I want to break down some science (and mindset) and have a conversation about body change and metabolism, cool?
At a high level—and I know this is a hard pill to swallow—your body doesn’t want to change.
It likes the status quo, it likes your set point.
In fact, by nature the metabolism is always ALWAYS trying to be as efficient as possible (read: homeostasis), which means it wants to cut corners to burn as few calories as possible. It’s trying to conserve and preserve for the theoretical long winter ahead where there may or may not be food available.
Thus, it’s really good at not budging.
So when it comes to body change—whether that’s losing fat, gaining muscle, losing inches or getting stronger—we have our work cut out for us.
And there are certain behaviors that will have our metabolism getting really freaking efficient—aka stalling out—especially if you are a seasoned exerciser or someone who’s under a lot of stress.
So, this isn’t anything you need to worry about per se, it’s more about becoming aware of some of your habits—both mindset-wise and tactically—that may be affecting your ability to continue to adapt. And then figuring out if and how you might want to adjust accordingly.
1) You’re TOO obsessed with food and exercise.
Yes. You have too much information swimming around in your brain, and you are so well-read and so educated that you’re paralyzed in inaction.
You know so much that you’re constantly worried about messing up, or you’re trying to be so perfect that you reach a point of just saying screw it, this is all too hard, I just wanna eat what I wanna eat and not stress.
This is called being caught up in the all-or-nothing cycle. And I don’t blame you, this stuff is hard!
Buuuut there is a middle ground. There’s a way to navigate the middle, where you don’t have to be perfect, but the alternative isn’t just going off the rails.
You can definitely stall out your results by trying to do it all perfectly, and then when you inevitably can’t (because who could?) just go into brain-shutdown mode. My advice instead would be to do a few things consistently and as for the rest, do your best.
2) You don’t get quality sleep and your hormones are screwing you because of it.
Study after study has exemplified the correlation between lack of sleep and an increase in hormones related to hunger and cravings.
We understand this on a clinical level too—when we get zero sleep, all we crave are sweets and treats. We don’t have the mental reserves to really care, and we’re just trying to get the through the day.
So your results aren’t stalling because you have no willpower and are just a weak person for wanting to eat an entire pan of brownies. They’re stalling out because of a hormonal situation that even the strongest person can’t will their way out of.
Aim for at least 7 hours a night to build back your mental reserves and give your physiology the kind of reset it needs.
3) You eat too little or not enough variety.
Remember your physiology? The one that ancestrally wants to hold onto everything? If you are not eating sufficient calories, your metabolism compensates and slows down.
Now, this doesn’t mean go out and gorge because eating a ton will increase metabolism (although it will in the very short term), it means find an eating model where you’re eating to fuel your training and preferentially choosing nutrient-dense foods, like fruits, veggies, lean protein and healthy fats. Mostly. Like 90% of the time.
And variety in your diet diversifies vitamins and minerals. We need micronutrients (especially B vitamins) to give our metabolism the help it needs to burn fat or build muscle. And when we are eating low-micronutrient foods, our metabolism will counterbalance.
4) You’re exercising too much.
Excessive exercise was my control mechanism for years! It felt like the only way I could get results with my body was adding more and more and MORE cardio. Sixty minutes, then 90, then 2 hours, then … 3 hours!
Sure, I was losing weight (slowly and painfully), but so much of it was muscle! The hours of long-duration, moderate intensity cardio was putting me under chronic stress. My adrenals were pumping cortisol constantly, and because of it, my body could not keep up.
Remember, your metabolism doesn’t keep responding at the same rate ad infinitum to more exercise and a lower caloric intake. It’s like tires on a car, they get worn down and don’t respond the same. Your metabolism adapts based on inputs and a chronic stress situation is going to indicate that it should slow down.
Adding more and more cardio to your regiment isn’t necessarily better—you eventually reach a point of diminishing returns.
Smart, intense, short-duration cardio can be effective in burning fat and helping maintain muscle. And on the opposite end, low, slow restorative exercise like leisure walking, yoga, tai chi, stretching, foam rolling, etc., can help counterbalance the stress response of exercise.
My advice: go hard and fast AND long and slow.
5) You’re not doing enough weight training.
Weight-training is a metabolic “cheat code” (metaphor taken from my mentor Alwyn Cosgrove). All of us are looking for a shortcut or a fast-fix or a pill, and we … actually have one. It’s lifting.
There’s no better use of your time in the gym. I think so many of us just think we need to do more cardio to burn calories (calorie counters on cardio machines are not accurate and yet so many of us become slaves to them) and then once we do that, we’ll sprinkle in weight-training here and there to “tone up.”
But weight training isn’t a side show, it’s the main event.
It boosts your metabolism way more than cardio can, lifting is a great detoxifier, and building muscle will help you stay leaner in the long term considering muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body.
And luckily, you can perform weight training so that you get the cardio effects too!
It’s called Metabolic Conditioning.
Doing higher volume, denser lifting sessions (more reps crammed into less time), you’ll experience everything from breathlessness to burning in the muscles to having to rest because they weight is getting too heavy.
And guess what?
Your body responds to THAT.