If your goal is to slim down and you’re seemingly “doing everything right,” a lack of progress in the fat loss department can be demoralizing.
I’m going to help you troubleshoot, but please understand that fat loss is multifactorial.
In other words, there’s a ton of variables at play and everyone is different. This is a big reason why a program like Total Body Reboot is invaluable—it provides a place for us to do this work in depth, with the focus solely on you.
But there are some things we can look at and attempt to rule out straight away. I want to give you 11 places to start with troubleshooting your body fat troubles…
1) You don’t eat real food.
There’s a running joke that I’ve helped men and women in more than 25 countries around the world and still haven’t run into someone who wasn’t “eating healthy” when they came to me.
Seriously, 99.9% of emails start out like this: “I’m eating healthy and exercising, but I’m still not reaching my goals!”
That’s because the mainstream definition of “eating healthy” is completely removed from what eating healthy actually looks like.
I’ll give you a hint: If you’re counting calories or controlling portions, avoiding fat, eating “heart-healthy” vegetable oils, and eating salads with a side of boneless, skinless chicken, you’ve been misled.
To get the fat loss ramped up, stop counting calories and start nourishing your body with real food.
Take Action: Download my free Complete Guide to Real Food—it’s a one page overview of real food.
2) You consume way more sugar than you think you do.
Sugar is not evil, but one of the biggest mistakes people make when “eating healthy” is underestimating sugar consumption.
If you want to be successful, you must redefine what sugar is because most people are seeing it wrong…
Classic Definition: Table sugar, donuts, cakes, soda, candy, etc.
Redefined: Table sugar, donuts, cakes, soda, candy, starches, almost all processed foods (currently there’s about 80,000 to choose from), fruit juices, milk, and grains.
I had a female client who told me:
“Kevin, I don’t get why I’m not winning. I’m dedicated to reading labels so I can drastically cut my sugar intake. I eat Cheerios every morning because there’s only one gram of sugar per serving.”
Man, I feel for her. She’s doing everything she thinks is right and she’s relying on that official FDA food label on the package to make her calculations. The only thing missing from her life is RESULTS.
And the reason there are no results is because she’s completely underestimating her sugar consumption. A serving of Cheerios might technically have one gram of sugar, but Cheerios are pure starch. Starch gets converted to sugar in the body almost immediately.
Here’s the bottom line: you can eat a bowl of Special K with no added sugar or you can eat a bowl of sugar with no added Special K—metabolically, they’re the same thing.
I don’t care what the marketing on the front of the box says. I don’t care what the official FDA label on the back of the box says. I only care about what your body thinks.
To be successful, you must redefine what sugar means and adopt a new approach.
Take Action: If you struggle with sugar cravings or feel like you have an unhealthy relationship with sugar and processed foods, it’s time to Shut Down Your Sugar Cravings.
3) You don’t move your body enough.
Movement is important. The amount of sitting and stationary activity we do is off the charts. It’s to the point that sedentary behavior is becoming pathological.
We used to live in a world that required physical movement. Now, we can get through our entire day—sometimes our entire week—without much physical activity at all.
The results is that we now must schedule in movement, lest it doesn’t happen. We must force ourselves to keep moving.
Exercise, by the way, does not erase the damaging effects of otherwise sedentary life. And, in general, exercise isn’t fun so it’s hard for a lot of people to sustain.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution though.
Take Action: Walk (intentionally—not collectively) a minimum of 30 minutes a day and adopt the DWYLT philosophy of inspired movement.
4) You don’t sleep long enough or well enough.
If you had a lose body fat puzzle, sleep would be a single piece that makes up close to 30% of that puzzle!
Yeah, it’s a big freakin’ piece.
You know what else? It’s a piece that you’re probably neglecting. But it’s not your fault—nobody has ever told you how critical sleep is to reaching your fat loss, fitness, and health goals.
Poor sleep manipulates your hormones and makes you hungrier (especially for carbs and sugar), makes you less able to feel full, makes you metabolically similar to a type II diabetic, suppresses your thyroid, and drives up your stress levels.
In simple terms: You can eat healthy & exercise all you want, but if your sleep isn’t dialed in you are wasting your time.
Here’s another way to think about it: You can follow the exact same real-food and exercise plan as someone else and reach your goals in half the time if you start prioritizing sleep, fix the most common sleep mistakes, and learn the 9 best adjustments to make to your bedroom.
Take Action: Reboot Your Sleep
5) You’re unaware of how much you actually eat.
This one is a double for you.
While calories matter, I’ve made it clear that counting them is useless.
But that doesn’t mean you aren’t overeating. The question is, why are you overeating when your body is designed to automatically regulate your caloric intake based on your body’s needs?
There’s a myriad of reasons. Here are a few:
- You have a poor relationship with food and either can’t identify or tune out your body’s hunger and satiety signaling.
- The food you eat isn’t real, therefore the signaling mechanisms (hormonal) can’t do their job.
- You’ve spent years abusing your body with junk food which has made your hunger and satiety signaling unreliable.
- The food you eat is nutritionally poor, so while your stomach gets full, you’re left starving at the cellular level.
Take Action: When you eat real food, repair your busted metabolism, move your body in healthy ways, and deal with any psychological roadblocks and unhealthy eating triggers, you’ll be highly unlikely to overeat
You could also be experiencing issues on the other end of the spectrum. When you chronically under-eat, your body holds onto body fat. This isn’t immediate, but it’s a big reason why chronic under-eaters make progress and then stall out.
Before you stall out, your body also eats through lean muscle mass. This tricks a lot of people because they’re still losing weight, just not body fat.
Because of this, you’re actually stalling out way before you think you are. This is another reason why you have to ditch your scale (aside from the more pressing psychological reasons).
Low carb Diets are effective because they allow you to comfortable under-eat. High fat and high protein meals are highly satiating, so you can cut a lot of calories without being hungry.
If you stay low carb for too long, especially if you’re ketogenic, chronic under-eating can become a huge problem. As your metabolic rate declines (a side effect of under-eating), your hunger is turned off. It’s a vicious cycle.
Again, in this cycle, your body will struggle to burn body fat.
Take Action: Learn the truth about carbohydrates.
6) You’re leptin resistant.
Leptin is an appetite-suppressant hormone that plays a key role in the body’s metabolism.
Too often, discussions about fat loss center around insulin, but leptin may be the more important factor. Leptin resistance makes you satiety-resistant. Your brain never says, “hey, you can stop now.”
If you’re overweight and growing more-so each month, you need to take a hard look at leptin. If you’re more than 30 pounds overweight, you almost certainly have some degree of leptin resistance.
I’ve already written a solid piece about leptin and how you can begin to fix it, so I’m just going to link you to that.
Take Action: Reboot Your Leptin: Conquering the Fat Hormone
7) You do too much cardio.
It’s not often that you hear about under-eating being a problem. The same is true when it comes to over-exercising.
It’s kind of assumed that you should just exercise for 45 minutes to an hour a day. But it’s not the amount of exercise that matters, it’s the type of exercise.
Running for an hour a day, for example, is a highly inflammatory exercise protocol. The amount of stress this places on the body increases demand for micronutrients, sleep, and otherwise low stress levels, all three of which are in short supply for most people.
So really, this is a compound problem. If your nutrition and sleep are dialed in, 45 to 60 minutes of exercise a day are not a problem. I still wouldn’t recommend running to that degree though.
But you’re still better off choosing more productive forms of exercise in reduced amounts.
Take Action: Walking and DWYLT go a long way. If you want to exercise more, prioritize intensity over duration. If you like to run, CrossFit, etc. just set a rule for yourself that if you don’t get at least 8 hours of sleep the previous night, you’re not allowed to workout.
8) You have an undiagnosed thyroid issue.
Part of the function of the thyroid is to control metabolism. If the thyroid is under-performing (hypothyroid), your metabolic rate can decline. Of course, other problems occur alongside that as well.
If you’re eating real food, getting plenty of daily movement or functional exercise, and reducing stress and excess weight isn’t coming off, getting your thyroid checked is a good next move.
Thyroid testing isn’t without problems though. Plenty of people with thyroid problems will show up “green” (no issues) on a blood panel. This is why many people suffer from undiagnosed thyroid issues—they’ve had tests that say there’s no problem even though there certainly is.
Chris Kresser has a great article about thyroid issues that won’t show up on a standard lab test here.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t rule out thyroid simply because your standard lab test said you’re well and good. There’s an underlying reason for why you’re not dropping excess fat. Keep searching to get to the bottom of it.
Take Action: If you still suspect a thyroid issue, get a more advanced thyroid panel. I recommend the Advanced Thyroid Panel from WellnessFX. You can use their doctor consults after you order their panel or simply take your results to your doctor (though you’ll probably want a specialist to really help you sort this out).
9) You’re under way too much stress.
There’s a huge issue with stress in the United States. I have a feeling this problem is slowly taking over the rest of the world as well.
Chronic stress is probably the number one destroyer of health. And in terms of losing body fat, disordered cortisol (a stress hormone) levels are a huge barrier to that.
Cortisol drives up blood sugar and tends to make fat loss more difficult. While it’s a hugely helpful hormone, it’s detrimental when it’s constantly elevated. Today’s society, combined with the pressure you place on yourself, can easily leave you bathing in cortisol from morning until night.
If you fail to find relief from the stressors in life, you can exhaust your adrenal system, eventually resulting in adrenal fatigue. The worse this gets, the harder it becomes to repair.
Take action: Stress reduction has to happen and there are a myriad of ways to go about that. This isn’t an article on how to reduce stress, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you want to go about that. Some of my favorites are meditation, DWYLT, sleep!, and taking a few days off from hyper-work-mode.
10) Your gut isn’t healthy.
Research on the gut biome is fairly new, but all of the data suggests that if you want to transform your health—and your body—then you need to pay attention to the health of your gut.
The gut works to protect the body from foreign invaders, it houses your immune system, it impacts metabolism, and it’s intricately linked with mental health.
Because modern gut biome research is so new, most people—including doctors—are still naive to its importance. This strikes me as odd since Hippocrates made the connection somewhere around 300 BC when he said, “All disease begins in the gut.” But, nevertheless, most mainstreamers still aren’t paying attention.
Take Action: My colleague John Brisson is doing great research on gut health and caring for your gut. There’s also a ton of information at the Human Food Project.
11) You ARE losing body fat, but you’re using ineffective tools to measure progress.
Back in 2009, before doing my personal Reboot, I was 60 pounds overweight. When I got down to 190 pounds from 220, I remember feeling as if I hadn’t made much progress.
I initially thought my goal would be around 180, so I believed I was close. The problem is that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t look close.
The truth is that I wasn’t close yet (165-170 is my maintenance range) AND I wasn’t seeing the amazing progress I had made.
When you look at yourself in the mirror every day, you don’t notice the changes. The mirror is a horrible tool for measuring progress. So is the scale, as I’ve outlinedhere and here (even if your scale attempts to measure body fat percentage).
Some people are fans of using a measuring tape. I have my clients do this because it works in general, but it’s not completely reliable. They also take pictures because those truly show the changes.
Take Action: If you’re looking to measure fat loss progress, I’d recommend two things:Bod Pod testing and pictures. If you don’t have access to a Bod Pod, just use pictures. Or, you can ditch worrying altogether and just eat real food, move a lot, and enjoy the hell out of life (probably the best option).